Time is the stuff life is made of, so the saying goes.
When government wastes the people’s money, that’s bad enough. When it wastes the people’s time, that’s worse.
At first, the Illinois Department of Revenue’s early January announcement that it would delay income tax refund payments to fight fraud seemed understandable, even prudent.
Connie Beard, state revenue director, said the refund payment delays would allow the department to “better detect attempts at identity theft and ensure taxpayer refunds do not fall needlessly into the hands of criminals.”
You know, the kinds of criminals that steal people’s identities, fraudulently submit false tax returns, and make off with thousands of dollars in stolen money sent out by well-meaning but duped state workers.
From the way it was explained, the first tax refunds won’t be made until the middle of March, at the earliest, for people who file state returns before March 1. For those filing after March 1, tack on two or three weeks after the filing date before refunds will be issued.
Revenue department workers presumably will use the extra time to scrutinize tax returns, weed out the attempts at fraud, and reduce the amount of money mistakenly doled out to crooks.
That all sounds good, but we can’t help but think about all the time wasted for honest taxpayers who work hard, file tax returns early and look forward to receiving their refunds in a timely manner.
Many honest taxpayers likely plan to spend their refunds on various goods and services. Perhaps they want to make a down payment on a large purchase, or hope to use the money for a spring vacation trip, or any number of other things.
Now they will have to wait two or three weeks longer than normal to receive their refunds before moving ahead with their plans.
The state already is notoriously adept at making people wait. Schools must wait for state aid payments. So do public universities and social service agencies.
State vendors have had to wait months for payments. The state is more than $7 billion in arrears to various vendors, according to the Illinois Comptroller’s Office.
All Illinoisans have been waiting for a state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, and waiting, and waiting, to the tune of seven months now.
So if people are not so enthusiastic about an additional waiting period, this one for income tax refund payments, they have a good reason.
The Department of Revenue must ensure it uses the extra time wisely and carries through on its promises to cut back on the fraud its leader says she is targeting.
In other words, the results had better be worth the wait.