Momentum is building to overhaul the U.S. tax code. It needs to continue.
As illustrated by a weekend seminar organized by Utah Rep. Merrill Cook, the current system has serious problems.Perhaps the biggest of these is bulk - the U.S. tax code has more than 10,000 pages. When Congress passed its much-celebrated budget agreement last August, it added another 820 pages.
How are taxpayers supposed to understand a document that consists of more than 10,000 pages? And as last September's hearings into the conduct of the Internal Revenue Service showed, many IRS agents don't understand the code either.
The two issues that need to be addressed are how to reform the tax code and eventually abolish it, replacing it with a much better system.
Congress needs to deal with the first issue immediately, but the second issue needs extensive study and debate.
As Cook noted at his seminar, the current system "penalizes people for working hard, investing and saving. . . . Americans want a simpler, fairer tax code."
What's the best way for that to happen? Being realistic, for one thing.
A plan by Republicans to abolish the IRS with the Tax Code Termination Act, a proposal that would wipe the current income tax structure off the books as of Dec. 31, 2001, is a laudable goal but fails to address reality. Abolishing the current code would risk dangerous economic repercussions.
Other nations have tackled similar problems recently. Why not study what they have done? The former minister of finance for New Zealand, Maurice McTigue, addressed the tax-reform issue at Cook's seminar. Both a flat tax and a consumption (sales) tax were instituted in New Zealand with positive results. The goal was to eliminate the complexity within the system, reduce bureaucracy and make the tax contributions of citizens equitable. McTigue noted that reforming the tax system takes time as well as a strong focus.
Whether the measures that work in New Zealand or other countries would have the same positive effects in the United States is debatable. Changes here should leave intact some sort of deductions for charitable contributions and mortgage interest, two benefits enjoyed by many Utahns.
What is obvious is the need for substantial reform if not a complete overhaul of America's tax structure. The good news is it's something both lawmakers and the public believe is vital. And it's something that needs to be pursued with intelligence and vision so that whatever replaces the current system is superior to today's morass of rules and regulations.