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Taxes Are a Calling

If you thought the government would tax the very air you breathe if only they could figure out how, you'll be unsurprised to learn that government wants to tax your talk too. Cell phone talk, that is.

More specifically, work-related cell phone calls.

This is more bad news for the weary business traveler. As if business travel is not tough enough, the government is working hard to make it a little tougher and more expensive to boot. As strange as it might sound, the IRS has suddenly decided to figure out how to enforce a previously unenforced and outdated law passed in the pre-cell phone Stone Age (1989). The idea is for employers to pony up 25 percent of an employee's annual cell phone expenses as - are you ready for this? - a taxable benefit. The fact that this ancient regulation makes no sense makes no matter to the IRS. It's found money. The IRS wants it.

If you happen to be one of the millions of business travelers who have been luxuriating in the use of a company-issued cell phone, you may have to kiss this gigantic "fringe benefit" goodbye. It soon may become too expensive for your company to keep you in this lap of luxury.

You can imagine that the cell phone industry is not too all-fired happy about being blindsided by the feds on this, at least not according to a front page story in The Wall Street Journal.

In today's already chaotic business environment, the last thing we need is more paperwork, more processes, and one more nuisance that makes life more difficult. Are you prepared to track something as insanely arcane as cell phone minutes? Minutes are a fundamental difficulty, after all. Unlike a regular phone, with a cell phone you're buying bundled minutes. Moreover, mobile phones are a necessity, not a luxury. The risk that companies might eliminate this essential tool is too great to justify any revenue benefit the feds might realize.

Many road warriors may have segregated this portion of their work lives by carrying two cell phones - one for business and one for pleasure. But my guess is that most businesspeople have just the one phone. Just file this latest initiative to suck a little more life out of the economy by hammering cell phone usage comes under the heading of Major Travel-Related Irritants. And pray that it doesn't become reality.

Road Warrior • Miami •