As sure as there's death and taxes, there's surely bound to be people who file their tax returns at the last minute.
That was the case again last night as late filers jammed the main post office on East Fayette Street trying to beat the midnight deadline. A traffic jam was caused by those who drove up in cars to drop their state and federal returns into 16 plastic containers manned by postmen on the street outside.
"I think it's a mess," said Joseph Wiggins, 28, who filed his taxes in February and went to the post office last night to buy an envelope. "People shouldn't wait this late to do it."
As Wiggins spoke, some people grabbed tax forms and others photocopied their returns.
About 9:30 p.m., Jon Poehlman, 24, an assistant store manager, hurried from the post office on his way home to complete the 1040 EZ form he just picked up.
"Ever since I've been filing, I've been filing returns on the last day," he said. "I think it's better to get money in the summer time."
Poehlman said he was certain he'd make it back before midnight and compared last night's congestion with Opening Day of the baseball season.
The main post office remained opened until midnight to accommodate late filers. At least five other local branches remained open until 10 p.m. to try to ease the traffic at the main post office, said Thomas Leeper, a general supervisor at the Fayette Street facility.
"It's the same ones usually every year," Leeper observed about the late filers.
Domenic J. LaPonzina, spokesman for the Baltimore office of the Internal Revenue Service, said most of the late filers owe the federal government money. "Most people who get refunds already filed," he said.
People who filed on the last day can expect their federal refunds in eight to 10 weeks, LaPonzina said. Those who filed in February or March got their refunds in five to six weeks, he said.
LaPonzina said 1 million federal refund checks worth $850,808,206 have already been mailed to taxpayers in the Maryland-District of Columbia area.
As of last week, 200,000 taxpayers in the Maryland-District of Columbia area hadn't filed returns, LaPonzina said.
Why do some taxpayers wait until the last minute?
"Human nature," LaPonzina answered. As with renewing license tags, for example, there is "some degree of procrastination in the public," he said.
Nicole Richardson, 22, an FBI employee, admitted she is a procrastinator. "I just kept putting it off until the last day, and you know on the last day you've got to do it," she said.
"It wasn't like I was getting a lot back. So I wasn't in a hurry," she added.
According to LaPonzina, this tax season has been rather "smooth. There were no glitches in our processing system," unlike, say, 1986, when confusion reigned because of changes in the tax law.
In addition, the electronic filing system now in use for the third consecutive year made things smoother.
In the Maryland-District of Columbia area, over 140,000 taxpayers used the instant filing system, which sends returns into a central computer at the Philadelphia Service Center, LaPonzina said. He said that figure was 11,000 in 1988.
"As you can see, it doubles and quadruples," LaPonzina said. "No doubt, next year we'll double it again."
Also outside the main post office last night, "a tax day vigil" was staged by people protesting the Persian Gulf war. They claimed that more than half of Americans' tax dollars are used for military spending.
"How can we pray for peace and pay for war," a sign read.
"The average Baltimorean spends $2,400 on federal income taxes and more than half of that goes to the military" instead of social programs, said Kevin Nielsen, 29, of Homewood Friends, one of four groups sponsoring the vigil.
The protesters have established an Alternative Revenue Service, encouraging people to withhold their taxes and, instead, give the money to food, housing and other social programs, Nielsen said.