Senators Collins, King Urge IRS To Keep Crucial Taxpayer Assistance Center Open In Lewiston

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King today wrote to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, urging the IRS to reject a proposal currently under consideration that would close the Lewiston Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).
 
      In the letter, Senators Collins and King highlighted that “taxpayer service nationwide suffered severely in the 2014 tax filing season,” noting, “in the recently released 2014 Annual Report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson designated inadequate taxpayer service as the most serious problem for our nation’s taxpayers.” 
 
      The Senators underscored the significance of the proposal to close one of only five TACs in Maine, stating “We understand that many Mainers already drive two and three hours to obtain assistance…Simply directing taxpayers to other TAC locations in Maine is not an acceptable solution as the Lewiston-Auburn area is the second largest populated area in the state and serves as a hub for many taxpayers in western Maine.”
 
      In addition, the Senators stressed that according to the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2014 Report to Congress, “it is in the government’s self-interest to facilitate voluntary compliance because voluntary compliance is far more cost effective than enforced compliance. It is vital that we provide taxpayers with the tools they need to correctly pay their taxes.”
 
Read the full text of the letter below or click HERE for a PDF.
 
June 15, 2015
 
The Honorable John Koskinen
Commissioner of Internal Revenue
Internal Revenue Service
1111 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20224
 
Dear Commissioner Koskinen:
 
      We write to express concern about a proposal that we understand is currently being considered by IRS leadership to close the Lewiston, Maine, Taxpayer Assistance Center (TAC).  We urge you to reject this proposed closure, which would exacerbate the service problems that taxpayers are already experiencing. 
 
      We have heard from a number of constituents who have contacted our offices even before this proposal to express concerns regarding difficulties in accessing IRS services.  As has been well documented, taxpayer service nationwide suffered severely in the 2014 tax filing season.  In the recently released 2014 Annual Report to Congress, National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson designated inadequate taxpayer service as the most serious problem for our nation’s taxpayers. In addition to the higher percentage of unanswered phone calls and longer wait times for the callers trying to reach the IRS, service at the TACs has also declined. You recently noted in Congressional testimony that you were “dismayed by the reports [you] received of taxpayers lining up outside [the TACs] hours before they opened in order to get service.”  We understand the budgetary constraints that your agency faces; however, it is vital that taxpayers are not disproportionally harmed by these cuts.
 
      In addition to reducing the number of TACs and the number of employees working in the TACs, IRS has also decreased the services available at the TACs.  In 2013, IRS made the decision to eliminate the return preparation assistance that has traditionally been offered at the TACs. IRS also instituted a policy of declining to answer tax law questions that are beyond basic questions.  IRS has attempted to eliminate the provision of transcripts at the TACs, and we have heard that the IRS plans to make all TACs open by appointment only.
 
      Given the complexity of our tax system, providing adequate assistance to taxpayers is a necessity for accurate tax collection. TACs provide taxpayers with vital face-to-face assistance, including help with questions in all areas of tax compliance and distribution of tax forms. The reduction of in-person assistance disproportionately affects seniors and those in rural areas.  This is particularly relevant for Maine, as Maine has the oldest population in the country and is the most rural state in the nation. TACs are also of particular importance for taxpayers who do not have Internet access, and for low-income and disabled taxpayers, as well as for taxpayers who have limited proficiency in English. According to TIGTA, service cuts at the TACs were made “without evaluating the burden that the changes would have on the low-income, elderly, and limited-English-proficient taxpayers who seek face-to-face service.”
 
      There are currently five TACs in Maine, located in Augusta, Bangor, Lewiston, Presque Isle, and South Portland.  We understand that many Mainers already drive two and three hours to obtain assistance. Making matters worse, due to Maine’s harsh winters, transportation in this area can be particularly difficult between January and April, which is when most taxpayers are in need of service. Simply directing taxpayers to other TAC locations in Maine is not an acceptable solution as the Lewiston-Auburn area is the second largest populated area in the state and serves as a hub for many taxpayers in western Maine.  In addition, shifting residents to other TACs could overwhelm those locations and negatively affect their provision of services.  
 
      While cost-cutting measures may be necessary, reducing access to TACs could be counterproductive.  Without access to help, non-compliance will inevitably increase, which could lead to a decrease in the revenue that our government collects.  As noted in the National Taxpayer Advocate’s 2014 Report to Congress, “it is in the government’s self-interest to facilitate voluntary compliance because voluntary compliance is far more cost effective than enforced compliance.” It is vital that we provide taxpayers with the tools they need to correctly pay their taxes. 
 
      Closing the Lewiston TAC would be harmful to Maine taxpayers. We ask that you explore other options to keep all five Maine TACs open.