Mad-as-hell day Tax deadline: A system that is worse than any other except most alternatives.

April 15, 1997

NOTHING IS CERTAIN in this life except death and cries every April 15 that the taxpayers of this country are mad as hell at the Internal Revenue Service. This year, a couple of Republicans will dump the tax code into Boston Harbor before paying obeisance to environmental political correctness by hauling it back up. What they overlook is the symbolic futility of their protest. For every tax reform proposal that is simple and reasonable, there seems to be a simple and reasonable litany about why it won't work.

Remember Steve Forbes and the flat tax he sought as a rocketship to the White House? It sputtered out when voters discovered the very wealthy Mr. Forbes would exempt dividends and interest. Now Mr. Forbes is back preaching his nostrum with important backing from House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

However, a complication intrudes. House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer has an alternative scheme: something akin to a national sales tax on goods, services and just about everything else. Republicans, like other mortals, can't seem to agree on an alternative to the income tax amendment implanted on the Constitution in 1913 by one of their own, President William Howard Taft.

Then there are the more modest reformers, who would preserve the income tax idea by applying it to all income alike -- not only Steve Forbes' precious investment income but, horrors, the mortgage interest deduction treasured by middle-class home-owners and the Realtors, developers and bankers who make up the housing industry. In the mid-1980s there was a feeble attempt at this reform, minus the home mortgage deal-breaker. But it was gradually eviscerated by politicians in both parties who can't resist using the tax code as an instrument (or bludgeon) of social engineering. George Bush started the counter-attack; Bill Clinton joyfully pursued it in his worship of activist government.

Millions of Americans will complete the springtime ritual of filing their income tax returns today as a testament to participatory citizenship. There will be chiselers aplenty, but by and large ours is a society of honest taxpayers that is unlike any other. It is a tradition not to be trifled with by vindictive bureaucrats, panacean politicians or those who have a personal stake in a system that is complicated and manipulative beyond belief.

Yes, some Americans may be mad as hell today but, as patriots, they will pay up despite rampant unfairness. Let those in charge not push their patience to the breaking point.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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