Schadenfreude

Like many others, I’ve been following the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with some interest. So far, it seems like those working to stop the flow from the damaged well are pulling out every trick in the book; I’m honestly impressed that they’ve been able to attempt what they’ve done considering the remoteness of the wellhead and the unprecedented nature of an oil leak at this depth. Hopefully they get the leak stopped and things cleaned up as soon as they can.

Along those lines, I’ve also been impressed by BP’s efforts to compensate those who’ve suffered economic losses from the spill. Fishermen, for example, need only provide proof of residence, a commercial fishing license, and tax records from previous years to demonstrate their income. I’ve been highly amused by the fact that not a small number of fishermen and other workers in the area don’t bother with paying taxes, and so are hosed. As a fellow human, I have some sympathy for their plight, but as an honest taxpayer, there’s a definite feeling of schadenfreude. The words “live by the sword, die by the sword” come to mind.

An example of the type of fail I’m referring to:

“I worked for an uncle last year who paid me in cash,” said a crab fisherman who asked to remain anonymous. “The BP guy wanted my tax statements, but how can I pay taxes if everything I earned was in cash?”

Cash income is taxable. You should have reported it on the appropriate form.

Another man…said he worried BP would turn over records to the Internal Revenue Service.

“That puts you in the system,” he said. “If the numbers don’t add up, people who have not been paying taxes are going to regret it.”

Uh, yeah. You’re supposed to pay taxes. If you don’t, I feel no sympathy when the IRS drops the hammer on you.

Even more disturbingly, some government representatives are supporting those tax cheats:

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser agreed. “The question I’m asking BP to consider is this: What are you going to do to make sure the guy who helps unload boats for tips, or the elderly lady who sells shrimp at the corner for a few bucks, gets adequately compensated?”

Short answer: If they can’t prove they earned the income (e.g. by providing tax records or other suitable documentation, which BP said they’d consider), then BP is under no obligation to compensate them at all.

“This woman in the line next to me told the BP processor she earned $800 a week — in cash — as a deckhand,” he recalled. “When he asked her for tax statements, she said she had not filed a federal income tax form since 2000. Then she said, ‘I need a check from you so that I can pay back taxes and then show you the tax records.'”

It doesn’t work that way. Sorry. What’s to prevent that woman from running off with the money, never to return?

“Trouble is, people around here live differently — always have,” [marina owner Michael Turgeau] added. “If BP is really interested in helping us out, they should identify everyone who has had a commercial fishing license for at least two or three years, then close their eyes, don’t ask questions and just pay them for their losses.”

Uh, no. If by “live differently”, you mean “skimp out of paying your taxes”, then you’ve been hoist on your own petard. Yes, it sucks to be you, but you’ve been cheating on your taxes and, without those records, BP owes you nothing.

Wayne Landry, council chairman for St. Bernard Parish, which includes Delacroix, would not go that far. But he also worried that an undetermined number of people from fishing outposts would be overlooked because BP and “the bean counters in the Internal Revenue Service do not deal with culture or heritage; they deal with numbers.”

Shocking, I know. The rest of us have to pay taxes…why do these people think they don’t have to?

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