Mitt Romney released his tax returns yesterday. There were no surprises in the dollar amounts and percentages — anyone who didn’t know Mr. Romney is very wealthy has simply not been paying attention. But the number that caught my attention was 500: the number of pages in two years of his returns.
In fact, that”s about the number of pages in our tax returns over the last two years. I’m including California state taxes in the total, so my figure may be overstated compared to Mr. Romney’s. And I can assure you that we are not in the same zip code as Mr. Romney when it comes to net worth. The point is that the complexity of the U.S. tax system hits people well below the 1 percent. Middle-class taxpayers trapped by the alternative minimum tax, those who find themselves means-tested out of a deduction for an IRA contribution, and those that happen to have a mortgage and therefore file schedule A are but a few examples of the Escher box that is the U.S. tax system.
I have long advocated a simple solution to this problem. Require every member of Congress and the President to complete their own tax returns. No CPA’s, no software, no online tax preparation allowed.; Pencils, paper, and a calculator are the tools they will be allowed. I predict tax simplification will soon follow.