"I am proud to be paying taxes in the United States," said the late TV celebrity Arthur Godfrey. "The only thing is - I could be just as proud for half the money."
In an era when conservative political activists routinely demonize the federal government, it is a given that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would come in for special attention. Tax collectors have never been popular in any society. Factor in reports that certain people at the IRS have been discriminating against conservative groups seeking tax exempt status and you have a volatile situation ripe for mayhem.
Congress was already beating up on the IRS before this story broke. The agency's budget was cut by about $900 million, or more than 7 percent, since 2010. Now the House, in the wake of the reports cited above, has voted to cut the IRS's enforcement division by $1.2 billion or 25 percent.
I fully understand the frustration of the legislators but this effort to defund the IRS is extremely unwise and contrary to the best interests of our country. We all have our personal opinions of how wisely and well our government is spending our tax dollars, but there can be no reasonable dispute that the government has responsibilities to meet and that our taxes are essential if those responsibilities are to be met.
I have read the testimony of experts that every dollar invested in the IRS generates several dollars more in tax revenues, and I have no doubt it is true. Our tax system is a witch's brew of complexity that routinely baffles professional accountants and tax attorneys. The temptation to conceal income and overstate deductions is a compelling lure for many people, especially since we all know that tax evaders are rarely sent to the pokey, and in any case no one can ever be certain what the tax code actually requires.
When word gets out that Congress is defunding the IRS, reducing the already minimal chances of an audit, it is a safe bet that tax evasion will accelerate. More than a few people who are normally circumspect with their taxes will begin to feel they are subsidizing the cheaters, which will be yet another inducement to cut corners.
The foundation of a democratic society is the willingness of the great majority to obey the laws. It is imperative that our government recognize this basic reality and encourage voluntary compliance with reasonable enforcement. To undermine the authority of the IRS and its ability to enforce the tax laws amounts to political malfeasance with disturbing implications for our country's future.
Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.