We increasingly frown on tax cheats

Taxpayer Attitude Survey results intriguing

By The Mercury

What’s one to make of a survey by the IRS Oversight Board that has found that 87 percent of us — that’s seven out of eight taxpayers — think it’s wrong to cheat on our taxes?

Even better, that’s a slightly higher percentage than thought so last year. And though it’s troubling that more than 10 percent think it’s OK to cheat on our taxes — whether the cheating is petty or involves large sums of money — even that constitutes progress. It’s the lowest percentage to approve of cheating in the 10 years the IRS Oversight Board has been conducting its Taxpayer Attitude Survey.

Not surprisingly, the fear of getting caught plays a big role in keeping people honest; 63 percent say the fear of an audit is a factor for them, and 70 percent are worried that “third party information” will expose them as cheats. Still, 95 percent say their personal integrity influences them to file honest returns. We hope there wasn’t much cheating on the survey.

One thing Americans seem to agree on is that if any of us have to pay taxes, we all should. Ninety percent told surveyors that the IRS ought to make sure that rich or poor, households, small businesses and corporations ought to pay what they owe.

Maybe that reflects increasing concern among Americans about annual deficits and the national debt. If so, the growing intolerance for people and companies that cheat on their taxes is a welcome development.

It’s one thing not to be able to pay one’s taxes, whether because of a catastrophic medical event, a job loss or simply poor planning. It’s quite another to falsify returns, shirking a duty that no one enjoys but that millions of us share. That’s true whether the cheater is a parent at the kitchen table or a company whose staff cooks the books.

Maybe the growing intolerance for tax cheating will make a dent in the number of people who, at least according to television commercials, have their overdue tax bills slashed, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. Those people ought to deal directly — and honestly — with the IRS instead of enriching private businesses that promise to help them renege on legitimate tax debts.

No one likes paying taxes; they’re palatable because of what they support — our national defense, for example — and because they are a shared burden.

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