Pittsburgh Tax Review
Pitt. Tax Rev.
Policymakers, government officials, and scholars have long described tax complexity as one of the most serious problems affecting tax administration and tax compliance in the United States. Some of the costs of tax complexity include billions of hours of “paperwork and other headaches” that taxpayers face each year as they attempt to comply with complex tax law, monetary costs that taxpayers bear when they hire advisors and purchase software to report their tax liability and file their tax returns, difficulties that taxpayers encounter when attempting to claim tax credits and other tax benefits, and challenges the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confronts when attempting to deter tax avoidance and evasion opportunities that tax complexity often creates. Further, the burden of tax complexity, especially related to tax compliance, often falls disproportionately on taxpayers who lack access to sophisticated tax accountants or legal counsel.
In this Article, written for a symposium on the twenty-fifth anniversary of RRA 98, we review the fate of the tax complexity provisions of the legislation. Our analysis shows that the IRS and JCT initially complied with the mandate to provide Congress with general reports on the sources of complexity in the federal tax system. Indeed, they even exerted significant and meaningful effort in doing so. However, we find that, since the early 2000s, the IRS, JCT, and Congress have not fulfilled their statutory obligations regarding the tax complexity provisions of RRA 98. We show that, in contrast to RRA 98’s expressed “sense” of how tax legislation should be produced, representatives of the IRS have not participated meaningfully in the drafting and evaluation of proposed tax legislation. We further demonstrate that the IRS has failed to deliver annual tax complexity reports to Congress, as required by RRA 98. Last, we show that, although the JCT has delivered tax complexity analyses regarding proposed legislation to Congress, these reports have often contained vague and misleading statements regarding the effect of proposed tax law and have appeared too late in the legislative process to have a significant impact on the legislation.