The Hartford Courant (Conn.), April 15:

As Tax Day approaches, the good news is that 86 percent of Americans believe it is “not at all acceptable” to cheat on their taxes, according to an IRS Oversight Board survey. The bad news is that one in nine taxpayers insist it’s perfectly OK to fudge their returns. The worse news is that a third or more actually do cheat, either by underreporting their incomes or overstating deductions, or both.

Cleary, many Americans are willing to do what they profess to be unacceptable. It is easy, after all, to inflate an expense or to participate in the underground economy.

We are not talking nickels and dimes here. Tax evasion is a major contributor to budget deficits each year and to our burgeoning national debt.

Take 2006 as an example, when our nation was embroiled in two wars. One would assume that the compliance rate would be higher while our servicemen and women were fighting and dying overseas. Think again.

That year, nearly 15 percent of federal taxes owed went unpaid and unrecovered by enforcement action. Americans shortchanged Uncle Sam by $450 billion. The government eventually recovered $65 billion, reducing the shortfall to $385 billion.

Still, that figure was higher than the nation’s budget deficit that year: $248 billion. During the decade ending in 2010, unpaid taxes amounted to $3 trillion. That’s real money, even inside the Beltway. It could have put Americans to work fixing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, to cite one pressing need.

To translate all of this civic shoplifting into personal terms, each federal tax filer in 2010 paid more than $2,000 to compensate for the $305 billion in unpaid taxes.

And less money for Uncle Sam means less federal aid as well as lost revenue to states like Connecticut that have an income tax.

A significant percentage of tax evaders are business people or self-employed individuals. They finish the job and prefer cold cash to a check or credit card. They may charge less if customers pay with greenbacks. The transaction is completed with a wink and a smile. They’ve paid their fair share already, at least according to them.

Of course, it would be one thing if these individuals didn’t drive the same roads that the rest of us do – or if, out of guilt, they refrained from visiting state and national parks or sent their children to private schools.

But that’s not likely. No, when there’s trouble, they dial 911. When they retire, they’ll sign up for Social Security and Medicare. And, of course, they expect our armed forces and Homeland Security to keep them safe.

One obvious solution to this taxing problem is better enforcement – although it isn’t obvious enough for our representatives in Washington. Since 2010 (when Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives), Congress has slashed the budget of the IRS by 18 percent when adjusted for inflation, reducing its enforcement personnel by 10,000 people.

Meanwhile, the agency has acquired more duties to perform, such as implementing the Affordable Care Act and handling an explosion of identity theft cases. The IRS is having trouble answering the phone – much less tracking down tax cheats.

Barring a solution from on high, a grass-roots response would be for all of us to suck it up and pay our fair share, rather than expect our friends and neighbors to pick up the slack. If we don’t like how the government is spending our money, there are people to call or vote out of office. Disgruntled citizens can organize and even stand for election themselves.

Contrary to what one presidential candidate is saying, this is still a great nation – and better run than most.

So pony up, people.