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Attacking the Tax Gap


Today a radio station played something extraordinary, an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) advertisement promoting taxes. "Help someone with their taxes, there is no telling what the returns may be." At last, after five years of American Bar Association (ABA) research, the Tax Reform Act of 1986 (TRA'86), and countless private studies, the IRS seems to be taking an affirmative step in dealing with tax noncompliance. Moreover, the IRS realizes the answer lies in the attitudes of the taxpayers, as well as in the collection system itself. This news is truly exciting.

Specific arenas of taxation like gift and estate tax, depreciation, or capital gains are complex and contain policy implications. In the arena of tax compliance, the fairness of laws is assumed and the tax owed is merely collected. Compliance is a politically safer way to attack the national deficit because it promotes economic good and does not directly cut government services. While the complexity of the other tax arenas requires attention, "not even administratively simple taxes can be raised against the hostility of everybody concerned, no matter how rigid the controls."

United States citizens typically follow the tax laws. Eighty-one percent reported the tax owed on legal income in 1987. Still, noncompliance exceeded $100 billion for the 1987 tax year. The tax gap is the difference between taxes paid and taxes owed (if all taxpayers filed complete and accurate returns and paid all of the taxes).