The complexity of the U.S. Tax Code is legendary, and Congress continues to add to the thicket with more and more verbiage every year. At last count, the American taxpayer is subject to a tax code that is 4 million words in length.
It’s a document that only someone in the business of preparing tax returns could love.
For the average taxpaying citizen, it’s daunting and infuriating. And then, likely as not, he has to send the IRS a check to boot. At least that’s the case for the 53 percent of Americans who still pay income taxes.
And as letter writer Kevin Verner points out on this page, the tax code’s provisions for special interests create special problems, particularly for the burgeoning debt.
No wonder reform of the tax code is a perennial demand. And not just by beleaguered taxpayers.
The ombudsman for the Internal Revenue Service added her voice to the outcry this week.
In her annual report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said the tax code is a “significant, even unconscionable” burden on taxpayers. Tax reform, she said, should be an “overriding priority.”
Her analysis, reported by The Washington Post, found that taxpayers and the tax preparation experts they hire spend a combined six billion hours to meet federal tax requirements.
Indeed, the tax code is so complex that 90 percent of Americans hire someone to help with their tax preparation.
But will Congress respond?
After all, it has been the primary culprit in the growth of the tax rules and regulations, adding an average of one change every day over the last 12 years.
Ms. Olson recommends that Congress review each and every one of those tax revisions to determine if they have a public benefit, and cull the tax code accordingly.
That would be good practice for zero-based budgeting, something that Congress should undertake as it looks for ways to stop out-of-control federal spending. And federal budgetary excess is closely linked to federal taxing excess.
It’s a challenging task, but one that Congress should undertake.
Getting started before April 15 would send a welcome message to taxpayers.