If civil right activists are looking for a cause celebre to attract widespread public support, forget affirmative action. Here's a case of old-fashioned discrimination unearthed by the General Accounting Office: a whopping 85 percent of taxpayers audited from 1994-96 had incomes below $25,000 -- and a disproportionate 47 percent of that number live in just 11 Southern states.
"Unconscionable" is how Sen. Paul Coverdell, R-Ga., who requested the GAO study, characterizes the Internal Revenue Service's attack on the poor. One of the reasons poor folks are picked on -- as congressional hearings into IRS abuses revealed last year -- is that they don't have the legal or financial resources to do battle with the IRS.
The agency's response to the GAO report is that it was simply fulfilling congressional demands to crack down on earned income tax credit abuses.
These credits are tax refunds the working poor are entitled to, but that many tax frauds also claim, cheating the U.S. Treasury of nearly $4.5 billion a year.
Even granting the extent of the fraud warrants closer IRS scrutiny of the income tax credit, that still doesn't explain why most of the audits were selected from the South -- unless it's anti-Dixie bias.
The GAO study also confirms what more and more tax critics are saying: that the tax code is cruelly complex and the out-of-control IRS is beyond reform or being made "taxpayer friendly." Let's deep-six the existing archaic tax system and replace it with a national sales tax that would be fair to all taxpayers regardless of income.