Harvard Crimson (Harvard U.)
(U-WIRE) CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ? No one admits that they like the Internal Revenue Service, especially around this time of year. Unfortunately, congressional attempts to capitalize on the animosity that many Americans feel towards the tax collector have affected the IRS’s ability to perform its core mission.
Anti-tax ire over the past decade has led the IRS to shift its focus from enforcing the tax laws to doing so with a high level of customer service. While we have no objection to good service, the IRS has had its staff reduced by more than one-sixth since 1992 as the economy and population have grown. As a result, it has essentially halted pursuit of more than one million tax evaders and has greatly reduced other forms of enforcement.
In 2000, the IRS wrote off as unenforceable more than $2.5 billion in taxes owed by 668,018 taxpayers. In 1998, on the other hand, only 98 taxpayers had their cases written off.
The IRS has decided that all of these cases are too small to bother pursuing given the cuts in the IRS budget, though some of them involve tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.
Since 1992, the number of audits have fallen by as many as two-thirds and the seizure of property to pay for back taxes by as much as 99 percent.
Furthermore, the curtailment of IRS enforcement activity has meant that the IRS only has the resources to focus on discrepancies in some of the tax returns that are actually filed. The IRS has completely abandoned any efforts to bring to task those individuals and companies who do not file any tax returns at all.
In fact, some businesses have publicly declared their intention not to withhold taxes from their employees’ paychecks, in flagrant violation of the law.
As a result, the audits and enforcement the IRS does engage in are disproportionately focused on the poor. Those who need to file taxes to be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicare or Social Security benefits are subjected to scrutiny by the IRS.
Wealthy individuals and corporations, on the other hand, simply refuse to file any tax returns at all and pocket their gains free of any fear that the IRS will investigate.
The gutting of the IRS budget has led to many abuses and inequities. It is more than unfair that certain individuals can refuse to pay their taxes and get a free ride on the rest of society.
Furthermore, we decry the IRS’s practice ? to some extent mandated by a Republican Congress ? of focusing what little resources for enforcement it does have on the poorest in our society rather than those bilking the government out of billions in lost tax revenue.
Congress may not yet have passed a tax cut for the rich, but it has let the wealthy take one for themselves.
Taxes, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously noted, are what we pay for a civilized society. To prevent the IRS from collecting the revenue crucial for the proper functioning of our government is self-destructive. To allow those least in need to escape their tax burdens is unconscionable.