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Updated: Feb 4, 2023

This article was originally written and published for The Business Bulletin.

Here are some thoughts about dealing with taxing and regulating authorities...

Throughout the year I get many an earful of complaints about the Government and all the regulations and taxes that are imposed on “us common working people.” Besides all the IRS and State tax regulations, we have to get sewer permits to turn electricity on, pesticide cards to buy 2-4-D, inspection and driving logs to show DOT, Fire Marshall inspections on each stage of construction, Coggins tests to move horses, and the list goes on and on. Some of these regulations have been around for a while, and some are new, but whether they’re good or bad or necessary, they are on the increase. Sometimes we are more or less at peace with it all, other times we chaff under it and wish we could “do our thing and get on with life!”

Here’s a true story (funny now but not then) to get us warmed up to the subject. Back on the dairy farm in MO where we grew up, we had a Health Inspector by the name of Mr. Miller. That name, mentioned around the breakfast table, brought a feeling of dread or fear. He was military type, had a big deep voice and flat top haircut, and didn’t mince his words. The system worked like this, in order to get top price for your milk, you had to be a Grade A Dairy, and everything be clean and just so, so. Violations of the regulations got you “knocked off of Grade A” down to Grade C. Then you faced a severe price cut, plus penalties and time to get back on Grace A. We always seemed to be struggling financially so it was a serious threat to Dad that we might be bumped down. (It did happen several times).

Now Mr. Miller’s visits were always unannounced. Generally he arrived during the middle of the day after we had cleaned up the barn, but sometimes, oh dreadful thought, he came right during evening milking. I’ll spare you the details but suffice it to say we were at a serious disadvantage if that occurred.

Now Dad always made it clear that we were to find and get him immediately if Mr. Miller showed up. He had a way of dealing with authorities that seemed to soothe things somewhat. He believed in Jesus’ words: Matthew 5:25, 26 “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” It took me quite a few years before I really began to understand Dad’s take on those verses and apply them to my own business life.

I guess it was against Mr. Miller’s policy to give us a “clean sheet.” No matter how hard we might try, there was always some violation marked boldly on the sheet with a date deadline. That sheet had to be hung right on the wall by the milk tank, along with our Grade A Permit. Anyone, including the more successful dairymen brethren in the congregation, could see and discuss it.

If Mr. Miller couldn’t find anything obvious, it seemed like he was able to make up some strange regulation that we were violating. I remember once how he marked a can of fly spray left on the windowsill. His gruff explanation was that if the can had a weak spot, the sun coming through the window would heat it up and it could explode. If by chance someone had left the milk tank lid open that day, the spray could actually get in the milk and contaminate it!

He threatened us boys that if he ever caught us with dogs or cats in the barn we would be “knocked off Grade A.” Now remember we were “innocent” little boys and we loved our dogs, right? They were always begging to slip in to “clean up the spilled milk” when the screen door was pushed open a bit and we were passing through with our hands full! Then came the day, when right in the middle of milking and chores, my brother came running into the barn saying that Mr. Miller was turning into the driveway. Our faithful dog Poncho was at that moment licking the milk off the top of the calf bottles, so Danny and I pushed him out the door as quickly and forcefully as we could. Sure enough, Mr. Miller was calling to us before he had rolled to a stop, triumph in his voice hollering, “TOO LATE TO GET YOUR DOG OUT NOW!”

By now I think you are identifying with what we’re talking about. This happened thirty-some years ago but today I have found it to be the same way with the IRS. Many IRS employees need to push their weight around a bit. Sometimes it is completely beyond people to be able to come to an agreement with them, if they aren’t trained to do so, and very difficult then. Others IRS personnel are accommodating, but even then it’s just plain exhausting to comply with all the rules and regulations.

Please understand that I want to be careful about the way I talk about government, I don’t envy politicians and their responsibility. I even hesitate to call these officials that are charged with enforcing regulations our adversaries, (See II Timothy 2:1 and 2) but I think you’ll understand my thoughts on applying Jesus’ words to this topic.

My purpose in writing is that if we gain some insight on how some of this regulating business comes about, we just might better be able to cope with all this: Most regulations are born when difficult situations cause public outcry. I’m talking about situations like the school shooting in Connecticut. Politicians are under severe pressure to take some sort of action, or they are considered weak leaders. Usually some blame needs to be cast and some promise of prevention made. In that case there was immediate and swift emphasis placed on gun control laws. Our leaders emphasized to the grieving families that, “Something will be done to prevent this in the future.”

Now most of us know that more regulating will probably not fix the problem, but it’s likely happen anyway. Look at the tremendous amount of regulations and costs and delays that involve traveling by air after 9/11. Will it prevent another terrorist attack? Hmmm. On the other side of the coin, I understand from our local fire department around the corner from my office, that the electrical codes used and enforced in this part of the country have dramatically reduced the number of structure fires occurring today. That translates to less terrible deaths.

And we all know that we need some speed limits, ultimately we feel safer with them, and it lends to predictability with our driving. Also, the IRS has learned that by requiring farmers and small businesses to report payments made to others on 1099 forms, they have been at least partially successful at collecting taxes owed from people that would otherwise escape paying their share.

You and I know that all of these regulations and laws ultimately cost somebody money, usually the consumer, which is our customer. So then we that are in business have to explain why our prices are going up, right? So we can gripe and bellyache all day or we can make the best of it. Or, I suppose we could move out of the U.S. or Canada to a different country?!

The reason why Dad tried so hard to be there to talk to Mr. Miller was that he wanted to make peace with our adversary “while there was opportunity.” If that opportunity was missed, the case was elevated quickly to higher authorities and we didn’t get back on Grade A milk prices until “we had paid the uttermost farthing!” So hang in there, do the best you can to stay in compliance. And when called on the carpet, try to deal face to face with these folks and come to understanding and agreement early if possible. I don’t think Jesus taught that we couldn’t express our opinions, or ask for understanding, when confronted by a belligerent authority. But while we’re “in the way with him,” or “on terms of discussion,” come to agreement. That often means give and take, and some of the giving is simply giving up that attitude of “I’m right and you’re unreasonable.” Many times an authority figure will back off their stiffness after they are “honored” a little.

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