April 15

Tax day: Potency of reform movement has diminished as the national economy has boomed.

April 15, 1999

BECAUSE income-tax payments are due today, many groups seeking reform of the federal tax code and the Internal Revenue Service stage events to promote their causes. They aren't finding much of an audience.

The buoyant economy has taken much of the urgency out of the tax-cut issue. When people are making money, buying cars and homes and even saving a portion, they apparently don't mind when the government takes its cut.

Other factors may be at work as well. With electronic filing, taxpayers are getting their refunds in record time, removing some of the animus.

That's not to say that Congress' recent timid efforts to simplify the tax code and make it more equitable have made filing tax returns any less puzzling or pleasant. According to the government's own figures, filling out the forms is taking taxpayers longer and requiring more help from outside preparers.

Yet efforts to mobilize opinion against the tax code aren't having much success. GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes admits that his 17 percent flat tax proposal -- which would eliminate federal taxes for a family of four earning $36,000 -- isn't making much headway with voters. Even congressional Republicans, who had made tax cutting the top priority of their agenda the past five years, are now downplaying the issue. The campaign to replace the income tax with a national sales tax has lost its momentum.

The public doesn't seem to be in the mood to hear the message.

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