Tax Audits and Threats of Audits Are No Laughing Matter on.wsj.com/qoSXak– IRS not the enforcer of the Obama or any administration
— U.S. Citizen Abroad (@USCitizenAbroad) May 14, 2013
This must read article includes:
Our income-tax system is based on voluntary compliance and honest reporting by citizens. It couldn’t possibly function if most people decided to cheat. Sure, the system is backed up by the dreaded IRS audit. But the threat is, while not exactly hollow, limited: The IRS can’t audit more than a tiny fraction of taxpayers. If Americans started acting like Italians, who famously see tax evasion as a national pastime, the system would collapse.
One reason why Americans don’t act like Italians is that they see the income-tax system as basically fair in execution. A tax audit or a tax-fraud prosecution is still seen, usually, as evidence that someone has done something wrong. If it comes instead to be seen as “just politics” then the moral component of the system will be gone. For the system to work, people have to believe that it is fundamentally fair.
This is why the IRS is so strict with its own employees. Paul Caron, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who writes the TaxProf blog, noted in response to Mr. Obama’s remarks that the law calls for the termination of IRS employees who make audit threats for illegitimate reasons. He suggested that Mr. Obama’s “joke” might be grounds for firing if he were an IRS employee.
He’s not, of course, but as the president his words carry much more weight and he should be much more careful. That’s particularly true given that people still haven’t forgotten about the Obama administration’s other tax issues — the appointment of Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary despite an inexcusable failure to pay $34,000 in Social Security and Medicare taxes while working for the International Monetary Fund, and the scandals involving Tom Daschle and others whose appointments failed. (When the Geithner issue came up, news reports indicated that IRS employees were very upset. They can be fired over a simple late filing or a failure to report a mere $500 in income, making Mr. Geithner’s “pass” on much more serious questions quite demoralizing.)