President Donald Trump recently said, “We believe everyday Americans know better how to spend their own money than the federal bureaucracy, and we want to help them keep as much of that hard-earned money as we can.” Now there’s a statement with which many of us can agree.
While it’s near to the last thing on most everyone’s mind this time of year, in five short months, tax season will be upon us again. It sure is a sad state of affairs that our federal tax code has morphed into something so complex it takes a whole “season” for most individuals and businesses to work their way through it.
Consider this: In 1935, the instructions for the standard Form 1040 were only two pages long. It’s now up to 241 pages, and the length of the form has more than doubled in that same time. The tax code itself is more than six times as long as it was in 1955, according to the Tax Foundation.
Trying to decipher the American tax code has become an industry unto itself over the decades, because of its complexity. American taxpayers spend more than 6 billion hours annually to comply, according to the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate Service, and it puts a $262 billion burden on the economy. The tax preparation industry, in 2016 alone, raked in $10 billion in revenue, according to IBISWorld.
The tax code has become so cumbersome that 94 percent of taxpayers paid to have their returns prepared by either a professional or software, according to the National Taxpayers Union, and 91 percent of small businesses hired a professional, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Just to pay what is owed to the federal government, accountants charge an average of $176 for Form 1040s and small businesses shell out up to $16 billion each year above and beyond the cost of their taxes to have them prepared.
But the problems don’t stop there.
More importantly, not only is our tax code overly complex, but it’s also overly burdensome. With a combined corporate tax rate of 39 percent, businesses that chose to operate in America pay a rate that is 16 percentage points higher than the worldwide average, and the United States now has the highest corporate tax rate among all 35 of the advanced economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
In fact, while corporate tax rates have trended down in the rest of the world since the early 1990s, our corporate tax rate increased, providing a strong incentive for businesses to relocate to countries like China, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada or Australia where the corporate tax rates are lower.
So, as you can likely tell, I am very encouraged to see that Washington is now looking at tax reform on a national level. As a business owner and as taxpayer, I can tell you there is much important work to be done.
We need to simplify our tax code and promote fairness by eliminating loopholes for special interests. We also need to significantly lower our tax burden on all tax filers so we can once again become competitive and encourage businesses to do business here, invest in our communities and create more jobs on American soil.
Dana Dow, a Republican from Waldoboro, represents District 13 in the Maine Senate. He serves on the Legislature’s Taxation and Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee.