With all the attention on tax reform and the July 31 deadline for President George W. Bush's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform to present its report to the Secretary of the Treasury looming, I decided to take a look at the bipartisan panel's Web site.
The panel is due to present to Treasury Secretary John Snow with a report that includes revenue neutral policy options for reforming the Internal Revenue Code. Those options are supposed to simplify federal tax laws to reduce the costs and the administrative burden of compliance, and to include at least one option that uses the federal income tax as the base for its recommended reforms.
In the course of its work, the panel has so far requested public comment on three occasions. The first time that it asked for comments, it asked the public to comment on the "headaches, unnecessary complexity and burdens that taxpayers -- both individuals and businesses -- face because of the existing system;" aspects of the tax system that are unfair; specific examples of how the tax code distorts important business or personal decisions; and goals that the panel should try to achieve as it evaluates the existing tax system and recommends options for reform. Those comments are posted on the panel's Web site, www.taxreformpanel.gov/index.shtml.
As you can imagine, the responses that the panel received from that round alone make for some, um, interesting reading. Let me just say, I have a newfound appreciation for the nine panel members. While I respected what they were trying to do before, after reading just a handful of the comments posted to the panel's Web site, I can say that I do not envy them the job of having to pour over people's gripes about our tax system, never mind the arduous task of coming up with revenue neutral ways to reform the tax code.
The links to the comments from individuals alone on the problems with "the code" take up a full 18 pages. Those letters run the gamut from taxpayers who are angry about how much time and money it takes them to file their taxes to taxpayers faced with outrageous tax bills because of the alternative minimum tax treatment applied to incentive stock options to taxpayers who say that the tax code unfairly discriminates against same-sex couples and domestic partners.
I got so caught up reading the individual comments that I never even got to the comments from businesses, associations, organizations and governments. It all left me wondering, how in the world are we going to accomplish any significant reform? It also left me wondering how that group of nine must feel when they come to the end of their work day, and trying to guess how much caffeine one needs to consume to get geared up for a task like the one they face. I know after 30 minutes of reading, I needed another cup of coffee. Just reading other peoples' wish lists for tax reform is a taxing task.
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