Pay Your Taxes and Win!

Americans are a very duty-conscious people. We see paying taxes as “doing our share,” yet we see little or no direct improvement in our own lives. The money seems to disappear, rather like what happened with America’s tech-boom dotcoms, many of which had no business substance beyond a mission statement and a smile for the investors. We all saw how that worked out, as billions of dollars worth of stock value and investor capital vanished, and people wondered what happened to all that money. This is the root of many folks’ general discontent with income tax.

Congress, perceptive people that they are, took note of Americans’ negative feelings about the tax collection process in the late 1990s. They determined the problem was that taxpayers felt the IRS was not helpful. Worse, taxpayers felt the IRS was mean to them. Congress could not stand for this situation, and passed the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998. The intended result was to remake the IRS into a “kinder, gentler” tax collection agency.

Indeed. The IRS changed its rhetoric to reflect its new persona, and its publications now include all types of warm, fuzzy sentiments and exclamation points in sentences that did not end with the words “pay immediately.” Never before had anyone seen the phrase “What a deal!” appear in an IRS document. It was a step in the right direction, but I’m pretty safe in assuming that the American taxpayer doesn’t buy this ham-handed attempt to inspire a higher degree of “voluntary compliance” with the tax code. All the IRS has really done is dress an 800-pound gorilla in a pink tutu. A vicious beast remains so, regardless of how it’s dressed. The result is an unhappy group of IRS agents, seething behind the “customer service” front they have been forced to adopt, and a taxpaying public whose intelligence is being insulted.

The Internal Revenue Service has a mission statement: “Provide America’s taxpayers with top quality service by helping them understand their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all.” One wonders how much effort and careful thought was required to come up with that lovely bit of prose. Does anyone really believe that a preposition-rich, feel-good phrase that echoes the Pledge of Allegiance has made the IRS any less predatory and any more likeable? I certainly do not. I believe that the IRS would better “serve” taxpayers by emulating America’s casino industry.

The casino industry knows instinctively that people willingly spend a ridiculous sum of hard-earned money for a few perquisites, a free buffet dinner, and a chance to hit the ever-elusive jackpot. The IRS should look to do the same. As a regular casino visitor and a long-time taxpayer, I believe that paying taxes, like losing at blackjack, can be a win-win situation (pun intended, even if abysmal).

The IRS could ease the pain of paying taxes the same way casinos take the sting out of gambling losses. Imagine taxpayers earning points on tax dollars paid, with bonus points for filing early, or using e-file. They can allow the points to accrue over the years, and redeem them for “big ticket items” such as a plasma TV, a new Winnebago, or a vacation at the White House. They would also have the option of cashing in points more frequently to get premiums such as microwaves, vacuum cleaners, or gas grills. The IRS catalog would make L.L. Bean or J. Crew envious with its readership numbers.

Another component could offer a progressive lottery, with a jackpot starting at 100 million dollars and growing 1% for every one million in tax revenues collected until there is a winner. The winner would be drawn from the year’s on-time individual returns during the Super Bowl halftime show. No, it would BE the halftime show. What a PR coup for the oft-maligned IRS, as America gathers around the TV with eager anticipation as the announcer begins: “Welcome to the first annual Internal Revenue Service American Dream Sweepstakes! The jackpot now stands at two-point-seven BILLION DOLLARS!” The Super Bowl halftime show would be permanently family friendly, and the IRS would become a beloved symbol for generations. Of course, the IRS would still get to keep their usual percentage of the jackpot as income tax.

Despite the benefits, many people will aggressively reject this idea. How dare I propose something that will lower the integrity of the U.S. Government, and make a mockery of our noble institutions? I say to them, ask your congressional representative, senator, or President the same question. Their well-documented exploits such as Watergate, Monica-gate, and Enron-gate have done more to destroy faith in, and respect of, the United States Government more than the idea of taxpayers earning free trips to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom – after all, the taxpayers own it in the first place. My idea seeks to build and maintain an America based on principles that are in the highest possible harmony with the values of Americans themselves, and the taxpayers get something real for their money rather than vague promises and platitudes.

Now THAT would be “top quality service!”

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