Fairness on taxes

By , Mr. Haskell is a former United States senator and chairman of the Taxpayers Committee.

Taxes - to raise or not to raise them. Many economists, looking at $200 billion deficits stretching through the 1980 s, into the 1990s, and beyond, say, in a rare display of solidarity, ''raise.'' They disagree on what taxes and by how much. President Reagan says ''no.''

Missing from much of the debate is mention of the unfairness of our federal tax system, although President Reagan has raised the fairness issue in calling for tax reform.

Addressing the fairness problem would raise substantial revenue by repealing numerous sections of the law that give favored treatment to special groups. More important, however, we could enlist citizen support for our tax system, and in the process limit the loss of federal revenues now occurring through rising numbers of people resorting to tax evasion.

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Americans, in escalating numbers, are cheating on their taxes.

Why is this occurring?

For decades we have had two tax laws packaged in one Internal Revenue Code:

One is for the middle class, the citizen who either does not itemize deductions, or has relatively few deductions - perhaps home mortgage interest, property taxes, and a few charitable donations. The non-itemizers alone account for 65 percent to 70 percent of the population. A fair guess is that 10 percent more have few deductions.

The other tax law, the one for the more affluent, those with extra cash or credit, is infinitely complex. It is not progressive. The rate table is relatively unimportant. The game is to find a ''shelter.''

Americans are fully aware of this situation. They could hardly not be. The word ''shelter'' has become a part of our national vocabulary. Shelters are offered daily in newspaper advertisements, on the radio, and television.

All this is not lost on the American public. They know they can't play at this game. So they do what they can to get even. They cheat.

What is needed now is for us as a nation to take a hard look at our tax laws and to change them to make them fair - so that people can afford the luxury of supporting them.

What we need is a law with no privileged escape hatch - no shelters for the affluent. What we need is a law under which those with the same income pay the same tax, and those who have more pay proportionally more.

Impossible? Maybe.

But we had better try. Just as we'd better strive for nuclear disarmament, even though the nations of the world have never disarmed themselves. The road ahead, for a nation whose citizens feel themselves abused by tax laws, is treacherous indeed.

We ought to know. After all, we were born out of a taxpayers' revolt against the crown!

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