The amount that taxpayers owe to Uncle Sam is a staggering $103.2 billion, and according to the Washington Post, people charged with writing the tax laws are among the delinquent.
Data from the IRS showed that 638 employees, or about 4 percent of the 18,000 Hill workers, owed $9.3 million at the end of last year, the paper says. That figure that has no doubt increased due to the slow pace of the recovery and the accruing of interest and other penalties. It also is far from the only example of tax hypocrisy on Capital Hill.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), the former chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, is facing a slew of ethics charges for among other things failing to declare taxes on income from a villa in the Dominican Republic. That omission is particularly galling from someone who spent decades writing tax law.
But the wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth the foibles of our elected representatives and our staff will do little to help address the staggeringly high federal deficit, which now tops $1 trillion. Taxpayers should turn their outrage into more productive uses.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who brags that he sleeps on a cot while in Washington to save money, proposes a draconian solution of firing workers who owe back taxes unless they have entered into payment arrangements. The bill, which the Post says has attracted little support, is wrong. For one thing, there may be reasons such as divorce or illness why a federal worker’s finances are in disarray that are not their fault and may have no impact on their ability to do their jobs. Also, there would be lots of people to can — the back taxes tab of federal workers is a whopping $1 billion.
The American people are finding that cash-strapped governments are coming up with creative ways to squeeze every nickel they can from taxpayers. Officials in Philadelphia recently discovered that bloggers could be another source of revenue for the city’s coffers through the payment of the ironically named business privilege tax. New Yorkers have to wrestle with the confusing bagel tax . The sale of whole bagels isn’t subject to sales tax, though one that’s cut open and prepared with spread is subject to the duty. However, a bagel eaten in a store is subject to tax whether it’s been cut or not.
Though I disagree with Chaffetz’s bill, I share his outrage. Any taxation system should in theory — I realize this is a theory — treat the poor and the rich the same. Those that draw a paycheck from Uncle Sam also merit special consideration. It is just wrong for someone who draws a federal paycheck to owe the government they work for money. In the case of the Capital Hill workers, the back taxes are considerable: $12,787 among the Senate’s delinquent taxpayers and $15,498 among those working in the House. The data does not say if there are members of Congress among the scofflaws but it’s a safe bet that some politicians owe money to the IRS.
The best way to address the situation is to set a benchmark — say $10,000 — where a federal employee would have to stay current in their payments to the IRS or face suspension. Workers who owe less should be subject to wage garnishments. It’s a simple way to make sure that people are treated fairly and that Uncle Sam gets paid.