We retired Tax Justice Blog in April 2017. For new content on issues related to tax justice, go to www.justtaxesblog.org
Looking for a good scare this Halloween? Right-wing film producer John Sullivan will have you hiding under your covers with his portrayal of jack-booted IRS thugs going door to door looking for any Christian, veteran or true freedom-loving American that they can squash.
Pulling no punches, Lori Marcus, a commentator in the recently released documentary “Unfair: Exposing the IRS,” says that if the IRS is not stopped then the next boxcar will be coming for you, an allusion to the boxcars used to carry Jews to Nazi concentration camps. Nazi allusions are part and parcel of Sullivan, whose right-wing propagandist films such as”2016: Obama’s America” and “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” are chock full of factual errors and hyperbole in service of perpetuating a sense of mortal fear of all things Obama or progressive.
With Unfair, Sullivan uses the IRS’s recent scandals as a jumping off point to argue that the IRS is an inherently criminal organization at the forefront of turning America into a “fascist state.” In reality, the real scandal is how years of woefully underfunding the IRS has seriously hamstrung the agency’s ability to perform its even its most basic tax collection duties. The lack of adequate funds for computer infrastructure, staff and training is more the cause of the scandals than any fake conspiracy dreamed up by Sullivan.
Rather than pushing for adequately funding the IRS, the film calls for abolishing the agency through the enactment of the so-called “Fair Tax,” which is a proposal that would essentially replace all federal taxes with a national sales tax. The film fails to mention that a realistic version of the Fair Tax would be extremely regressive, increasing taxes on the bottom 80 percent of taxpayers by an average of $3,200 annually, while cutting taxes for the top 1 percent of taxpayers by an average of $225,000 annually. In addition, the assertion that a Fair Tax system would “Abolish the IRS” is misleading in that it leaves out that fact that the IRS would simply need to be replaced by a complicated system of mini-IRS’s at the state level.
In other words, the Fair Tax plan promoted by the movie is really just a bait and switch, promising low taxes and the end of any tax collection issues, but delivering higher taxes for most taxpayers and a whole new set of state tax collection issues.
Unfortunately, the push to abolish the IRS and/or enacting the Fair Tax is not just the province of right-wing filmmakers. The Fair Tax Act, for example, has actually gained some legislative traction, earning as many as 76 sponsors in the House of Representatives and 9 sponsors in the Senate. Even scarier, the Republican National Committee is now parroting the Fair Tax playbook by fundraising on the promise to “Abolish the IRS,” though they did not exactly explain how they would go about doing this.
Rather than believing spun up stories about the ghouls and goblins having taken over the IRS this October, Congress should instead take its role seriously by substantially increasing the IRS’s budget, so the agency can more effectively collect critically needed revenue and provide better service to U.S. taxpayers.