If you think you're frustrated by the tax debate on Capitol Hill, the people who compute taxes for a living are positively sick of it.
"I cut back on expenses and do without. Why can't the government face up to its fiscal responsibility the same way?," accountant Silvia Benedetti demanded over lunch yesterday as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the national professional organization for CPAs, opened its annual convention in Baltimore.
"A tremendously complex mish-mash," Donald H. Skadden, head of the taxation division of the institute, said of efforts in Congress to deal with the capital gains taxes.
"I've become a complete cynic about the whole process," said Robert C. Ellyson, a partner in the national accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand and a member of the institute's governing council. "Frankly, it's a mess."
The 103-year-old institute develops auditing standards, administers the uniform CPA exam and maintains the profession's code of ethics, along with representing the interests of almost 300,000 CPAs in Washington.
Drawing more than 1,000 members to the three-day convention -- which has attracted as many as 3,000 in previous years -- "is great, in this economy," said Larry Kamanitz, Maryland Board of Accountancy chairman, who helped bring the gathering to Baltimore.
Still, as participants made plans to join discussion groups on such topics as "the changing role of the auditor" and "the pTC accounting firm of the future," the general assessment of the future of U.S. tax laws was just short of grim.
The tax code is so complex that some businesses have simply begun to not pay taxes, said Thomas W. Rimerman, a California accountant who is chairman of the institute.
They "weigh the cost of complying with the law vs. the problems they would have if they don't comply -- and some of them are coming out on the 'don't comply' side," he said.
Last year, a task force established by the institute recommended that an independent chief financial officer be appointed to force the federal government to tighten up its accounting procedures, Mr. Rimerman said.
Publicly-traded companies must submit increasingly complicated audit statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission, but many federal agencies use inadequate auditing standards, he said.
"Do we think the government is doing a good job on its accounting? In a word,'no,' " Mr. Rimerman said.