It's said that nothing is certain in life but death and taxes. Unfortunately, these certainties can carry with them unpredictable elements, as New York state's libraries have learned this year.

For years, public libraries have been places, along with post offices, where tax forms could be picked up.

The post office bowed out of the game a few years ago, but the state still sent out paper forms to taxpayers as a matter of course. This year is the first year the state has gotten out of the direct-mailing game, both to save money and in response to the growing number of people who are using the Internet to file their taxes.

In these difficult economic times, we can't fault the state for trying to save $1 million.

Surely, though, state officials could have foreseen that libraries would face greater demand from patrons who can't get paper forms anywhere else. It was shortsighted of the state not to recognize the burden this would place on libraries already strapped by budget cuts.

"We have seen a lot of frustrated people because they haven't been able to get forms," Huntington Memorial Library Director Marie Bruni said.

The New York State Library Association called the change an unfunded mandate that "simply shifts the costs and administrative burdens from state agencies to local libraries."

It must have been easy for Albany officials to look at the numbers _ 93 percent of taxpayers filing electronically in 2008 _ and make this decision. But numbers don't always tell the whole story.

The taxpayers who will suffer because of this decision are the elderly, the homebound and those who do not use the Internet _ already a vulnerable and hard-to-reach group.

Sen. James Seward went so far as to question the state's figures; his spokesman, Jeff Bishop, called the 93 percent number "very questionable."

Imagine the disappointment of someone who makes the long, wintry trek to the nearest library, only to find there aren't any forms available.

While such situations may not be common to everyone, and may not be reflected in the numbers being crunched in Albany, they do reflect the reality of rural residents for whom Internet access is not a given.

The least the state can do is keep libraries well-stocked with paper forms for the 462,000 tax filers who don't use the Internet _ restoring some much-needed certainty to the process of filing tax returns.

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