Congress Again Rewards Tax Dodgers with a Tax Cut

Congress has agreed to reduce the Internal Revenue Service’s fiscal year 2015 budget by about 3 percent (from almost $11.3 billion in fy2014 to $10.9 billion), with over half coming from the enforcement budget. The reduction is even larger after adjusting for inflation (almost 5 percent). This is just the latest IRS budget reduction; in inflation-adjusted terms the IRS budget has been cut by almost 18 percent since 2010.

Interestingly, earlier this week the IRS Oversight Board released the results from a survey of public attitudes on the IRS. Overall, the public appears to be satisfied with their personal interactions with the IRS—74 percent are either very or somewhat satisfied. Only 61 percent of respondents (still a majority) trust the IRS to fairly enforce the tax laws, and this number could plausibly be depressed as a result of the House GOP hearings on the possible IRS mishandling of some tax-exemption applications from conservative groups.

Two other results from the survey are notable (to me at least). First, 86 percent of respondents think it is unacceptable to cheat on their income taxes. Second, 56 percent agree that the IRS should receive extra funding to enforce the tax laws. Most Americans think it is wrong to cheat on taxes and are willing to pay a little more to catch the tax cheats, which brings me back to the IRS budget.

Most of the IRS budget is devoted to helping taxpayers with tax forms, catching honest mistakes by taxpayers, and catching tax cheats. Over the past few years, IRS’s enforcement actions have brought in about an additional $50 billion per year (this is above the $1.6 trillion collected in income taxes); this figure works out to about $10.60 in additional collections per enforcement budget dollar spent for the IRS (the average over several years).

If a $1 budget reduction yields a $10.60 reduction in enforcement collections, then the $191 million reduction in the IRS enforcement budget could prove to be a $2 billion tax cut for tax cheats. There appears to be a disconnect between what Congress enacts and what the American public wants.