Amendment Trims New IRS Fees

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WASHINGTON _ A provision in the fiscal year 1995 federal budget to allow the Internal Revenue Service to collect up to $119 million in new user fees, though not defeated, was trimmed by $28 million due to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Ernest J. Istook, R-Okla.

Istook sponsored an amendment, passed by the full House last week, which wiped out all the IRS fees from the appropriations bill. The Senate version allowed the IRS to collect $147 million in fees. Istook won a reduction in conference committee to $119 million.

"He's not thrilled with it, but it beats the original plan by some $30 million," said Scott Jones, press secretary in Istook's Washington, D.C., office. "He realized it was the best we were going to do."

The conference committee bill was passed by the full House Tuesday. Passage within days by the Senate is considered a formality.

"Ernest is not opposed to user fees in and of themselves," Jones said, "but this was on top of the tax increase last year. The government was supposed to get its funding from that. We feel this is double dipping."

Istook also helped to win a $160 million reduction in five-year construction spending to $58 million from $218 million passed by the Senate. Jones said the construction work was for a broad range of federal projects and included several lavish proposals for federal courthouses.

"I appreciate the cooperation of colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Istook said of the $190 million in total cuts achieved in the conference bill. "This proves Congress can cut spending if someone makes the effort. The $190 million is a substantial amount of money, even by federal standards. It's not everything I wanted to cut. Still it's a big improvement."

The IRS within months expects to impose new levies on individuals and businesses. The agency, which is pressed for money to process returns and modernize its computers, would have a bureaucratic incentive to impose the fees since it can keep the funds for its own operations rather than turning them over to the Treasury.

IRS spokesman Frank Keith said, however, that the IRS did not intend to apply these still-undetermined charges to such common agency services as supplying forms or offering advice over the telephone.

"The fees we will be implementing will not be mission-related," Keith said. The IRS, he explained, would charge taxpayers only when they demanded "special services."

But even if the agency resists the biggest targets, more than 13 million taxpayers are likely to be affected by charges for two items alone next year.

About 11 million who file electronic returns would pay for the IRS to certify that a refund was not subject to a charge for unpaid debt, allowing a taxpayer to seek a loan against the refund. …