The Internal Revenue Service could collect billions of dollars more a year by using the same aggressive enforcement tactics against businesses that it uses against individual taxpayers, a congressional report says.
The report by the Government Operations subcommittee on commerce, consumer and monetary affairs comes amid a presidential campaign in which Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis has made more aggressive collection of unpaid taxes a cornerstone of his economic proposals.The subcommittee report, released Monday, says the IRS should develop a program to match "information returns" showing interest and dividend income paid to businesses with the actual tax returns filed by each company.
The report estimated that between $3.2 billion and $8 billion a year in taxes on interest and dividends earned by businesses is never collected because the income is not reported to the IRS.
The IRS for years has been using its computers to compare information returns listing interest and dividend payments to individuals with the income tax returns filed by the individuals. The program produced $2.35 billion in additional tax revenue from individuals in fiscal 1985.
Banks and corporations are not required to file such information returns, but the House report said the IRS still received 26 million such returns in 1985, showing income payments to 5 million businesses totaling $987 billion.
Rep. Doug Barnard, D-Ga., chairman of the subcommittee, has introduced legislation to mandate the filing of information returns by businesses. He said the IRS hasn't even been using the corporate returns it has been receiving without such a requirement.
"By casting these information returns aside, IRS is not only missing the chance to assess many billions of dollars of unreported business tax liabilities but has created a double standard of enforcement that is more lenient by far toward businesses than individuals," Barnard said.
IRS spokesman Frank Keith said Monday the agency has not seen the House report and will not comment until agency officials review it.
But at a hearing before Barnard's subcommittee last year, IRS Commissioner Lawrence B. Gibbs said the additional tax revenue that would be generated by a document matching program for corporations would not justify the administrative costs.
Gibbs said those costs would be much higher than for the document matching program for individuals because corporations use different fiscal years, varying accounting methods and different names.
The House report said the problems cited by Gibbs all "pertain to the way income is reported" to the IRS.
"The IRS never considered the desirability of modifying the reporting requirements, nor assessed the feasibility of a partial document matching program encompassing those corporations to which the difficulties do not pertain," the report said.