Taxpayer Rights in Challenging Times

Being an update on the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights and other Center activities

Hello, all. 

It has been quite some time since the last Taxpayer Rights Digest – and in so many ways the world has changed profoundly.  In this issue, I’ll cover the work the Center for Taxpayer Rights has been engaged in, advocating for the rights of taxpayers in a rapidly changing environment and economy.

But first, I want to note the passing of a leader in civil and human rights, U.S. Congressman John Lewis.  Although best known for his leadership and courage in fighting for the rights of people of color and against segregation in the United States, he was also a strong voice for taxpayer rights through his leadership of the IRS Oversight Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.  I had the privilege to work with him on so many issues over the years, and I write about that experience here.  But to get a fuller picture of John Lewis’ lifetime work, just put his name into any search engine . . . 

It is particularly poignant that John Lewis’ death occurred at a time of renewed awareness of the disparate treatment of black, indigenous, and other people of color.  Here in Washington, DC, it has been amazing and heartening to see the outpouring of support, and to watch tiny steps (very tiny) turning that support into action.  It is easy to think that racial matters do not factor into tax administration, but that is indeed not the case. 

For example, the Urban Institute has developed a fascinating site, Race and Taxes, that explores the racial dimensions of various lines of the US Form 1040, Individual Income Tax Return.  Although the IRS does not collect racial data, by cross-referencing tax data with census data, the site shows the racial aspects of which provisions benefit whom.  This site, and more, is discussed on an American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation webinar, Race and the Internal Code, which you can access here.  Similarly, another webinar by the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice Section explores the racial impact of the US coronavirus relief legislation and implementation in  #BlackTaxpayersMatter – COVID-19 and Communities of Color: CARES Act Failures and Constitutional Litigation, which you can access here.  I encourage all to take a look at these important programs.

International Conference on Taxpayer Rights

As the coronavirus pandemic has roiled our lives and the world’s economy, the Center and the African Tax Institute decided that it would be best to move the International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, originally scheduled for this fall in Pretoria, South Africa, to 2021.  This means there will be two ITRCs in 2021 – the one regularly scheduled for 2021, and the rescheduled 2020 conference!  In addition, because we understand travel may still be iffy for people, we are planning to live-stream all or portions of both conferences.  Of course, being able to meet and talk with colleagues is one of the benefits of attending the ITRC, but we want to plan for whatever the world will hold for us in 2021 ….

The 5th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights will be held in Athens, Greece on 27 and 28 May, 2021.  Its theme is Quality Tax Audits and the Protection of Fundamental Rights.  We are also planning two mini-workshops before the conference for people involved or interested in Low Income Taxpayer Clinics and Taxpayer Ombuds/Advocates, respectively.  The goal of the conference is to identify fundamental taxpayer rights principles in the context of tax agency audit practices, and then apply those principles to case studies of auditing by the tax agencies of specific countries.  We will also explore the overlap between civil and criminal investigations, the effectiveness of audits in promoting future voluntary compliance, audits in a globalized, post-pandemic tax environment, and access to information about tax agency activities and practices.  You can learn more about this upcoming conference here; we’ll be updating the agenda and providing information about registration later in the fall of 2020.

The 6th International Conference on Taxpayer Rights, originally scheduled for fall 2020, will now be held at the University of Pretoria, South Africa on 6 and 7 October, 2021.  As you know, the theme for this conference is Taxpayer Rights, Human Rights: Issues for Developing Countries.  You can find the agenda and speakers [here].  This conference is particularly important in light of the economic devastation resulting from the pandemic’s course; we will have had a year to see a bit of what all this means; as countries look to taxation as a means to fund recovery efforts, taxpayer protections become even more important.

Just for future planning purposes, after the October, 2021 conference, we plan to hold the annual International Conference on Taxpayer Rights at the end of May each year.  Stay tuned for an announcement of the dates for the 2022 conference, which will be hosted by Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.

Coming Soon – Tax Chats!

Even before the pandemic hit, we were planning to launch an online series of conversations with people working in the field of taxation and taxpayer rights.  The postponement of the 2020 International Conference on Taxpayer Rights heightens the need for a forum for discussion.  So, it is with great pleasure that I announce the launch of Tax Chat!  These live conversations with people from all over the world and a variety of disciplines will be held on Zoom.  We’ll announce them through the Digest and provide an opportunity to submit questions in advance of the program.  The first Tax Chat will be on Tuesday 1 September, 2020, with Pasquale Pistone of the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation and Philip Baker, Q.C.  Pasquale and Philip will chat with me about the recent release of the Observatory on the Protection of Taxpayers’ Rights 2019 Yearbook , and current international trends in taxpayer protections.

And finally, a little bit more about what we’ve been up to. . . .

In the next edition of the Taxpayer Rights Digest, I’ll write about some of the activities the Center has been engaged in over the last few months as the pandemic progressed.   In the United States, as elsewhere, there has been a massive government and legislative response, and the US Internal Revenue Service is a major player in delivering relief. 

While the IRS’s efforts in delivering payments to over 160 million individuals is nothing short of miraculous, there are very serious issues raised by some IRS policy decisions.  The Center has been hosting weekly calls with Low Income Taxpayer Clinics and others to develop litigation strategy on a whole host of issues. 

At the same time, over the last few months, the Center, ably represented by the Keith Fogg of the Harvard Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and Les Book of Villanova Law School, among others, has submitted amicus curiae briefs in three cases, including one before the United States Supreme Court.  I’ll discuss those matters and more in greater depth next issue.

In the meantime, please take care, stay safe, and please share any interesting developments in taxpayer rights at info@taxpayer-rights.org.  And please, if you support our work, consider making a monetary contribution!

All the best,

Nina

Nina E. Olson | Executive Director | Center for Taxpayer Rights

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