Last year, the Treasury Department studied the IRS’s program that provides volunteer tax preparers to those who ask for help. Some 41 percent of returns were filled out incorrectly. “If 17 of the incorrectly prepared tax returns had been filed, taxpayers would not have received $4,138 in tax refunds to which they were entitled,” the Treasury report found. Quite a price to pay for free help.
The real problem is that lawmakers keep trying to use the tax code to shape social policy. They then compound the mistake by ramping up the IRS workload without providing additional resources to do the work.
Congress gives tax breaks to induce people to save for retirement -- but caps those breaks so people won’t save “too much.” It aims to encourage oil production -- but in trying to discourage energy tax shelters, lawmakers thwart most of the incentives.
It gives tax breaks for installing a particular type of window in your home. It gives a tax credit for each child, but beware: the amount of that credit will plunge next year unless lawmakers act this year.
Enough. The purpose of a tax code is to collect revenue to fund the federal government. And that’s all it should be used for. In 1986, lawmakers greatly simplified the tax code, but we’ve allowed it to get out of hand again in the decades since. It’s time for a flat tax that we can all understand and comply with.
Maybe we can’t force government bureaucrats to become as responsive or effective as McDonald’s employees are. But at least we can ensure that Americans can fill out something as basic as a tax form without needing to place an unanswered or errantly answered call to the IRS.