The IRS as border guard
Paying taxes is about as stressful as the airport body scanner. Now the Senate wants to combine the two.
The Senate last week passed a $109 billion highway trust fund reauthorization bill. To help pay for roads and bridges, the Senate is hoping to ferret out big tax dodgers with the threat of nabbing your passport for tax liabilities.
The Senate bill would revoke or deny a passport to anyone who owes $50,000 or more in federal taxes. The government could revoke a passport upon reentry into the United States for such people.
Currently, the IRS cannot give taxpayer information to the State Department without the taxpayer’s consent.
The government already has authority to revoke or deny you a passport if you owe more than $2,500 in child support.
There’s potentially a deep pool of revenues here. About 224,000 passports were issued in fiscal year 2008 to individuals who owed a collective $5.8 billion in unpaid federal taxes, according to a March 2011 Government Accountability Office report.
If the House of Representatives keeps the passport provision in its bill, the IRS may become a border guard as well as tax collector, said Charles Bruce, a partner at international law firm Bonnard Lawson.
The law would particularly affect any individuals in a tax workout agreement with the IRS, where an individual makes payments “in a timely manner,” Bruce said.
If implemented, the law will undoubtedly cause headaches for State Department personnel abroad who issue passports. Bruce said he recommends people who have dual citizenships carry two passports to avoid becoming stateless.
“There may be constitutional issues lurking around these provisions. A US citizen generally has the right to have a passport and to travel freely. It’s not clear that the inability to pay his tax bills can be used to deny him this right,” Bruce said.