The Treasury Department has released a statement discussing investment in the IRS and improving tax compliance. While roughly 99 percent of the taxes due on wages are remitted to the IRS, compliance across other forms of income is substantially less, because the IRS has had difficulty verifying whether income from unverified sources is properly reported. The Treasury states that noncompliance is concentrated at the top of the distribution: according to a recent study, the top one percent failed to report 20 percent of their income, and failed to pay nearly $175 billion in taxes owed annually.
The Treasury states that lower levels of compliance not only negatively impact tax progressivity, but also lower tax revenue and deteriorate the country’s fiscal position. If left unaddressed, the difference between taxes owed to the government and taxes actually paid will total approximately $7 trillion in the next 10 years. This massive gap in revenue would mean that policymakers must choose between higher taxes elsewhere in the tax system, lower spending on fiscal priorities, or rising budget deficits. This tax gap has many underlying causes, with insufficient resources being at the forefront. In addition, budget cuts over the past decade have resulted in an IRS that lacks the capacity to address sophisticated tax evasion efforts. Over this period, audit rates for taxpayers making over $1 million in income have fallen by almost 80 percent.
To ensure a fair and effective tax system, the Treasury says that a robust and sustained investment in the IRS is necessary. The IRS requires access to 21st century technology and to better information, so that it can target its efforts at offenders while helping compliant taxpayers avoid unnecessary and costly audits. Importantly, this investment will also put the IRS in a position to provide taxpayers with timely answers to questions.
The Treasury has listed some considerations that provide the basis for a series of proposals in the American Families Plan (AFP). The AFP intends to overhaul tax administration and provide the IRS with the resources and information it needs to address tax evasion. These reforms are expected to generate an additional $700 billion in tax revenue over the course of a decade. The reforms are expected to:
- Provide the IRS with necessary resources to stop sophisticated tax evasion. A key component of this initiative is the provision of a sustained, multi-year stream of funds to help the IRS tackle costly tax evasion.
- Provide the IRS with more complete information on third parties. When the IRS has information from third parties, income is accurately reported, and taxes are fully paid. Importantly, this proposal intends to provide additional information to the IRS without an increased burden on taxpayers. It leverages the information that financial institutions have about account holders, requiring that they add to their regular, annual reports information about aggregate account outflows and inflows.
- Overhaul outdated technology to help IRS identify tax evasion, by providing the IRS with resources to modernize its technological infrastructure.
- Improve taxpayer service and deliver tax credits. Service enhancement will improve the ability of the IRS to communicate with taxpayers securely and promptly. The proposal would also include the necessary resources to ensure that the IRS efficiently delivers credits to families and workers, including newly expanded child tax credits and child and dependent care tax credits.
- Regulate paid tax preparers by providing the IRS with legal authority to implement safeguards in the tax preparation industry. This includes stiffer penalties for unscrupulous or “ghost preparers” who fail to identify themselves on tax returns and defraud taxpayers.