Today is April 15, the deadline for filing tax returns — an especially painful moment for New Yorkers, given that they live under the heaviest state and local tax burden in the United States.
Adding insult to that injury, the state pushes taxpayers to file electronically — leading most to shell out money unnecessarily to tax preparation firms, such as H&R Block and TurboTax, that are on a state-approved e-filing list.
To ease the pain, the companies are supposed to offer free service to New Yorkers with incomes of less than $57,000. But taking advantage of this service is ridiculously tricky, and most people who should be eligible stumble into paying fees of $40 and up.
Those who earn more than $57,000 have two choices: They can file for free by hunting down the scarce paper forms that the Department of Taxation and Finance still grudgingly makes available, or they can e-file through a tax prep company for a hefty fee.
New York State has abetted this shakedown for too long.
Gov. Cuomo must order tax Commissioner Thomas Mattox to publicize the “Free File” program far more aggressively — and demand that tax preparers make it clearly and readily available.
Next, Mattox must create New York’s own free electronic system for filing taxes. The IRS offers a version of such a service to federal taxpayers; the state should go one better by developing a user-friendly program that walks taxpayers through the complexities of filing and does all the math.
Manhattan state Sen. Brad Hoylman is proposing legislation to do just that, declaring, “Middle-class taxpayers deserve a break.”
Cuomo must see that they get one.