Paging All Capitol Hill Staffers: Pay Your Taxes!

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By Ken Berry

Mitt Romney isn't the only one in Washington, DC, with his tax returns under the microscope. According to new data released by the IRS, 3 percent of Senate employees and more than 4 percent of House members in our nation's capital still owe tax for the 2010 tax year, adding up to approximately $10.6 million in unpaid taxes.

Overall, this is practically a drop in the bucket when compared to the $1.03 billion in taxes owed by roughly 98,000 federal, postal, and congressional employees throughout the country. In any event, it's another black eye for the governing body in an election year.

The numbers are "totally unacceptable and disrespectful to hardworking American taxpayers", says Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah). "If you're on the federal payroll, the very least you can do is pay your taxes." Chaffetz introduced a bill in 2011 requiring federal employees to be fired if they are "seriously delinquent" on their taxes. For this purpose, being seriously delinquent means that you have an outstanding federal tax debt for which a public lien has been filed. The bill passed in committee in June but is still waiting for a vote from the full House.

Back in 2010, Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) introduced a similar bill that was reintroduced last year and is now being reviewed by a Senate panel. "Taxpayers are fed up with those in Washington living under a different set of rules than the rest of America", said Coburn in a prepared statement. "At a time when Congress may allow taxes to increase on some or even all Americans, Congress should not expect other Americans to pay more taxes when they are not even paying the taxes they owe under the rates they set themselves."

Under current law, IRS employees can lose their jobs if they don't pay their federal income taxes, but these rules don't extend to Capitol Hill staffers and other federal employees. The proposed legislation applies to workers at federal agencies, the US Postal Service, and congressional offices. Certain exceptions would be allowed for employees who are suffering from significant financial hardships and other personal problems.

The IRS has been tracking civilian federal employees delinquent on their taxes since1993.  Although the number has declined in recent years, the total tax gap has increased from less than $600 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion in 2010.

Who are the worst offenders? Consider that 25,640 employees of the US Postal Service, or approximately 4 percent of its entire workforce, haven't paid their taxes in full. These delinquent postal employees collectively owe $269.6 million in back taxes. Think about that the next time you complain about your mail getting lost! 

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