House bill 3838 contains 1,300 pages of changes to the Internal Revenue Code. The Senate version will also contain more than 1,300 pages of changes. It is time to call "time out" in this annual tax game and admit that this legislation is not fair, not simple and will not promote economic growth. It is simply another massive change of our tax laws.
Too many changes have been made to the tax laws in the last few years. Consider the number of subsections in the Internal Revenue Code that have been changed:
Tax Reform Act of 1976 . . . 1,849
Revenue Act of 1978 . . . 664
Economic Recovery Tax Act, 1981 . . . 483
Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act, 1982 . . . 530
1984 Deficit Reduction Act . . . 2,245
1984 Retirement Equity Act . . . 44
TOTAL . . . 5,815
The number of code subsections to be changed by the proposed Internal Revenue Act of 1985 (H.R. 3838) is 4,051.
The 22 tax lawyers in our firm receive significant fees for lobbying, explaining and implementing tax changes. If this latest effort continues and the law passes, we will enjoy another round of fees. But it is time to put our self-interest aside and be honest.
There used to be 15 years between major tax revisions. The 1954 code was enacted 15 years after the 1939 code, and the 1969 major tax revision came 15 years later. It takes time to study, learn and understand the law. It takes the Treasury time to write interpretive regulations; the Treasury is approximately 12 years behind in completing regulations projects. Tax lawyers and tax accountants readily admit they make their most aggressive tax planning recommendations in areas of the law where no regulations have been issued.
At a time when federal funding is being limited, the tax-writing staffs should be shifted from the chore of preparing and drafting annual tax legislation to writing regulations. The result would be simplicity through better understanding, fairness through nationwide consistency and better compliance by taxpayers.
The tax system would also be improved if the dollars spent on annual changes were appropriated to the Internal Revenue Service instead. Taxpayers understand that less than 2 percent of tax returns are audited. Why not set a goal of 10 percent? Fees for lawyers and accountants might drop, but revenue might increase significantly.
Title XI of H.R. 3838 contains 122 pages of changes to the tax laws affecting employee retirement savings plans. The Senate staff alone has made 50 pages of proposals.
Congressionally mandated changes to retirement plans that reduce savings in the interest of reform seem to occur annually. mployee retirement plans have been significantly and adversely affected by the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, the Deficit Reduction Act of 1984 and the Retirement Equity Act of 1984. The three major tax laws have required four costly amendments to retirement plans. The result is that plan terminations, as compared with new plans being adopted, have increased 300 percent in five years.
Some 700,000 qualified plans are now in force covering 55 million employees. More than 600,000 plans have been adopted by small businesses. In the past three years amendments in these plans have forced businesses to pay their lawyers and accountants at least $3,000 per plan, or more than $2 billion. H.R. 3838, if passed and signed by the president, would force another round of amendments at a cost of at least $2,000 each, or more than $1.4 billion. Why reduce benefits to employees and increase plan expenses? This is not fairness or simplicity. The only economic growth is for lawyers and accountants.
Recent reports indicate that the rate of savings in the United States has declined to a 35-year low of 2.9 percent of disposable income. This is an average annualized volume of 34 percent below that of last year. Why pass laws that further reduce incentives to save, thus causing termination of savings plans?
The employee plans divisions of the IRS are swamped. One division staffed and planned for the submission of 20,000 plan changes in 1986. To date, 30,000 have been submitted, with 54,000 expected for the year. Turnaround time has swelled from four months to nine months, with 12 months expected. Nearly all of the staff has, of necessity, been diverted to reviewing and processing amendments, not auditing operations. Plan terminations now account for almost 30 percent of the workload. Those pushing for more pension changes should ask the IRS whether more changes are needed. They would find the interest in more changes to be at the bottom of the agenda and survival of the system at the top.
A lot of personal capital has been invested in this latest tax reform effort -- by the president; by Donald Regan, who started this effort; and by Treasury Secretary James Baker, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Roby want to finish it. They and their staffs have made an honest and determined effort. This should not be viewed as a Republican Party problem or a Democratic Party problem. It is a congressional problem -- of too many changes. Let us hope the members of Congress are frank enough to admit that three rates versus 16, plus a higher standard deduction for some, is not fairness or simplicity and will not encourage economic growth.
The tax code should be left alone. It will become fair and simple through understanding and application. Economic growth will never be achieved through tax law changes; it will come from letting businessmen and motivated employees focus on marketing, merchandising and producing quality products at competitive prices. They should not be spending time and dollars on figuring out changes in the tax law.