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Desperate for tax reform that simplifies
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“Help!” said the fellow, surrounded by a pile of papers. “I don’t think I’m going to make it through this 1040 tax form.”
“Why is that?” I said.
“The 2016 tax extension I filed is due by Oct. 15. But it is so complicated, I don’t see how I can possibly figure it.”
“Millions feel your pain,” I said. “According to Forbes, the basic 1040 form was two simple pages in 1935. Now the basic 1040 form has 100 pages of instructions that are very complex. Maybe you can contact the Internal Revenue Service for help.”
“Ha!” he said. “The tax code has gotten so complicated that even the IRS can’t get a handle on it. Every year, some group has 10 people call 10 IRS representatives with the same questions, and they frequently get several different answers.”
“That’s no good.”
“Did you know that in 1913, when the income tax was introduced in America, it was only 1 percent, and only the very wealthy paid it?”
“I did not.”
“Well, taxes have a tendency to go one way and that is up,” he said. “During our wars, tax rates shot way up to pay for the war efforts and nobody complained, but the tax rates tended to stay high after the wars.”
“Well, we did a lot of things in America after the Second World War,” I said. “We built up our infrastructure, made money available for college and houses through the GI Bill and invested billions in social programs. These things cost dough.”
“Sure, that is well and good and these programs helped millions, but even as taxes increased, it wasn’t until recent years that completing a stupid tax form got so difficult.”
“Please explain.”
“It’s been 30 years since President Reagan ushered in tax simplification. At that time, multiple loopholes and deductions were eliminated in return for lower rates. In the late ’80s, completing a 1040 was a piece of cake.”
“But over the years, Congress kept meddling with the tax code. Sometimes it was to pass targeted cuts for individuals and small businesses, which many welcomed. Other times it was to insert loopholes to pay back donors. The result is an incredible tax complexity that is hurting everyone.”
“How so?”
“Because the tax code is so difficult to comply with, average Joes and small-business folks have to hire accountants to file their returns. The Daily Signal reports that the tax code was 400 pages in 1913. Now it is more than 70,000 pages!”
“That’s no good.”
“The Daily Signal further reports that ‘Americans spend 9 billion hours complying with the tax code every year, which costs them over $400 billion in lost economic productivity every year.’ Tax complexity is a key reason economic growth has been stagnant in recent years.”
“What can we do to solve the problem?”
“We make Republicans in Congress honor their campaign promises and work with President Trump to lower rates, simplify filing and get rid of loopholes for special interests. We need a new tax code that unleashes the pent-up creativity and energy in our business sector — that makes it easier for people to risk their savings by investing in new businesses. That is how you create jobs, increase wages and put millions of people back into the middle class.”
“Your ideas are good, but it’s taking Congress and the president way too much time to address the problem. In the meantime, why don’t you just hire a highly skilled tax attorney to help you complete that 1040 extension?”
“That’s the problem,” he said. “I AM a highly skilled tax attorney!”

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at