Story of a small debt

Posted: August 01, 2014

THIS IS A SMALL story about a small debt.

This debt is $22.94, owed to the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. It is the penalty charged for late payment of a 2012 state income tax.

It is owed by Mayfair's Joe Howe, who is challenging the penalty as a "matter of principle." He admits he was late and has paid the $82 he owed in taxes. The late charge seems unfair to him.

He has a solid excuse for being tardy.

During the early part of 2013, when he normally would pay taxes on his $19,416 full-time salary, he couldn't.

He didn't have that capability at combat outpost Shukvani in Afghanistan's Helmand province.

That's where the 25-year-old Howe was serving his second deployment as a corporal in the Marines, sweltering in 110-degree heat in a blazing wasteland. "It's not much of an ecosystem," he says as dryly as the desert.

He has the papers to prove where he was. He showed them to me over a luncheon interview in a subterranean market near headquarters. Mine, not Howe's.

The Germantown High grad has been out of the Corps since December and it doesn't look like he's had a haircut or a shave since then. It's a pushback against five years of shaving once a day and having his hair cut at least once a week. The beard's beginning to bug him and it won't be around much longer.

When he enlisted he asked to be an air traffic controller, thinking about a skill for use in civilian life. Instead he was assigned to be an unmanned aerial vehicle operator. That's right - he flew a drone, useful on the battlefield for reconnaissance, surveillance, designating targets and directing fire. His drones were not armed.

He's now looking for work utilizing what he learned. That might be anything from police work, such as Border Patrol, or even returning to Afghanistan as a contractor, at a minimum of four times his Marine pay.

When he paid his $82 in taxes, he appealed the late charge, which is compounded daily, he notes with emphasis.

He got some help from state Rep. Kevin Boyle's office, which looked at his paperwork and forwarded it to the state Department of Revenue.

I had some questions about the case and why the state can take six months to reach a decision.

Revenue Department press secretary Elizabeth Brassell tells me she can't discuss individual tax issues because of confidentiality, and the board gets up to six months to evaluate appeals and can call for hearings if necessary. "The board handles approximately 25,000 appeals each year," she tells me.

She can't say so, but I can: Howe isn't Google or GE. His tax bill was a paltry $82.

He paid that, but wants the late fee dropped because his service to his country made it impossible for him to file on time.

It's a lousy $22.94, but he's fighting on principle.

So that's a small story about a small debt.

Would I be telling you this story if Howe had been a civilian?

Probably not.

Had he been a civilian I would not be in his debt.


Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky



comments powered by Disqus