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In comes spring -- and in come tax returns

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The Martinsburg Monster is looking over your shoulder.

Translated, that means the annual American spring rite of income tax returns is nearing its April 15 climax when the 10 subsidiary Internal Revenue Service centers will turn the forms over to the master file at Martinsburg, W.Va.

The Treasury has arranged it that way. The pretty flowers in the front yard and the income tax returns come together.

Last year as the hyacinths blossomed the Internal Revenue Service received 94 ,018,266 individual income tax returns for the year 1980. When corporate business and other returns were added, the total came to 166,527,670. The most enormous self-participatory bookkeeping task in the world.

No other big nation puts such reliance on the individual taxpayer. The end product is a major part of the taxes that make government work. Individual income tax returns last year amounted to $332.9 billion. The results all went ultimately to Martinsburg. They are there now on tapes.

This year will be bigger.

The estimate for fiscal year 1982 is 95.7 million individual returns. These are the ones being composed now by taxpayers staying up late to get their Form 1040s in final shape. The dollar amount of returns may be smaller than last year because of the recession: a tentative estimate is $298.6 billion.

The juxtaposition of spring and income tax returns has long been noted ironically by observers. The art of the tax collector, it has been said, is ''to pluck the most feathers with the least squawk.'' Profound traits of human nature are revealed in this most intimate of relationships between government and taxpayer.


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