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How to Pluck the Geese and Leave Them Happy


Chicago. -- Deep resentment of the federal government strikes every year in the middle of April, as millions of citizens struggle with Form 1040 and worry about how to pay the taxes they owe. And it should give lawmakers serious concern.

It's easy to fantasize about millions of us dumping those hated forms in Boston Harbor in a new version of the Boston Tea Party -- and to hell with the environment.

Maybe it's time the federal government borrowed a strategy from the states, which have found an easy, effective way to collect billions of dollars for public purposes without aggravation. They hold lotteries.

Think how much sting it would take out of filling out Form 1040 if it were also a ticket to the biggest lottery in the world. It would cost the government peanuts. But it could get more taxpayers to file on time (requests for an extension on Form 4868 would not be eligible for the drawings) and honestly (no prizes would be awarded until winning returns were audited and OK'd).

Drawings could be based on Social Security numbers listed on the tax forms and held every July 4.

Top prize could rival the Powerball payoff -- $104,000,000. To make it even sweeter, it could be free of federal taxes.

There could be 1,040 second prizes of $104,000 each, tax-free. And 1,040 people could win a rebate of all of their 1995 taxes.

A wealth of other prizes could be awarded, some of them easily available with little cost to the federal government. For example:

* A "fact-finding" trip for four to any U.S. embassy in the world, transportation included.

* A tour of the U.S. Mint for you and everyone listed as a dependent on your tax return, with free samples of everything the Mint produces.

* Your portrait on a U.S. stamp (but only after you have been dead 10 years, as current rules specify).

* A ride on Air Force One, with or without the First Family along, as you choose.

* A reception for you and 1,040 of your best friends on the White House lawn.

* A chance to speak before either house of Congress (attendance by members not required) and have your remarks immortalized in the Congressional Record and on a tape made of your performance.

* 1,040 free copies of publications issued by the Government Printing Office.

* A homestead in any national park or national forest of your choice.

* A burial plot for two in Arlington National Cemetery, with a memorial honoring you as a taxpayer-hero.

* An invitation to ride along on a space-shuttle mission, after adequate training.

* A supply of food stamps for 1,040 months.

* A year's protection by the Secret Service.

* A get-well-free card to any of the National Institutes of Health to be used by you or a person you designate at any time.

* A round-trip to Europe for two by nuclear submarine.

* The clean-up of a toxic-waste dump of your choice.

* A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for any project you want to call "art"

* A lifetime subscription to the Congressional Record.

* The services of former President Jimmy Carter to mediate any unresolved disputes in your family or in any family you designate.

* Invitations for the next Inaugural Ball for 1,040 people and their companions.

* An appointment to a presidential commission of your choice, with an expense account for attending meetings, research and secretarial staff.

* A collection of 1,040 copies of books, maps, films and prints from the Library of Congress.

* Program of your choice performed in your honor by the National Symphony Orchestra at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

* A plant-of-the-month sent to your home for 10 years from the National Arboretum.

* Lifelong franking privilege for business and personal mail.

* An animal named after you, with mounted plaque and free visiting privileges at the National Zoological Park in Washington.

* Free school lunches and breakfasts for 1,040 days in the school of your choice.

* A confidential briefing about the future of the economy and interest rates with Alan Greenspan.

* Lifetime pass on Amtrak for you and three companions.

* A private weather forecast sent to your home every morning for 1,040 days from the National Weather Service.

* A parking space reserved at the publicly-owned airport of your choice for your lifetime.

* A round of golf with Bill Clinton, Gerald Ford and George Bush at a course of your choice.

There's talk about tax cuts, but they aren't likely to happen, certainly not to be big enough to relieve April tax pain. It's time for more imaginative, exciting solutions -- like a federal Form 1040 lottery.

Joan Beck is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

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