Senator says income tax records should not be secret (1916)

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1916 IRS income tax return - 1040

Secrecy ban on income taxes ought to be lifted, says Husting

U. S. Senator hits system of keeping records in dark

By Paul O Husting (United States Senator from Wisconsin — Written for the United Press)

In my judgment, no valid argument has ever been advanced why income tax records should not be published or at least open to the public for inspection.

If certain individuals evade or escape, in whole or in part, their proper tax, just to that extent, the amount so evaded has to be made good by those who make full and honest returns of their property. Every taxpayer has a right to know what every other taxpayer pays.

Paul O. HustingMen will dodge taxes. I do not think this due so much to inherent dishonesty as to inefficient administration of the tax laws.

I believe most men are willing to pay their taxes if assured that their fellow citizens pay theirs.

Because of imperfect, loose and frequently dishonest assessment methods, it is not unusual for men to engage in a practice acquiesced in, if not sanctioned by the authorities, to dodge their taxes.

Often it is considered clever for men to get the best of their neighbors in concealing property. Men boast about it and a sort of rivalry has sprung up between them on the point. They do not stop to think that they are cheating their fellow citizens who do pay their just taxes. They do not stop to think that they are “welchers” or “spongers” on society.

Some of these are men who ordinarily would spurn the idea of sponging on their fellows or cheating their partners. Someone has estimated that this government loses annually $300,000,000 by income tax dodging. This may be a very high estimate. I do not know.

I do know that millions of dollars of properly payable taxes under the income tax law are lost to the United States each year because of false returns. A crop of inspectors uncovering these tax evasions have added millions to the tax receipts.

The ban of secrecy should be removed and all these records exposed to the light of day. Men will not evade their taxes if they fear detection.

The loudest protest against publicity naturally comes from those liable to pay the heaviest tax. Not daring to attack the income tax principle, they loudly inveigh against intrusion into their private affairs.

When such income constitutes the base upon which their just tax is computed then their tax return becomes a public document.

If it should be shown that the injury to private business by reason of publicity incidental to the assessment and collection of the income tax is out of all proportion to the benefits derived from that sort of taxation, the tax should be abolished, but so long as it is in force, all steps necessary to the proper administration of that income tax law should be taken, even though in exceptional cases it may cause trouble or inconvenience.

Publicity is the most effectual hand-maiden of such administration.

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