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IRS’ partisan budget cuts

By Kay Bell · Bankrate.com
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Posted: 6 pm ET

The Internal Revenue Service, already dealing with sequestration cuts, now faces the possibility of a smaller fiscal year 2014 budget.

The House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee has voted to cut the IRS' upcoming operating budget by 24 percent from 2013 levels.

The reasons for the cuts? The recent IRS problems in handling tax-exempt applications, bonuses planned for individuals involved in those questionable reviews, expensive and ill-advised agency training videos and excessive conference expenditures.

In addition, the subcommittee bill specifically prohibits any IRS money from being used to implement the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. This section of the health care reform law, also known as Obamacare, requires that uninsured individuals buy a minimum amount of medical coverage or pay a penalty via their tax filing.

However, the appropriations subcommittee wasn't totally spending-cut-crazy. It voted to increase the budget of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, or TIGTA, by $5.5 million more than requested for the coming fiscal year.

TIGTA, in case you forgot, is the tax watchdog office whose report on targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups' applications for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status led off the spate of so-called scandals surrounding the IRS.

Trust or political punishment?

In a statement outlining the tax agency cuts, Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., said the fiscal adjustments were necessary "to help the IRS regain Americans' trust."

Really, Mr. Crenshaw?

The IRS can regain taxpayer trust by doing its job properly. And its main job is to collect the taxes that all the other U.S. government agencies need to do their jobs.

A major part of that revenue-collecting job is to make sure that groups seeking a special status that helps them avoid paying taxes don't get that designation unless they are truly qualified.

So the IRS asked questions of conservative groups and, as the TIGTA report noted, of other groups, too. Basically, the agency was doing its job, asking lots of questions to ensure that primarily political organizations weren't improperly granted tax-exempt status.

And because of previous congressional budget limits, it was doing so with less staff. Cutting the money available for personnel and training of those folks to continue to do their jobs will only make things worse, not better.

Yes, conservative groups were upset that they got asked these hard questions. But if a liberal group slipped through because the questions weren't asked, you can bet the IRS would be getting blasted right now for not being tough enough.

You'll get no argument from me that the IRS could do a better job of managing its finances. That's a given in all government offices.

The Treasury Department knows this and that's one of the mandates given Daniel Werfel, the acting head of the IRS. Werfel has had success in prior public service roles in cleaning up poorly managed systems. Give him a chance, and the money needed, to do so with the IRS.

Simply using the power of the purse strings to make political points won't help the IRS, taxpayers or the country's bottom line. And it certainly doesn't do anything to change the public's perception of the IRS or our trust in its ability to do its job.

It just comes across as what it is -- partisan pontificating.

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Veteran contributing editor Kay Bell is the author of the book "The Truth About Paying Fewer Taxes" and a co-author of the e-book "Future Millionaires' Guidebook."

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1 Comment
Peter Guild
October 28, 2013 at 9:36 am

It's no surprise that the IRS is an instrument of a partisan administration. Certainly, I don't condone this abuse. The time is here for the people to revolt and claim back our freedoms which have been taken from us. Peter Guild, Quincy, MA.