The White House can raise taxes on the wealthy without touching the tax code at all

“President Joe Biden wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for some of his policy proposals. Part of the way he can go about that doesn’t entail touching the tax system at all — instead, he’d just have to put the IRS to work chasing down rich people to make sure they’re paying taxes they already owe.”

“The most recent official tax gap estimate from the IRS, from 2011 to 2013, was that it amounted to $441 billion each year. That’s a big sum already, about 16 percent of total tax liability those years. But there’s reason to believe the gap is much higher — and that wealthy people are often to blame.”  

“The IRS’s total budget is down by some 50 percent since 1993 as a share of gross tax collections, and appropriations for the IRS — adjusted for inflation — have fallen by 20 percent since 2010, and after Republicans in Congress sought to curtail its budget. It’s lost thousands of enforcement staff. And its enforcement abilities directly affect revenue, not only by collecting unpaid taxes but also by influencing behavior. If people know that the IRS is going to come after them for skirting taxes, they’re less likely to try it. Rettig told the House Ways and Means Committee at a recent hearing that the number of examining revenue agents, who are tasked with handling complex cases, fell by 35 percent since 2010, and field collection revenue officers, who manage the harder collection cases, fell by 48 percent. The audit rate for millionaires fell from 8.4 percent in 2010 to 2.4 percent in 2019.”  

“Biden’s proposal to inject funding into the IRS could go a long way in reviving the agency. Because the IRS’s budget is generally determined year by year, it makes it hard to staff up or invest in technology for the long term. Agents with the experience and know-how to deal with complex audits can take years to train and replace.

“One of the key things in this proposal is not just the money, it’s that it’s a multi-year stream of funding that would allow them to plan it and spend it out over a multi-year period,” Hanlon said.”

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