- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

President Bush took his dogged pursuit of a $1.6 trillion tax cut to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday, as procrastinating taxpayers rushed to beat the midnight filing deadline.

Mr. Bush said a large tax cut could boost the economy.

"Senators are in their home states this week, listening to the taxpayers," Mr. Bush told about 400 industry and government representatives in a speech only a few hundred yards from the White House. "I hope Americans will send a clear message. Excessive federal spending threatens economic vitality. What we want is a stronger economy, not a larger federal government."

Near him on the stage at the chamber's headquarters stood a husband and wife from Alexandria, along with one of their two small sons.

After introducing them, Mr. Bush said, "They pay $4,000 in federal income tax. Under my plan, they will save $1,700. That's real money for this hardworking couple."

The president predicted that taxpayers would reinvest money saved under his plan by buying the equivalent of 10 million new middle-income homes, 76 million new automobiles or tuition for 26 million private college students for four years.

Washington residents interviewed yesterday afternoon as they mailed their tax returns had less-grandiose ambitions in mind.

Rachel Matney, of Northeast, said she just hadn't thought about filing until the last moment. She was at the post office in the early afternoon, waiting to mail her forms.

"I don't really have a good answer. We just kind of procrastinated. I don't know why we didn't take advantage of e-filing. I'm not sure we could have," she said. "As long as the line doesn't get any longer, I'd rather do it now, than at 5 p.m."

At exactly 5 p.m., a swarm of people rushed into local post offices from work to mail their tax forms or requests for extensions, according to Pamela Brooks, a supervisor at the North Capitol Post Office.

"It's been very hectic. That's the way it is on tax day," said Miss Brooks.

At least three post offices in the region the National Capitol, Silver Spring and 900 Brentwood Road NE offices were open until midnight to put a Monday cancellation mark on last-minute returns. Most, however, closed at 5 p.m.

Some last-minute filers at the National Capitol Post Office could not say why they filed late.

"I don't know. I just get so tied up with so many things on my plate," said Chantay Franklin from Northeast.

She hopes to not make it an annual habit and said she will be "definitely filing in the first week of February next year."

Harry Smith, manager of Postal Service customer-services operations in Area 1, had a droll explanation.

"Everybody procrastinates," he said. "Some of it is the thrill of being late."

Nora, a Calverton, Md., resident who refused to give her last name, was an example of such a person, deliberately filing late.

"I love to come late every year. I've been doing this for four years… . It's so much fun. Even the postmaster pays special attention to you."

"It's like a party, like Christmas Eve. It tickles me; I plan to do it again next year."

Michelle Lamishaw, an Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman, said most people who file on the last day are not expecting a refund. People who file electronically tend to send their returns in earliest, she said.

"Some people file taxes electronically because they owe, and they don't want to pay right then," Miss Lamishaw said. "They can choose to pay at the last moment with e-filing."

Delphine Robinson, office manager of the H&R; Block office in Northeast, said the rush of people clamoring to file their taxes is over mainly because many forgot that this year, April 15 fell on a Sunday.

"Today's been slow. We've only had about 20 or 30 people here all day, and they are mainly the same people we always serve at this time," she said.

Taxpayers can request automatic four-month extensions for filing their returns, but they still were required to pay their estimated taxes by the deadline last night. Otherwise, the IRS can make them pay a late penalty plus interest that runs at 8 percent. Extensions are available by telephone by calling 888/796-1074 or by filing Form 4868.

Blane Brooks, of Seat Pleasant, Md., said he normally doesn't ask for an extension to file his taxes, but found it unavoidable this year.

"I am still trying to figure out the forms. They're a little trickier than I anticipated," he said, while rifling through stacks of forms on a counter at the North Capitol Post Office. "I'm usually able to get things done, but this year, my finances were different."

Some area residents sought out IRS offices offering free consultation for taxpayers who make less than $40,000 per year and are not self-employed. One of them is in the Metroplex One Building near the New Carrollton Metro Station.

"They turned me away because I make too much," said James Thornton, a D.C. resident who traveled about three miles outside the city to get his taxes filed at the last minute. "I guess I'll have to go back in the city and wait in long lines."

More than 120 people had trekked to the agency by 7 a.m. Saturday, trying to be the first through the doors at 8:30 a.m.

"I came on Saturday but I couldn't get an appointment," said Gerald Mays, a Hyattsville man who has been getting his taxes done at the Metroplex for more than four years.

• Kate Royce, Guy Taylor and Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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