Congress cut the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) budget just in time for Americans to file their first tax returns of the ObamaCare era, and now the agency says it won’t be able to help most taxpayers figure out how to comply with the massive healthcare law.
The IRS, never popular but even less so in light of its recent policy of indefinitely delaying approval of conservative organizations’ tax-exemption applications and its upcoming enforcement of ObamaCare, saw its budget trimmed by three percent, to $10.9 billion. That dropped the agency’s budget to its lowest level since 2008 — or, if adjusted for inflation, since 1998.
Of course, as government agencies always do when faced with even the tiniest budget cuts, the IRS is threatening to reduce services taxpayers actually want. “IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says budget cuts are forcing the agency to reduce taxpayer services and other functions,” reported the Associated Press. In her annual report to Congress, released Wednesday, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, another IRS official, warned that “in 2015, taxpayers are likely to receive the worst levels of service since … 2001.”
The agency is expecting about 100 million phone calls from taxpayers this year but “is unlikely to answer even 50 percent of” them, Olson stated. The lucky ones who do get through will have to wait an average of over 30 minutes. The IRS will answer only “basic” questions during tax-filing season and “will not answer any tax-law questions at all” thereafter. It will no longer help low-income taxpayers complete their returns. And taxpayers who file paper returns may have to wait longer for their refunds. (There is some good news among the bad: The agency also plans to reduce the number of audits and possibly shut down for two days later in the year, and it’s expected to take in at least $2 billion less as a result of having fewer enforcement agents.)
“Koskinen’s advice to taxpayers with questions: Don’t call the IRS unless you absolutely have to,” wrote the AP.