When it comes to designing interfaces for software or websites, there is a simple test to see if you are doing things right: If it needs explanation to the user on how it works- it’s probably not optimal. If there are penalties extended for doing it wrong- then you have even more reason to go back to the drawing board.
I’ve recently been arguing with the state about fines levied in 2005 and 2006 on my business- not for not paying a tax, but for not filing a year-end form telling the state how much I paid. The penalty is almost double what my small business paid in taxes. What’s worse is that I also paid my accountant in 2009 to rectify this situation which we thought was resolved then. We’ve wasted countless hours on this- partially because the state misapplied a payment.
The fact is, our tax system is overly complex and an unnecessary added cost to small business that could easily be resolved by using some simple principles of interface design- which are brilliantly explained by the title of a classic book on the subject: “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug.
To solve the problem the state is claiming they have with my filings is simple, if there is a form that needs to be filed- you shouldn’t be able to file anything else until you are in compliance, much like the video store doesn’t let you rent another movie until you’ve returned the last one or paid a fine.
In fact, the idea that we need city, state and federal portals for tax filings – or payroll services to “manage” this process is testament to how badly designed our system of collecting taxes is. One portal, where you enter your Federal Tax ID number- and everything should be able to be reported and paid in one place ( I wrote about this in 2008 when President Obama asked for ideas on how to make things better: Obama asks? Esrati Answers: How can the next president better help small business and entrepreneurs thrive?)
Yet, in backassward Ohio, the only state to have municipalities collecting income taxes, a proposal to simplify this at the state level is meeting opposition:
Municipal leaders throughout Ohio are concerned that efforts to simplify the hundreds of different tax forms into a single universal form are part of a shift to consolidate collecting the taxes through one agency. Cities say this could impact its operating budgets and create hardships for its taxpayers…
The Ohio Municipal League is leading opposition.
More than 100 cities and villages have passed resolutions to oppose any plans to prevent it from collecting the tax, according to the league. In the Miami Valley, cities and villages on record include Carlisle, Centerville, Clayton, Englewood, Franklin, Greenville, Hamilton, Huber Heights, Kettering, Lebanon, Mason, Miamisburg, Moraine, Oakwood, Piqua, Riverside, Springboro, Springfield, Tipp City, Trenton, Troy, Vandalia and West Carrollton.
Note, Dayton isn’t one of the cities in the list. The reality still stands that we have way too many mini-fiefdoms in Ohio- too many elected officials, too much duplication of services and a ridiculous patchwork of laws and rules to confuse and confound which is a big part of the reason the state of Ohio isn’t considered business friendly and the overhead of government is high here.
The fact that politicians even argue against these kind of obvious improvements show how out of touch they are with what it takes to run a business and work within the system that they create.
It’s one of the reasons I’m running for Congress, and if you agree with what’s in this post- please consider donating to my campaign. Note, if you go to any of my opposition’s sites- you won’t find posts going back years talking about these subjects. Thank you.