Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared in South Carolina CPA Report magazine (2Q, 2018).
By Walda Wildman | SCACPA Member Since 1984
One of my memories from my first year in college is the butterflies I had when the sorority I had just pledged had its first fall fraternity mixer. The fraternity members assembled at our front door and we emerged to receive their welcome and off we went to an off-campus party facility. I was 16, had graduated from a girls-only high school, and had hardly been on a date with anyone, much less a Northwestern University man. I was quite outside my comfort zone.
Why am I sharing this now-ancient memory? Because I still have those butterflies when I have to talk to one of our state legislators. But, just as I did back in 1963, I take a mental deep breath and tell myself to step out there, shake hands and speak my piece. Then, just as at the fraternity mixer, I find the legislator is eager to talk to me.
I suspect most SCACPA members are uncomfortable with the idea of reaching out to legislators. CPAs didn’t lobby until the 1986 tax act forced most of our clients to adopt Dec. 31 year-ends. Compressing our tax work into four months got the attention of the AICPA. Since then, among other issues, we’ve lobbied about the Preparer Tax Identification Number requirement, for simpler multi-state withholding, and for more IRS funding. As government has expanded, we’ve increased our lobbying.
In the modern era, there’s usually a big tax bill when the presidency change parties, but we still have a smaller tax bill (or two or three) every year now. Congress sees nothing wrong with annual tinkering. Then, of course, Congress must annually extend provisions originally set to expire in order to comply with revenue neutrality rules. The individual provisions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, after all, last only a few years.
Annual tax law changes mean our state legislature must pass a “Conformity” bill every year to keep our state code in sync with the Federal code. It has been heavy lifting over the years to get this bill passed prior to April 15. This year, the tax deadline came and went without a bill. As I write, we really don’t know what South Carolina income tax might look like for 2018, and I have a number of 2017 returns extended because of new Federal-state tax differences. How do we advise clients under those circumstances?
Because of revenue neutrality requirements and tax laws passed for limited time periods, we are going to need the annual South Carolina legislative fix for some time to come. That’s why I urge you to consider swallowing hard and making it a priority to know your legislator personally. Call your legislator. Take him or her to lunch, send invitations to meet with your staff, and send contributions. (By the way, send the opponent a contribution if it looks like that candidate might win!) We need for our legislators to know us.
The bottom line is we must educate our legislators so that they know as instantly as we do what Conformity means. Let’s position the annual Conformity legislation at the top of the Legislature’s to-do list. Our lobbyists can’t succeed without our help. They can provide information and they can count votes, but they are not constituents. We are the constituents and our legislators want to hear from us.
Every one of us should be making annual contributions to our legislators. I know from being the treasurer of two political campaigns that few citizens give a whole lot. An annual contribution of $50 will get noticed over several years. A regular contribution of $250 definitely will be noticed. Unsolicited contributions are especially welcome. Campaigns are expensive these days, and many of our legislators hate asking for money. They remember people who give willingly and regularly. And don’t forget SCACPA’s CPA-PAC. We should all remember to add a PAC contribution when we renew our annual dues.
Positioning Conformity where it needs to be for the sake of South Carolina taxpayers is going to take repeating our message over and over to as many of our legislators as will listen.
Will you step outside your comfort zone and join me in delivering our message?
About the Author: Walda Wildman, CPA, graduated with honors in political science from Northwestern University and earned a Masters in Sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill. For many years, she was the “mom” who kept the books for a multi-location Mom & Pop restaurant organization with her husband. Since passing the CPA Exam in 1984, she has served on many SCACPA committees but is now a mostly retired solo practitioner in Columbia who every now and again sells one of her oil paintings.