A welcome return

IT'S ALMOST A no-brainer. State number-crunchers are going to go over your tax return anyway, calculating whether you sent in too much or too little. What if they did their figuring beforehand and sent you a return already completed except for your signature? If you don't like what they came up with, or you don't trust them, you can throw it out and file the old-fashioned way, no questions asked.

But if you have relatively simple finances and the state's calculation looks right to you, you could take advantage of ReadyReturn, a service of the Franchise Tax Board. You still have to pay your taxes, but you can file in less time and with fewer headaches. You can even do the job by e-mail.

Imagine: the government using technology to lighten the burden on taxpayers. That's one program everyone can get behind.

OK, not everyone. The Legislature killed the pilot program this year after intense pressure from Intuit Inc., maker of TurboTax, and other companies selling tax-preparation software and services. Thanks to them, there will be no ReadyReturn for the 2006 tax year. The companies followed up their victory by spending $1 million trying to defeat John Chiang, who supported ReadyReturn as a member of the Board of Equalization, in his campaign for state controller.

Fortunately, they failed, and Chiang on Monday joined with other members of the Franchise Tax Board to revive ReadyReturn for the 2007 tax year. Now it's up to the Legislature to do, well, nothing. This is a case in which lawmakers should stay out of the way while bureaucrats make life a tiny bit easier for taxpayers.

The arguments for blocking the program are bizarre. According to opponents, the enhanced state service unfairly competes with private businesses, which apparently favor a more burdensome and complex government in order to fatten the market for services that will help residents cut through all that complexity. What's next: Stop the DMV from renewing car registration on the Internet so entrepreneurs can make a living standing in line for drivers? Add more red tape to the permitting process to keep the lawyers and professional facilitators happy?

Come on. Market solutions are always worth considering, but it's the government's job to bill taxpayers. Filing returns is a taxpayer's burden, although a necessary one, and government's all-too-rare efforts to minimize that burden are welcome. ReadyReturn is a step in the right direction.

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