EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 13, 2013

Column: Nation’s 74,000-page tax code is a barrel of laughs

As the Monday, April 15, tax-filing deadline mercilessly approaches, millions of Americans will cry as they calculate what they owe Washington and then fork it over. But amid those tears there will be plenty of laughs. The U.S. tax code is so tangled and twisted that University of Florida law professor Steven Willis speaks amusingly about “tax humor.” While not exactly the stuff of stand-up routines, America’s surreal tax code is a masterpiece of dark comedy.

When Florida started its graduate tax program in the College of Law, Willis recalls: “One requirement of the graduate school was knowledge of a foreign language. Well, that just wasn’t going to work. Then, the faculty showed the graduate school the Internal Revenue Code, and they said that would do.”

Willis points to section 467(e)(1), which concerns pre-paid rent. It reads:

“The term ‘constant rental amount’ means, with respect to any section 467 rental agreement, the amount which, if paid as of the close of each lease period under the agreement, would result in an aggregate present value equal to the present value of the aggregate payments required under the agreement.”

“I love the sentence because of the poetry,” Willis says. “I always have a student read it aloud and watch the faces.”

Also lovely is section 509(a), which defines private foundations:

“For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501(c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in section 501(c)(3).”

The tax code’s treatment of gambling is a hall of mirrors. IRS Form 730 covers “excise taxes for both legal and illegal wagers of certain types. For state-authorized wagers placed with bookmakers and lottery operators, there is a tax of 0.25 percent of the wager, if it is legal. If the wager is not legal, the tax is 2 percent of the wager.”

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