Tuesday, April 16, 1996
Do taxpayers really need to feel the pain?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Now might be a good time to think about tax reform. We all know that we spend a great big chunk of our lives working for the government and that the average American family pays more in taxes than it spends on food, clothing and shelter combined. And that we'll be working until the middle of July to pay next year's tax bill.

We know this.

But most of the year, we are in deep denial. Until April 15. Then we think about it quite a bit. We suspect that we are paying for things that we'll never use and that everybody else is getting more for their tax dollar than we are.

We know for sure that somehow we've missed a legitimate deduction, thereby sending too much of our hard-earned cash to Washington to be squandered. (Legitimate deductions for other people are known as ''loopholes.'')

We worry that we may have innocently done one of those red-flag things that will make someone in the IRS Asylum go ''Tee hee hee. Let's audit this loser.''

The tax code, for those of you out there too busy pawing through your shoe box full of receipts to count, is now spelled out in 555 million words, not including 8,000 pages of appendixes and fine print. It is monstrous and incomprehensible. About two-thirds of us pay somebody else to sort through it for us. (Our tax consultant is ''aggressive.'' Other people's are ''shysters.'')

''Our current system is a disaster,'' Congressman Rob Portman says, ''and we need to move to a new one.'' He's a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has just begun a series of meetings to overhaul the tax system. Among the possibilities is the flat tax.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey started talking about the flat tax two years ago, and it seemed like a good idea then. Of course, like most good ideas in Washington, this one will be attacked and talked to death and watered down and massaged and porked up. I will leave this work to those who do it best.

Instead, I'd like to discuss Dick Armey's bad idea, which everybody has ignored. Bad ideas are the ones that sneak aboard unrelated bills, and the next thing you know you are stuck with them for eternity - or until Robert Byrd retires. Whichever comes first.

Mr. Armey has said that he thinks it would be a good idea to collect our income taxes every month, doing away with payroll deductions. In other words, we'd get all our money, then put it aside and pay the government at the end of the month.

Dick? Hello? Can you say ''deadbeat?'' Can you say ''collection agency?'' Can you say ''another big new bureaucracy?''

Paying our own taxes every month, according to Mr. Armey, would help us taxpayers ''focus on how our money is being spent and how much.'' If the government really wants to rub our noses in it, they could keep the money and just send us monthly reports.

How about:

Dear taxpayer, thank you for the $1,333.33 you gave us this month. We used it to buy a new toilet seat for Air Force One. We're certain Stan Chesley felt a little thrill of local pride during the president's last trip to Cincinnati.

Or, thanks a lot for the $2,173 we got from you this month. We sent it directly to Howard Metzenbaum's government pension fund. Someday, you may be able to tell your friends that you helped buy a trout farm.

Or, your government is grateful for the $1,500 this month. You now own a pothole in Montana and a conceptual artist in Tennessee.

Or, we appreciate your $973. We have ordered a new VCR and the Buns of Steel tape for the Congressional gym. We had a couple of bucks left so we're buying a new feather boa for Big Bird.

Myself, I sort of like not being beaten over the head with how they're going to be using the money I've just signed over. But then, I always ask my dentist for plenty of Novocain. I know they're going to pull my tooth, but I don't need to experience the pain to believe it's gone.

Laura Pulfer's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU-FM (91.7 MHz) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.