This post was inspired by an NPR Planet Money episode I recently listened to called Tax Hero. Well worth the listen. It gave me all the emotions: sadness, anger, amusement. Stanford tax law professor Joseph Bankman piloted a program in California where the government would send taxpayers a pre-filled form outlining how much they owed in state income tax. If their records agreed, they wouldn’t have to do anything else — taxes were done. Only those who found discrepancies between the income reported to the government and their own records had to file tax returns. The program ran in 2005 and had a 99% approval rating from participants. So it should have been easy to get it implemented at the federal level, right? Maybe in a world without lobbyists and corporate donations to politicians. Even after hiring his own lobbyist, Bankman was unable to succeed.
More recently, Elizabeth Warren put forth a bill that would enable the federal government to start sending pre-filled income tax forms. H&R Block lobbied against it.
This issue seems like a no-brainer for the average American. There are only two cases:
- If they don’t like doing their taxes, they can just accept what the government has pre-filled for them.
- If they like doing their taxes the old way, they still can.
Pre-filled forms would be at least as good as our current system for every taxpayer. QED.
Despite working on the issue for a year and spending tens of thousands of dollars, Bankman did not succeed in rolling out his ReadyReturn in California. But maybe there’s a way that the rest of us can. You can easily call or email your representative after finding them here. Sure, it’ll take a few minutes of your time but if enough people do this, we might have some effect. Here’s a guide on how to write to a representative. But apparently, it is more effective to call.
Might I suggest 2 birds with one stone? Do you have a friend or relative whom you love but who talks your ear off? Try to get them interested in this issue. Then encourage them to tell all the other folks they talk to, and call their representatives too.