Tax Collectors Sing 'Taxpayer, Look Out!' - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Tax Collectors Sing 'Taxpayer, Look Out!'

Drew Johnson, Tennessee Center for Policy Research Drew Johnson, Tennessee Center for Policy Research
Reagan Farr, revenue commissioner Reagan Farr, revenue commissioner

Ever since NewsChannel 5 Investigates first aired the "Tax Tunes" videos, it's caused quite the stir among state employees. Some said it's just a harmless training exercise.

On the other hand, what really makes the videos interesting was to hear how Tennessee's tax collectors sing and joke about taxpayers.

The faces of Tennessee's faceless tax collectors - auditors who sang gleeful songs like "Tax Fever" about auditing.  One group chimed:

"It's my audit,
And I'll tax if I want to.
Tax if I want to.
Tax if I want to."

Some of the videos from a weeklong revenue department training session may be silly, perhaps even a bit embarrassing, but according to revenue commissioner Reagan Farr, the videos were basically harmless.

"As long as all those things have the net goal of team building, breaking down bridges or communicating an important message, I have no problem with that," Farr told NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.

At the same time, some tax watchdogs said listen to the lyrics - "Taxpayer, watch out! Watch out for me!" - and you'll hear a definite, anti-taxpayer message.

"I'll be there
To come and audit you.
I'll be there.
No matter what you do."

"We the taxpayers are paying these Department of Revenue staffers to sing songs about how they are out to get us," said Drew Johnson of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

"Oh, oh, we're toiling on the chain gang.
And we're frightening taxpayers while we're working
On the chain gang."

Williams told the commissioner, "This is your auditors singing about frightening taxpayers."

"Well, they are the ones on the chain gang," Farr responded. "I mean, I don't know, generally its better not to be part of the chain."

"Some taxpayers only believe in fairy tales.
They don't have a clue to what we tax."

"It's just very antitaxpayer. We see that song after song," Johnson said.

One song celebrated a ruling against a taxpayer.

"Commissioner Page called down in rage,
Looking for a penalty waiver.
We said it's done, and we had fun
Denying the claim."

"Do your people have fun denying claims?" Williams asked Farr.

"You know, I don't know," the commissioner answered. "What's important to me is did they follow all of our rules and procedures in denying it or not."

In another video, auditors worry about not digging up any dirt in an audit.

"We all remember being blue,
Another audit no tax due.
We were sure that we were screwed.
The day the bills went through."

"So are auditors screwed if they don't find anything on the taxpayers?" Williams questioned the commissioner.

"No," Farr insisted. "We audit for compliance. I have no problem, as long as we do our work, if that audit results in a refund."

Then, there's video that shows revenue staffers dancing at what appears to be a funeral.

"We apparently have a dead taxpayer and a grieving widow and these people dancing around to a 50 Cent song," Johnson observed.

"Go. Go. Go, money.
It's your tax day.
We're gonna party.
Like it your tax day."

"Is this what the department of revenue thinks of us, the taxpayers?" Johnson asked. "We die and maybe they should audit our family and see if they can get more money?"

"I think most of this was done in fairly good fun," Farr said.

"Some taxpayers won't be too happy to hear these sorts of jokes being made at their expense," Williams said.

"I'm sure they won't," Farr replied.

"Taxpayer, look out.
Come on, look out for me.
Look out.
Look out for me."

"It makes you wonder if that's not all they talk about, not how to serve taxpayers better, but how to get taxpayers," Johnson said.

Still, the commissioner noted that "auditors have a very tough job. Nobody is happy when they show up."

Farr also said that jokes at a training seminar are one thing, but what's really important is how his people treat taxpayers every day.

Johnson's group, the Tennessee Center for Public Policy, said the videos show why the state should save $150,000 and cancel a training program planned next month, but the commissioner insisted most of what goes on involves a lot more-boring training about tax law.

Still, Farr said he's not happy with the tone, but he said they'll still have some light-hearted training to help employees learn lessons they need for their jobs.

But Farr made it clear that taxpayers will not be the butt of the jokes.

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