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Tax Reform Requires Conservative Solutions

April 4, 2016
Weekly Columns

It’s almost the time of year again that the majority of Americans consistently dislike most: tax day. When it comes time for filing income taxes, similar woes and frustrations related to navigating the nation’s needlessly complicated tax system are shared by most Americans. Because of the headaches associated with finding the necessary filing documents, navigating the tricky instructions and still wondering if you got it right, it’s no wonder that many request an extension or opt for professional tax preparation services. Ahead of April 15th, the cries for a fairer and more user-friendly tax system couldn’t be louder. 

Looking back on how we got in this mess, it’s disappointing to notice how quickly we went off course. When the 16th Amendment was added to the United States Constitution just over a century ago in 1913, it established the modern income tax system. At that point in time, the instructions for the 1040 form could fit on one page and the actual code spanned only 400 pages. Today, it’s nowhere near that. In fact, the instructions for the same 1040 form cover 189 pages, and our current tax code has climbed to nearly four million words; when printed, guidance papers simply for interpreting the tax code stand more than a foot tall. 

Today’s tax code has not only grown ridiculously long but our yearly tax bill continues to get more expensive. According to the Tax Foundation, the 2015 federal income tax bill is $3.3 trillion. Combined with state and local taxes of $1.5 trillion, that brings the total bill shared by taxpayers nationwide to $4.8 trillion. To put this in perspective, if Americans devoted all of their income to taxes, it would take nearly four months or 114 days to pay this year’s tax bill. Further, the Tax Foundation reported, “Americans will collectively spend more on taxes in 2015 than they will on food, clothing and housing combined.” 

To make matters seem unfortunately worse, the enforcement of the nation’s tax system falls to the scandal-ridden Internal Revenue Service (IRS), an agency that was previously exposed for purposefully targeting conservative and religious groups seeking tax-exempt status. While House Republicans have led efforts to keep the IRS accountable ever since, Americans remain uneasy about where their hardworking tax dollars are going. After all, if abuses that violate the constitutional rights of Americans ever existed in one part of the agency, it rightly leads to suspicion about the whole agency and provides even more reason to change the current system. 

While Americans can certainly rally around calls to simplify the current tax system, any overhaul of such magnitude must be the result of negotiation that begins in Congress and is agreed to by the president. Even though Republican lawmakers have consistently proposed solutions to ignite the conversation, such an achievement isn’t likely to transpire under the last days of the Obama Administration. Unfortunately, President Obama has wasted nearly eight years without offering realistic ideas for tax reform or trying to find common ground solutions with lawmakers for a simpler, fairer tax system. Unless and until the American people elect a president who shares a conservative vision for the tax system, the nation’s shared tax bill will continue to rise and the tax code will become even more frustratingly complex.