public eye

printed 01/04/2019

For at least a couple of decades, I’ve been wondering why one of our new years — we have several — begins on Jan. 1, and the only thing I can figure is that Julius Caesar said way back when, “This is a dud of a month, so let’s liven it up.”

The fact is, our calendars are a mess, given the multiple kinds of years we observe: school years, astronomical years and fiscal years, with the latter being the most confusing of all.

Our fiscal years are all over the place, because some people apparently believe that counting money in one 12-month period is easier than counting it in another 12-month period, even though 12 months is 12 months. It’s not like one fiscal year has an early bird special while the other doesn’t.

Consequently, we have a federal fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. My theory is that it takes roughly six months for the IRS to remove all the screws it put to us on April 15 for a tax year that ended three-and-half-months earlier. And we wonder why the tax code is confusing.

Up until 1977, the federal fiscal year began on July 1, but that was changed to give members of Congress more time to not read the budget bill before passing it.

Fiscal years for most states and local governments, meanwhile, start on July 1 because it takes less time to explain a budget that doesn’t have a $500 toilet seat buried in there somewhere.

Texas, of course, is different, with a fiscal year that begins on Sept. 1. Presumably, that’s when high school football starts and no one cares about anything else.

The fiscal year in New York, another calendar rebel, starts on April Fool’s Day (no further explanation needed).

Alabama and Michigan follow the federal example of Oct. 1, because it was easier to have someone else count out the 12 months for them.

In the meantime, we have the astronomical or tropical year. It runs from spring to spring, which makes more sense to me, even if these years are never exactly the same.

The tropical year that will begin on the first day of spring this year — March 20 — is almost eight minutes longer than our current tropical year.

What I’m wondering is if we can use those eight minutes consecutively and take off from work early, or add it to happy hour and have a deliriously happy 68 minutes. On the other hand, maybe we can carry it over to the next year as sick time.

The real reason the new calendar year begins on Jan. 1 is politics. The government of Julius Caesar, who was elected first consul, or consul prior, wanted it that way because it coincided with when he took office. It figures.

Normally, Rome had two consuls, a consul prior, and a second in command, whose title was consul posterior. As it happened, Caesar kissed his posterior goodbye that year and gave us a new year date that worked for him and no one else.

It has remained this way ever since, even when Pope Gregory XIII revised the calendar in 1582 to make it more accurate.

Reportedly, he asked his advisors why the year had to begin when it did, and their reply was, “Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

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