June 26, 2012

Truth Test: King cites a number to attack tax code but it's just rhetoric

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

"73,608 pages of federal tax code is too much." –  "Issues" page on former Gov. Angus King's website

King's right that 73,608 pages is too much, but not because the code is that bloated. It's because the number, while a related figure, is junk in practice. You've probably heard a lot of numbers about the size of the tax code.

The number King's page cites is the number of pages in the Standard Federal Tax Reporter, which is annually published by CCH, a company that specializes in tax information and software.

"It's a common whipping boy," said Mark Luscombe, a tax analyst with CCH.

The company says its guide has grown from 400 pages in 1913 to 73,608 in 2012. But that's not what it seems. Luscombe said font and spacing have changed, and the reporter is far more than just America's "tax code."

In 1913, the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, allowing Congress to impose income taxes without apportionment among states or basing the taxes on Census statistics. That spawned the Revenue Act of 1913, setting the income tax and making it a fixture of American life.

CCH estimates that year's law at a length of 27 normal-sized pages. A CCH release says the company considers the present tax code to be Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Code, which they publish in a 5,296-page book.

Add the two and you have just over 5,300 pages.

Since 1913, CCH's register has recorded changes to cumulative tax law. Some of it is even outdated. It includes footnotes, historical context, judicial opinions and excerpts from committee reports, according to a January company press release.

And Luscombe said even through aggressive efforts to simplify the tax code, like the Tax Reform Act of 1986, the page count went up. So it would be very difficult to lower the page count of the document with any effort to simplify code, he said.

"Simplification probably wouldn't result in a significant reduction immediately because we keep a variety of historical information," Luscombe said, noting that repealed pieces of tax code are eventually removed, but not immediately. 

Verdict: King's number mirrors broad-stroke rhetoric involving taxes. Regardless of what you think of the federal tax system and its complexities, this is only a convenient talking point that's been refuted by the book's publisher. It doesn't hold water.

We rate this statement false.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:


Twitter: mikeshepherdme


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