Monday, June 27, 2011
Enos Yoder fiddles with a metal gear and won't make eye contact with a stranger who is asking him about his troubles with the state Department of Taxation and Finance. Instead, he looks out onto his field, where a two-horse sleigh is carrying a stack of hay on a cart, ridden by a young man probably in his teens. Mr. Yoder, who owns a machine shop business, explains his problems politely, although with few syllables.
The department, he says, wants him to file his sales taxes electronically rather than mailing them in as he has done for years. Also, the state wants to know his phone and Social Security numbers.
There's only one problem: he's Amish. He doesn't use electricity, doesn't own a computer or a phone, and doesn't have a Social Security card.
Technological advances in the outside world are making life more complicated for this Christian sect, which holds fast to the traditions of its forefathers and shuns modern conveniences. But those traditions are increasingly clashing with 21st-century government mandates. ...
This year, the Department of Taxation and Finance has made electronic filing of sales-tax returns mandatory. While those without access to Internet can request an exemption, something got lost in translation. According to interviews with members of the community and those who interact with them, a handful of Amish — furniture builders and shopkeepers, mostly — have received letters warning them that they face a $50 penalty for every return not electronically filed.
Department spokeswoman Susan Burns said in an email that the department is mandating the electronic filing to cut down on bank processing costs and to reduce errors in sales tax returns. She said the department would be "judicious" in levying fines against the Amish.