Filing income taxes is never much fun, but brace for more misery than usual this year.
Before and after the April 15 deadline, there are likely to be unanswered calls to the IRS, slower resolutions of gripes, delayed refunds and a greater chance of identity theft. Taxpayers -- including the more than 3 million in New York City likely to file individual returns -- don't deserve that kind of grief. But we're all at risk of becoming collateral damage in Washington's partisan warfare.
The reduced services are the result of budget cuts, according to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The agency's funding has been slashed in recent budget wars -- a fight exacerbated recently by Republican accusations that IRS officials haven't cooperated with members of Congress investigating whether the IRS gave heightened scrutiny to applications for tax exempt status from conservative organizations.
Congress slashed the IRS budget to $10.9 billion this year from $12 billion as recently as 2010. The result? A hiring freeze, no overtime and reduced hours for temporary workers. But the number of returns filed has increased annually to 185 million in 2013. And this year the IRS is responsible for helping to implement the Affordable Care Act by imposing penalties on those who don't have insurance and reviewing eligibility for tax credits for others to help pay insurance premiums.
So by leaning on the IRS, Congress is burdening taxpayers. Those who file paper returns will have to wait an extra week or longer for their refunds. Only about half of taxpayers' calls to the IRS will be answered. And additional measures planned to thwart identity theft, a growing threat and an enormous headache for those who are targeted, have been delayed.
Hobbling the agency that fills government coffers with trillions of dollars a year, and inconveniencing taxpayers in the bargain, is no way to conduct the public's business.
Congress should work to make this annual rite of passage as painless as possible.