Like many Americans, West Virginians are dissatisfied with our federal government. In fact, in a recent survey, Americans say dissatisfaction with the government is the nation’s top problem, ahead of inflation and the economy. That’s why it’s so perplexing that some lawmakers in Washington are suggesting that we hand more power over to one of the government’s most unpopular and least trusted agencies, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
If Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gets her way, Congress would expand the size and scope of the IRS by putting the agency in charge of every Americans’ tax preparations. The proposal is essentially a government power grab as it takes American taxpayers’ financial autonomy and hands it over to IRS agents. There are several significant concerns regarding giving more power to the IRS – and less power to individual Americans.
For starters, the IRS has already proven that the agency cannot be trusted with the sensitive personal data of millions of Americans that would be required to operate a government-run tax preparation operation. The creation and ongoing maintenance of a highly complex tax preparation system would require the IRS to ask each American taxpayer for confidential information such as their social security numbers, bank account information, and investment accounts, to name a few.
The problem is that the agency has a dismal track record when it comes to protecting sensitive data. Many Americans will remember a serious incident from 2015 when the IRS failed to inform more than 700,000 taxpayers that hackers accessed their personal information. According to one of the victims of the breach, the IRS failed to provide a solution saying, “Short of changing your social security number, which I understand only witness protection program victims can do, we don’t really have a solution yet, but I think we need to search for one.”
Further, some IRS agents have abused their position of authority to conduct politically motivated audits on certain groups based on political persuasion. For example, in 2013, then IRS official Lois Lerner acknowledged that the agency had used its prowess to target hundreds of conservative organizations seeking tax exempt status for unnecessary audits and additional scrutiny. This admission made clear that certain agents are not to be trusted with even more power than they already yield.
It’s important to note that many low and middle-income Americans rely on their tax returns as part of their annual income. These Americans often file relatively complicated tax returns because they may be eligible for more tax credit and deductions than higher earners. Because of this, a one-size-fits-all tax preparation system from the government could be very harmful. A generic government form could fail to capture the unique circumstances of these Americans’ years such as additional dependents, a new home, or charitable donations. In fact, a recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a government-run tax preparation system would only work half of the time.
All this is to say that these Americans are much better off under the careful and personalized care of a professional financial advisor or by utilizing free online tools and filing their taxes themselves.
West Virginia lawmakers can and should use their voice in Washington to oppose an IRS takeover of Americans’ tax returns. This represents an opportunity for Senator Joe Manchin to buck his own party oppose a harmful Democratic policy proposal. West Virginians and Americans alike are opposed to giving more power to the IRS, and our elected officials should make it a priority to take a strong stand against a government takeover of tax returns.
Josh Holstein (R) is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates, representing District 32.