Column: Don't cut IRS funding

Few people sincerely enjoy paying taxes.

At best, it’s a begrudging understanding that not doing so will land you in a federal prison. It's money out of your paycheck that you could spend on other things. To help pay off student loans, to make rent for that month or maybe even buy a new TV.

However, taxes are undoubtedly an important facet of our nation and government. Taxes pay for roads, public schools, first responders and the military. Taxes, at the end of the day, help make this country what it is.

Still, many Americans harbor ill will against taxes and the requirement to pay them. Many feel that taxes are too high, and calls for “no new taxes” or lowering taxes are generally popular political moves.

Even so, regardless of tax rate, an agency must exist to enforce and collect taxes. The Internal Revenue Service fills this role and, for its trouble, it bears the ire of most Americans. Yet, cutting revenue for the IRS, as Republican politicians are doing, is not the proper way to express a dislike of taxes; in fact, such a move is costly to the American people. The IRS has no control over the tax rate, only tax collection. Cutting IRS funding harms honest Americans who pay taxes and inefficiently strips revenue from the government to the detriment of all.

Since 2010, Republican lawmakers have been leading the charge in cutting the IRS’s share of appropriation from the federal budget. This makes sense, right? Wouldn’t defunding the IRS cut taxes?

The answer is no, but it might help if you plan on committing tax fraud.

The IRS only functions to enforce tax code. It collects your taxes, but has no say in how much you pay. Let’s look at it this way: When you go to the store for groceries and get upset at the price, do you blame the cashier? No, because what do they have to do with the price of groceries? All the cashier does is make sure you pay the right amount for your groceries, they don’t control the price tag. If the cashier messes up and charges you too much, the logical next step would be to ask a manager to help fix the issue.

You could also decide not pay and just walk out of the store, in which case the loss prevention officer might want a word with you.

The IRS functions in all of these roles: collecting taxes, working to fix mistakes and enforcing tax code. Cutting the IRS’s funding will not lower your taxes, but it will lower government revenue and spending. The spending section in particular has enthralled congressional Republicans. Like sharks to blood, they love nothing more than cutting the spending of an unpopular agency.

However, this is not fiscal conservatism; this is fiscal idiocy.

The IRS estimates that for every dollar spent on the IRS, the IRS returns four to the government in revenue. Therefore, cutting IRS spending actually loses the government money to the tune of roughly “$7-8 billion a year.” In the words of IRS commissioner John Koskinen, “the government is forgoing billions to achieve budget savings of a few hundred million dollars.”

This, believe it or not, should enrage you as an American taxpayer. That lost revenue is not coming from you — rather, it is coming from those who commit tax fraud. The IRS can and regularly does catch those committing tax fraud, yet it can only catch those whose taxes are properly reviewed.

With a lower budget, the IRS has to cut staff, and fewer staff means fewer people reviewing tax forms. This can lead to a slump in tax compliance, and even “a one-percent decline in the compliance rate translates into $30 billion in lost revenue for the government.” So, while you might be paying your share, others might be shrinking from this civil obligation — to their benefit and to your detriment. These cheaters benefit from the same public goods paid for by your taxes, while they keep the money that they should’ve paid.

There are other negatives to cutting the IRS budget, namely how it impacts their ability to provide support in filing taxes and fixing mistakes made by either them or the taxpayer. A 2014 Government Accountability Office report found that cutting the IRS’s funding, as well as a few inefficiencies within the agency, has led to an “imbalance between service and demand [that] has adversely affected operations.”

To that end, the IRS has had trouble providing basic assistance to taxpayers, “while taxpayers waited an average of 10.8 minutes when they called the IRS seven years ago, that wait had grown to nearly 17 minutes in 2014.” Furthermore, “the agency is so short-staffed it cannot answer nearly 40 percent of phone calls, and it has failed to meet its own 45-day deadline to respond to millions of letters per year from taxpayers.”

This means that if you have issues with your taxes, you may not be able to receive the help you need and deserve. Nearly 90 percent of Americans receive some form of help filing their taxes already, meaning if you need to reach out to the IRS, you’re probably already in a bad spot and out of other options.

With proper staffing proving impossible due to budget cuts, this problem will not be getting better anytime soon. If you thought it couldn’t get any worse, though, look no farther than Trump’s proposed budget, which would strip the already troubled agency of a further $239 million dollars.

If you remember the IRS’s estimated one to four ratio from earlier, would cost the government potentially close to a billion dollars in lost revenue. Even Trump’s own Treasury Secretary disagrees with him on this cut.

Lost revenue aside, the budget cut would again hurt the agency’s support system, somehow making what already amounts to a nightmare worse. This, combined with Trump’s insistence in lowering taxes and drastically expanding the military budget, is part of the reason the Congressional Budget Office found that his plan would not, by any means, balance the federal budget.

In the end, this plan of further cuts would only increase the tax gap and decrease the ability of the IRS to help out taxpayers when issues arise. Regardless of your opinion of the IRS, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” As the IRS will be around as long as the government exists, it should be important to all taxpayers that it functions at peak efficiency. Otherwise, tax dodgers will continue to benefit from your hard work and your money.

We owe it to ourselves and this country to pay no more and no less than what we are required to; without a functioning IRS, this will prove impossible. 

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