Our Taxing Dilemma
To: Senator Norm Coleman, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Congresswoman Betty McCollum, Congressman Jim Ramstad
Once again, it is income tax time. This time of year brings to mind two dilemmas: our profligate and undisciplined spending, and the complexity of our tax system, which brings with it the time-consuming task of filing tax forms.
The current political establishment, of which you are all part, has assured the country—with a collective straight face—that you have cut 50 percent from our deficit and will balance the budget within five years. To claim that “our budget deficit” has been reduced by 50 percent, when in fact our combined indebtedness on a current operating basis has increased by almost $3 trillion, is—to use Washingtonian understatement—misleading.
Such budgetary chicanery also requires that approximately $180 billion (what’s a billion dollars or so among friends?) in Social Security taxes be included in the budget as revenue, while the present-day value of increased future entitlements (what’s $40 trillion among friends?) be excluded.
Given the deplorable conditions on the spending side, it should come as no surprise that the tax, or revenue side, is even worse. David Walker, the current controller general of the Government Accountability Office, has said that our fiscal condition is worse than generally believed. But I’m sure you are well aware of this situation. Especially after reading the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation’s general explanation of tax legislation enacted during the 108th Congress last year—that publication is 593 pages long.
Individual taxpayers must also wade through burdensome paperwork. A study by David Keating for the National Taxpayers Union says it takes a person using a computer and tax software approximately 12.6 hours just to file the “short” form. The number of pages in the instruction book for Internal Revenue Service Form 1040 has tripled since 1975, and more than doubled since 1985. As you might expect, many people seek help to untangle their taxes; in 2005, about 61 percent of taxpayers paid for tax-preparation services.
Unless Congress acts this year, more than 23 million American households will be affected by the alternative minimum tax, which targets married families with two or more children, and residents in high-tax states. Presumably this is because you believe tax cheats engage in a pattern of tax evasion by having children and moving to New York or California. The alternative minimum tax is so complicated and distortive of sound tax policies that the Internal Revenue Service Taxpayer Advocate Service has recommended that it be abolished.
Let me make a suggestion and ask for your response. You may recall one of the mandates included in the Contract With America, which helped to sweep the Republican Party into congressional majority in 1994 for the first time in 40 years: that all laws passed by Congress would apply to Congress on the same terms and conditions that they apply to everyone else. I suggest an extension of that principle. The next tax or spending bill should contain the simple provision that all members of Congress aver under oath that they prepared their own tax return without any assistance. This would create a truly wondrous number of meaningful tax reforms. In the meantime, the rest of us will be spending billions of hours trying to file our tax returns on time.
Vance K. Opperman
A Frustrated Form Filer