Another April 15 income-tax deadline has come and gone, survived by everyone save those on the lam or on borrowed time via an IRS-granted extension. For the wails of complaint about code complexity and Internal Revenue Service brutality, it is surprisingly easy to file - even for a certified math flunky.
Being able to avoid H&R Block may be a revealing self-indictment about not being a player in the world of high finance. But itemizing deductions and throwing in schedules C and SE for business profit and loss and social security taxes is pretty simple, if you give it a few hours some Saturday morning. Capital gains is trickier but not impossible.No doubt there is a host of other complexities dealing with estates, businesses, some investments and such that require assistance. ("Kids, these are trained professionals, don't try this at home.") But for most average salaried Joes and Jills who pay and reap a little interest and who invest a bit and claim legal deductions here and there, it is not that difficult.
And occasional horror stories aside, when was your last traumatic experience with the IRS? Bet it has been a long time, if ever. IRS agents at the Salt Lake office are known for their jocularity and benevolence - according to a good friend who works there.
So why are so many in the Beehive State, including our congressional delegation, clamoring for a flat tax when it clearly is not in the best interest of many Utahns?
No doubt fine-tuning and simplification of the current system is in order and that the Internal Revenue Service should be accountable to Congress. There also should be incentives for savings and investment besides tax-deferment of interest on retirement accounts.
But a true flat tax would undermine three basic deductions that give many Utah residents relief when the publicans come calling: mortgage interest, dependency exemptions (lots of offspring) and charitable contributions.
Utahns, highly educated by comparison to the rest of the country and having many children pursuing post-secondary degrees, also would lose new college tuition tax credits and deductions of up to $1,000 in interest for student loans.
It may seem like a simple idea to eliminate all itemized deductions and replace our current system with a flat-tax system. But it would penalize many of us, even if new tax rates were adjusted and standardized. And who would guarantee the new, simpler rates would be lower and would not quickly increase over time?
Yet Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, among others, is on the record supporting a flat tax. That is a peculiar position, considering his constituency reaps significant benefits from having more children and giving more to charitable causes per capita - including tithes to churches - than any other state in the nation.
True, a flat tax is easy to administer. But the tradeoff would mean giving away the fiscal farm for too many in Utah.
Utah Rep. Chris Cannon supports many of his GOP colleagues in abolishing the IRS tax code and starting over. He is right to push for removal of the so-called marriage penalty, in which two married people filing jointly pay more in taxes than they would as singles. But a radical GOP notion to create a new tax mechanism by crisis - completely dismantling the current system with nothing else in place - is extreme and irresponsible.
Leaving a gaping void of uncertainty about where a new tax structure was headed could be a prescription for economic disaster and would surely thwart today's robust economy. Uncertainties about tax impacts on investments, mortgages, new businesses, education, charitable giving and saving would be detrimental while Congress tinkered.
A body that cannot come to agreement on a nationwide tobacco settlement could take decades to revamp the tax code as political special interests zeroed in for their preferential piece of the action. A 10-month task force study on reinventing the IRS made more than 200 recommendations, many of them already in the works. Everybody agrees on a need for greater fairness, simplicity and stability in the tax code, yet few see eye to eye on what that means.
Removal of basic deductions would mostly hurt the already squeezed middle class. Anyone with a home and bevy of kids who gives to the church of his or her choice and other charitable causes should hyperventilate at mere mention of "flat tax." It is a deceptively devilish idea.