On Tax Day Eve, Philly’s Revenue Department Goes AWOL
In the quiet early hours on Sunday morning, my wife sat down at our family computer to do our civic duty and electronically file our joint tax forms. Filing with the state and the feds was no problem. It was only when she tried finishing the duty by filing (and paying) our City of Philadelphia taxes that she ran into an obstacle.
She went to the website of the city revenue department, clicked “file online” and was greeted with the following message:
The same thing happened if users tried to hit the “E-pay” button on the site.
That’s right: On April 14—the day before taxes are due—City Hall thoughtlessly and mindlessly decided to do “routine maintenance” in its chief online portal for collecting taxes from its citizens. It’s as though City Hall planned to hold a World Series championship celebration, but decided to rip up Broad Street for repaving the very same day.
This, Philadelphia, is why we can’t have nice things.
And it gets worse: Despite the promise that the site would return to service by 2 pm, it still was inactive at 6:30 a.m. this morning, a whole day lost for the public during the height of tax season. (Update: The site reappeared just as this item was published at 7 a.m. Monday morning.)
Yes, it was kind of a problem:
— Deirdre Woods (@deirdre_woods) April 14, 2013
And yes, the person who tweets under the handle “Philly Hometown Media” had—as usual—one of the pithiest takes on the matter:
And yes, the only sign of communication from the revenue department during the day was a five-day-old tweet, boasting about the department’s awesome website:
Department new website is now live.Please review the changes and how user friendly this site is.phila.gov/revenue
— Keith J Richardson (@phillyrevcomm) April 8, 2013
It’s all so very Philly.
We’ve heard a lot lately about the failures of Philadelphians to pay their taxes. We’ve heard the mayor’s promises to crack down on property tax deadbeats, in particular. (“We’re going to chase their little asses down as hard as possible.”) We even saw Nutter appoint a new “tax collection czar” this month, grafting a new bureaucracy onto the old bureaucracy in order to get the old bureaucracy to work. But it all kind of rings false.
Collecting taxes is the most basic function of government there is. None of the other functions can happen unless the government collects the money it needs to do all of its other jobs. Yet as we frequently see, City Hall often fails to do an adequate job of the task—indeed, it seems hellbent on frustrating those citizens who actually intend to comply with the rules in a timely manner. Once again, it has made ignoring the rules to seem the smarter, easier, better option. And on that basis it’s easy to conclude: Philadelphia government is profoundly, embarrassingly broken.
Most tax days, I encourage my fellow Americans to look at the bright side: Taxes are the price we pay for civilization, someone once said, and that seems about right. But even with our cheeriest faces on, paying taxes can also be a huge frustration. Some days in Philadelphia it seems like we barely meet the “civilization” part of things; our broken revenue collections is probably one reason why.