Taxing Times

EVERY year about this time a new Internal Revenue Service legend seems to surface to amuse or annoy ordinary citizens groaning over their tax returns. The story this year reports that members of Congress now wrestling with their deductions can receive VIP assistance from the best and the brightest of IRS employees in offices set up for their convenience in the Capitol building.

Taxpayers may be prompted to ask two questions of their representatives: First, why should my tax dollars go to VIP help as you fill out your tax form? And second, if you need assistance to understand the tax laws you have enacted, why don't you help all taxpayers by legislating a simpler system?

In addition to the annual anecdote of special privileges, tax-time folklorists also like to hear an annual villain's tale about the IRS beating up on a Little Guy. This year's sad case concerns a perennially impoverished class - college students. More than 1,500 students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, most of them in graduate programs, have been notified that they will be audited by the IRS to determine whether they have paid federal taxes due on scholarship money that exceeds tuition by $2,00 0 and applies to such necessities as room, board, travel, and "incidental" expenses.

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A struggling young man or woman coping with the cost of education - up to $25,000 a year - may well feel singled out, especially when his or her well-educated mind thinks of the "entertainment" deductions available to corporations or recalls millionaires, including at least one ex-president, who at one time or another paid no taxes at all, legally.

The sport of griping at the tax collector goes back to the Caesars and beyond. But these annual tax stories are really not aimed at the IRS, particularly after an election interpreted as a mandate for change when there is renewed hope for long-postponed tax reform. The message in the air this spring is not the old refrain, "No new taxes," but the more enlightened cry, "Make the playing field level, and keep the rules of the game clear."

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