Fred LaSor: Paying income tax
Federal income tax, if you owe any, is due Monday. It’s a nuisance, but for the most part I don’t mind paying. I consider it my dues for living in America. I do, however, mind the fact the tax burden is not shared evenly and equitably.
Take, for example, the number of government employees who are tax delinquents. In an article from 2010, the LA Times tells us federal employees owe back taxes totaling $1 billion, including dozens employed by the White House and more than 600 employees on Capitol Hill. Obama’s first Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, nearly had his nomination derailed following revelations he owed the IRS almost $50,000 in taxes and penalties.
And in early April of this year the Treasury Department announced a federal indictment for retired Tax Court Judge Diane Kroupa and her husband, charged with conspiring to evade more than $400,000 in Federal Taxes. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said at the time of the indictment “the tax laws of this country apply to everyone, and those of us appointed to federal positions must hold ourselves to an even higher standard.” She didn’t.
Federal privacy laws protect the identity of tax scofflaws including those who work for the government. And in truth, what they owe is not a huge amount. Yet I wonder what kind of person could work for the Congress, which writes tax laws, or the Treasury Department, which enforces those laws, and not feel extremely ashamed about ignoring the law and evading their personal tax burden?
Then there’s the issue of rogue employees at the IRS using their access as a weapon against political opponents. I understand their passionate support for one party or for a given candidate, but to use their office to suppress legal political expression is reprehensible and, of course, illegal. I wonder how they can look at themselves in the mirror in the morning.
The Tax Foundation, a Washington-based think tank founded in 1937, released its annual report on taxes earlier this month. They point out “… Americans will spend more on taxes in 2016 than they will on food, clothing and housing combined.” They put the figure at $3.3 trillion in federal taxes and one-half that amount for state and local taxes, representing in total $5 trillion, or 31 percent of the nation’s income. The Congressional Budget Office puts these figures a few percentage points lower.
It’s a lot of money whichever source you believe, yet it doesn’t pay for federal expenditures. Every month Washington puts us deeper in debt to pay for the goods and services it dispenses. Both leading Republican candidates have called for downsizing or eliminating the IRS and simplification of the tax code. That seems impractical as long as Uncle Sam wants to collect revenue from individual earners. And even if we go to a value-added tax, as Europe has and several Democrats want, we need a tax collection agency to enforce the rules.
Thousands of lobbyists in Washington fight to preserve tax breaks for one group or another. The building industry wants to preserve the mortgage interest deduction, and charities fight to keep charitable deductions, so we have a huge tax code. Not the 70,000 pages you frequently hear, but at least 2,600 pages, according to Slate, and complex enough that armies of attorneys earn a living advising tax filers.
All of which strike me as regrettable. I would like to see a simplified code I could understand, forms I could complete in a few hours, and no one guilty of tax evasion or using the IRS as a weapon. Happy tax day, readers!
Fred LaSor has been paying federal income tax many years. This year is no exception.