In the glut of stories that came out around Tax Day, one in particular stood out.
According to a wire report this weekend, three of the four top lawmakers on the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees, which are in charge of writing tax policy, rely on professional preparers to handle their returns. The politicians include Rep. Charles Rangel, D-New York, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee; Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the Finance Committee chairman; and Max Baucus, D-Mont., who also sits on the Finance Committee.
The exception was Ways and Means chairman, Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif. A former college professor, he said the press that preparing his tax return was just something that he'd always done.
That's all good news for CPA business, of course. And, granted, there's no doubt that members of Congress have more complicated tax lives than the average citizen, and, living their lives in the public eye, have an added incentive to get their tax returns right the first time around.
So, while the work of the President's Advisory Panel on Tax Reform languishes wherever it is that failed policy objectives go to die, Congress no doubt looks very much like the larger American public. According to statistics from the Internal Revenue Service, more than 60 percent of taxpayers turned to a professional to prepare their returns last year, and the number is expected to rise slightly for the 2005 tax year.
Coincidentally, I ran across an amusing link to testimony before Congress on, "A Just and Practicable Income Tax," on the TaxProf Blog maintained by University of Cincinnati law professor Paul Caron. While Thomas Shearman's idea for a direct tax only on the income of "accumulated wealth" is far-fetched to say the least, he does make some interesting points from a liberal stance on how best to distribute the burden of paying taxes. And his points are all the more interesting when considering the enormous income figures released by President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
My personal favorite practical point of Shearman's however, is the following quote, which comes several pages into his testimony:
"Experience proves that the loss of revenue through frauds in the returns of individual receivers of income is enormous. In no country is it computed at less than one-third of the revenue actually collected; and in our own country, during the last years of the income tax, it was very much more than this."
Of course, here it's probably worth noting that Shearman delivered his testimony to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Internal Revenue of the 53rd Congress, back in the fall of 1893. So, the report from President Bush's tax reform panel no doubt is resting among some fun company. And accountants don't likely have to worry about losing their Congressional business anytime soon.
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