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PENNING: Shutdowns, taxes and cooped-up creativity

• Feb 14, 2019 at 3:00 PM

The federal government shut down for 35 days recently. Maybe you noticed.

I did. It was on the news. Reporters were all over the story. They must have been tired of two years of repeating themselves about Russian collusion, or putting together their next teaser list of the top 10 of a certain city or food item, or yet another story about why we should care about what millennials think.

Our local community made the news about the shutdown for a good reason. People stepped up and organized and helped out our Coast Guard personnel who kept working even without a paycheck.

Federal government shutdowns have happened before. But 35 days, stretching from late December into January, was a record, according to some reports.

Shortly after that, we experienced a weather-related shutdown that also set records. Another “polar vortex” crossed from Canada into the U.S. Maybe we should build a northern wall? No, I won’t go there.

But this polar vortex, which apparently is more serious than a polar express, which is an animated train, was as cold and determined as Nancy Pelosi. This polar vortex hit me right in the solar plexus. It caused shutdowns of roads and businesses and local government offices and schools, including GVSU where I work. There were record temperatures, and GVSU set a record number of snow days in my experience.

So, I sat cooped up at home, shortly after the government shutdown lifted and the weather shutdown arrived. I had to think of what to do with my time while cooped up. I spent some time working via laptop. I wrote a section of a book I’m working on. I communicated with students via course websites and email. I caught up on the never-ending influx of administrative tasks. And, of course, I worked the snowblower and shovel.

But then I realized taxes needed to be done soon. And that’s when I got creative.

My thinking went like this: The government shut down because they can’t agree, reach a deal, set a budget — which is their job. My taxes are paid to the government to pay for them to do their job. If I go to a store to buy something and they say they are shut down, I don’t pay. So, you can see where I’m going with this. If the government didn’t work for a record number of days, we should get a tax deduction for services not rendered.

I grabbed a pencil and sketched out a way to do my taxes given this realization. I ran it past my nephew, who is a junior majoring in finance at the University of Michigan. He gave what I consider a prescient and credible response: “That’ll work.” He even used a thumbs-up emoji!

I also ran it past a client of mine, a savvy CEO of a large and growing regional business. He replied: “good luck.”

Thus encouraged, I hereby share my tax return plan for factoring in the government shutdown.

1. Determine your “adjusted gross income.”

2. Determine your taxes owed.

3. Divide your taxes owed by 261 (365-104, total days per year minus weekend days) to determine your federal tax per week day (FTPD).

4. Multiply your FTPD by the number of weekdays the government was shut down to determine your GSD (Government Shutdown) deduction.

5. Deduct your GSD from your taxes owed to determine your Shutdown Adjusted Taxes Owed (SDATO).

6. Divide Nancy Pelosi’s salary by the number of days the government was shut down.

7. Add to line 6 the total cost of Nancy Pelosi’s Hawaiian vacation during the government shutdown.

8. Deduct the amount on line 7 from your SDATO on line 5. If the number is positive, this is your taxes owed. If negative, this is the amount of your refund.

If the IRS wants to question this, they must fill out a Form SD2019 with appropriate documentation.

I asked Turbo Tax if they can include this in the next update of their tax preparation software. They were closed due to the weather.

Meanwhile, as this column goes to print, we are in danger of another government shutdown. I may have to file an amended return.

About the writer: A collection of columns by Tim Penning, Ph.D., is in the book “Thoughts on Thursdays,” available at The Bookman.

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