Friday, April 24, 2015

The IRS and Ted Cruz

The IRS and Ted Cruz

Recently the Washington Post ran an editorial by Catherine Rampell discussing the Ted Cruz proposal to get rid of the IRS. [Cruz’s Anti-IRS illogic Washington Post, 3/24/15] “Imagine abolishing the IRS” he tells his audience, where they “have more words in the IRS code than there are words in the bible.”

Congress makes the tax law, which is so complicated the collection process generates additional problems unrelated to the taxes Congress expects us to pay. Since the IRS only operates with forms Americans are forced to pay their taxes by filling out forms filled with details that often require additional forms and sub-forms all governed by thousands of pages of tax law.

The process is error prone and not only by taxpayers. The IRS computers get confused and generate false accusations and hostile demands for incorrect tax payments, penalty and interest. The computer and IRS force taxpayers to answer and prove their innocence, not the other way around that we are innocent until proven guilty, like it says in the constitution. The process generates a hatred for the IRS quite apart from actual tax payments.

In the Rampell piece she worries someone has to collect the taxes and she can’t quite decide if Cruz wants to “zero out” the IRS or just make it simpler so we could have a “postcard” size tax return.

I can think of ways to eliminate the IRS in personal income tax collection. One alternative recognizes the current tax law has created categories of income to be taxed in different ways and at different rates. Wages are taxed one way and dividends and capital gains in another and so on. As well, the IRS requires withholding of wage income from each paycheck but not interest, dividends or capital gains.

It is therefore possible, and reasonable, to have all categories of income withheld, the tax paid by the source of the transaction and to have the annual tax rates converted to weeks, months or quarters as appropriate. There is absolutely no reason why tax rates have to be by the year. A 12 percent annual tax rate applied each month generates the same tax at one percent a month. Any and all exemptions and deductions can easily be converted to the same weeks, months or quarters to match income earning transactions.

Collecting income taxes at the source eliminates the IRS from the personal income tax; the IRS will be left to enforce the tax laws through business account audits: a tiny job by comparison. Individuals with tax disputes will settle them with the businesses that compute them.

Ted Cruz is a media star who knows how to huff and puff in indignation at our complicated tax system and get press attention, but he knows perfectly well the vested interests that benefit from the IRS and have the power and the will to make it more complicated, not less. Rampell reports there are 4,100 changes in the tax code since 2004, or more than one per day.

Too many people make too much money from the tax system, either directly with accounting jobs and legal services, or with one of the cottage industries like printing, software, books, courts, the Post Office and advice, in addition to those in a position to exploit its complicated features.

The tax law Congress creates reflects the American mania for competition and a money making contest. In tax matters fighting favors the wealthy who can afford attorneys and accountants who help write the law and know how to exploit it. I have read there are 65 thousand pages in the tax code. Over the years I have read less than 100, but I do know what the other 64,900 pages are intended to do. So does Ted Cruz.

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