The New York Department of Taxation and Finance is now requiring electronic filing of sales tax returns.  And it’s causing some Amish in New York problems.

Apparently there is an out–those lacking internet access can request an exemption.  If they don’t, they face a $50 fine.  Some Amish have been hit with this fine, though it’s not clear why–by the article, it sounds like a mix-up.

amish electronic taxes new york

Four-letter word?

An Amishman in the article describes the e-tax issue as being “of grave concern to Amish businesses”.

A couple points.  Fifty bucks is not spare change, but I think most Amish companies could afford that to be able to go on filing paper returns.  And what if it were called a “non-electronic filing fee” instead of “fine”?   Wouldn’t that change how the issue is colored?

I am not Amish, and I can’t get out of certain expenses and requirements placed on me (ie, DMV fees, ATM charges, etc).  Businesses charge extra for non-favored means of transactions (for instance, receiving money by check rather than a bank transfer often incurs an extra fee, as do many transactions which consume greater resources like labor, postage, and paper).

I’m the first one to root for the little guy against the tax man.  And I’m against gratuitous fees, whether imposed by the government, banks, or other businesses.  But stacked up against dilemmas such as the SMV triangle, building codes, and schooling, is this really such a “grave concern” for the Amish?

I sympathize with Amish on some points, but on others, there seems to be much ado about little.  Maybe the reporter here was just keen on a story involving the Amish.  In any case there is an exemption provided so even the fee need not apply.

The real issue?

I think there is a greater point here.  Choosing to live Plain incurs costs just as other lifestyle choices do–i.e. if I choose to live in a flood zone, to drive an SUV, or to smoke two packs a day, I am taking on certain costs created by my choices.

I support the idea of religious liberty and making allowances for non-traditional practices.  But if there is an avenue provided to avoid an objectionable requirement (in this case a somewhat high–in my opinion–but not prohibitive fee), I would just consider that a cost of my lifestyle choice and deal with it.

I think the public is for the most part sympathetic to the Amish.  But when every little issue and fee turns into a big news story, Amish run the risk of losing public support.  This is sympathy which may come in handy when they need to stand their ground elsewhere on more consequential matters.

I understand that Amish practice varies and some groups wouldn’t make a big deal out of it.  But for all intents and purposes all Amish are in the same game together.

The public for the most part views Amish society as one collective group–so if conservative Amish are making an issue out of a minor point, this becomes a complaint coming from “the Amish” as a whole.

To illustrate this point, I got an email from someone this weekend dissatisfied with what he described as poor work done by an Amish construction crew.  As a result of the bad experience he stated that he has lost his respect for “the Amish”, and would never hire an Amish person again.  One experience with one Amish group becomes “the Amish” as a whole.

So, some Amish groups may clash with the government over certain issues, but I think this kind of thing could hurt all Amish in the long run.

What do you think?

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