Published on Tuesday, January 22, 2002 in the Long Island, NY Newsday
Incite Cheats, Give the Rich New Tax Cuts
by Robert Reno
THERE ARE disturbing signs that more and more Americans regard paying their fair share of taxes as an act of stupidity.
A recent poll found 76 percent of Americans replied "no" when asked if cheating on their taxes was acceptable behavior. In 1999, a similar survey found 87 percent agreed cheating was bad. This shouldn't be surprising. In 1988, the IRS audited one in every 79 tax returns. In 2000, it audited only one in 232. This is according to a report by the IRS Oversight Board which was leaked to the Associated Press.
Where this is leading is not good. At worst it may result in a collapse of the IRS's ability to coerce people into paying their taxes.
At best it may only accelerate the shift of the tax burden to wage earners who, because their taxes are deducted from pay checks, can't easily hide from the IRS.
Even Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, a committed apostle of lower taxes who'd like to abolish the corporate income tax, is concerned. "If we can't make sure that everyone pays their fair share, then honest tax payers get stuck making up the difference," he said.
IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti conceded that the audit rate is "already pretty low." Imagine, then, how demoralized wage- earning taxpayers felt when they read that Enron Corp. hadn't paid a cent in corporate income taxes in four of the last five years, a period when it was reporting an embarrassment of profits. And if they are even remotely aware of how much President George W. Bush's tax cut favors the richest taxpayers, tax cynicism could become epidemic.
Anyway, bringing up Enron is everybody's favorite way of pressing a buzzer marked "corporate greed" that sets off a racket of sanctimonious noise. This has provoked a White House counteroffensive designed to portray Enron as a scandal in which both political parties share blame and took Enron money. So, it is one of those sanitized, bastardized and immaculately born scandals that knows no mother or father.
Trotted out to support this asinine theory is the money Enron gave to Democrat Ann Richards when she was governor of Texas and Enron's support of such liberals as Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. However, what Richards got was chicken feed compared with Enron's commitment to the younger and elder Bushes.
Giving money to Schumer was merely a safe way of Enron ingratiating itself with a man likely to speak with a loud voice in New York's financial community. And giving money to Lieberman was Enron's way of humoring a man who has made a habit of subservience to the richest taxpayers in a state with the highest per capita income in America.
Lieberman, after all, favors lower capital gains taxes which, I suppose, is shrewd politics in Connecticut's share-owning culture.
Mary Matalin, the president's attack hamster and aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, swallows whole the idea that the Enron stench will not contaminate Bush. "They all live in glass houses," she said of the Democrats.
I detect more wishfulness than cynicism in her tone. The Bush-Enron connection is too pungent and too intimate to pretend it's irrelevant.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.