Minor Thoughts from me to you

Health care requires error free tax returns

This morning, the Wall Street Journal reported on another one of the goodies that's buried in the House healthcare "reform" bill. If the bill passes, the IRS will fine you for any mistakes you make on your tax returns.

Under current law, taxpayers who lose an argument with the IRS can generally avoid penalties by showing they tried in good faith to comply with the tax law. In a broad range of circumstances, the health-care bill would change the law to impose strict liability penalties for income-tax underpayments, meaning that taxpayers will no longer have the luxury of making an honest mistake. The ability of even the IRS to waive penalties in sympathetic cases would be sharply curtailed.

Recent experience shows that Congress needs to be careful about imposing no-fault penalties. In 2004, Congress adopted very large automatic penalties for failures of taxpayers to attach a tax-shelter reporting form to their tax returns. While penalties make sense where a taxpayer deliberately fails to file a return, the approach here was too unforgiving.

The normal ability of the IRS to waive penalties was taken away. Predictably, the result was some taxpayers getting hit with penalties they didn't deserve.

Last June, the Small Business Council of America sent some compelling tales of woe to Congress, including one in which a 72-year-old owner of a coin operated car wash set up retirement plans for his seven employees and got socked for his good deed with a $900,000 penalty for not reporting the plans properly. The company and its owner are now headed for bankruptcy. In another case, a penalty of $100,000 each was imposed on the six minor children of an owner of a small business in Utah for not filing the right tax forms.

I think I'll call Congresswoman Baldwin's office. I'm very curious to know if she supports this measure; if so, why; or, if not, what she's going to do about it.