Monday, April 26, 2010

The public likes the IRS better than Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, or Congressional leadership!

Via TaxProf, here's a fascinating excerpt from tax journalist David Cay Johnson's column in TaxNotes:

Readers, here is some terrific news for sound tax policy -- and two related problems. But first, to give context to both the good news and the problems, a little quiz. Based on the latest national polls, how do Sarah Palin, the tea party movement, and the IRS rate with the American people? ...

Last place in favorable impressions goes to the former governor of Alaska. Fewer than one in four Americans view her favorably. Next up, with a 36% favorability rating, is the tea party movement. Leading the pack by a large margin is the IRS, with an approval rating of 49%.

Wow! Who would have thought that the IRS would have a favorability rating a third higher than the tea party movement's? Or that the IRS would be twice as popular as Palin?

Who would have thought the IRS has a favorability rating just 1 (statistically insignificant) percentage point below President Obama's? The IRS's favorability rating stands much higher than that of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (29%), and of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (16%), and four times that of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, R-Ohio (12%). ...

The poll results are cause to celebrate, not just at IRS offices, but everywhere that people want sound tax policies. Those favorability ratings indicate that sound tax policies -- transparent, simple, equitable ways to raise revenue that grease the wheels of the economy -- can be attained. The public evidently gets that the IRS is only the tax police, enforcing the law Congress makes. Years of carefully crafted demagoguery using slogans polished by Republican pollster Frank Luntz are losing their hold on public opinion as hard facts disprove or discredit them.

The IRS has an unenviable job. They don't write our convoluted tax laws (Congress does that), but it's their responsibility to assist the majority of Americans who want to comply with their obligations under those laws written by Congress and to enforce compliance on the remainder. The IRS employees I've gotten to know through my work as a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site supervisor are dedicated and conscientious.

It's nice to know that some Americans appreciate the work that IRS employees do, though a cynic might suggest that the 49% approval rating figure might well come from the 47% of Americans who had no net federal income tax liability last year. Though it's important to note that those 47% still pay other kinds of taxes.

In any event, there are at least 2% of Americans with positive federal income tax liability who appreciate the IRS for doing the best they can with the limited resources that Congress gives it to enforce the excessively complex and often goofy tax laws that Congress writes.

I'm in their camp. Our family is fortunate to be in the position of having enough income to be paying a significant amount of taxes, and I'm grateful for the job the IRS does. The IRS is not perfect (no human institution is), but they do an essential and largely thankless job with remarkably little in resources.

They could do it far better if Congress either (A) simplified the tax laws OR (B) gave the IRS more resources to enforce the increasingly complex tax code.

My vote is for (A). We don't need dozens of slightly different variations in the rules for different types of tax breaks for dependent children, for different kinds of plans for retirement savings, for different kinds of tax breaks for college expenses, etc.

Congressional leadership: the writing is on the wall. The public approves of the IRS more than it approves of you!

1 comment:

  1. Ms. O'Keefe,
    Great blog. You are on my daily reading list. While I certainly agree that it is the fault of the Congress as to our tax laws, I must take issue with Mr. Johnson's assertion that government revenues somehow "grease the wheels" of our economy. Respectfully, I don't know how to criticize such a statement other than to say it is absurd. Government spending, essentially, provides no net utility to those who are net payers. The test is to imagine, hypothetically, who, on net, would pay for the costs of government "services" voluntarily? The one limited exception is probably publicly financed roadways. We all use them and at least given some amount of taxation we will, somewhere, have a road. It may not be the most economic location, etc. but at least the taxpayers will potentially have a nice road to use. Thank you for your time. CC1