With summer quickly approaching, millions of Americans make plans for family vacations at home and abroad. Local travel concerns turn to the cost of fuel and how it might affect your projected budget. If your planning on a global destination, you focus on security matters, currency exchange rates and tips from trusted sources. Getting a good handle on all these topics is part of the travel process. Now, a new concern may affect some US Citizens ability to go anywhere.
A transportation bill making its way through Congress could allow the federal government to prevent Americans who allegedly owe back taxes from leaving the country. The provision is part of Senate Bill 1813, section 4034 also called the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November and passed by the Senate on March 14 2012. This far-reaching transportation bill will allow the federal government to revoke the passports of citizens the IRS says owe taxes. In fact, the language allows them to suspend passport and foreign travel rights for citizens only deemed "delinquent" in their taxes. The provision does make exceptions if the debt is being paid in a timely manner, in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons.
According to Forbes magazine, "There is no requirement that the tax payer be guilty of or even charged with tax evasion, fraud, or any criminal offense, only that the citizen is 'alleged' to owe the IRS back taxes of $50,000 or more. Nor does the bill provide for any due process or method by which the accused would be allowed to contest their restriction. Not to mention 715 years of Anglo-Saxon Common Law protections pertaining to the right of a free citizen to travel abroad and return unimpeded. There are also numerous Supreme Court precedents protecting these same rights. Furthermore, the law appears to violate Article I, Section 9, paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution, which forbids "Bills of Attainder", which are laws providing for the punishment of an individual without benefit of judicial process.
Constitutional Attorney Angel Reyes says that's a violation of due process and is unconstitutional. "It takes away your right to enter or exit the country based upon a non-judicial IRS determination that you owe taxes," Reyes told FOX Business. "It's a scary thought that our congressional representatives want to give the IRS the power to detain US citizens over taxes, which could very well be in dispute." Financial Adviser Clark Hodges says the measure is especially concerning given the high number of taxpayers it could affect. "There are so many people that fall into that situation, and I think that's too invasive. Especially coming out of a bad economy there are a lot of people behind on a lot of things," he told Fox Business.
Changes Within The U.S.
Once the Federal Government allows the IRS to block international travel for tax problems, will it then be extended to traveling within the U.S., like for family vacations? Possibly, a sign of the changing times may be within this Senate Bill. There are actually changes that will quickly take effect on America's outdoor recreational pastime's that millions of us enjoy each year. Backpacking, running, biking and even walking will be effected if this Bill passes. For instance, "Rails to Trails," a national nonprofit organization charged with creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines are very concerned that the same bill will restrict the use of trails, walking and bicycling opportunities.
They claim that this Senate Bill will reduce funding for active transportation and will hamper efforts to create safe and convenient routes for walking and bicycling. "In the context of a bill that increases overall funding, cutting programs that deliver superior value is unwise." One of the provision enables states to redirect funds away from trails, bicycling and walking if they remain unspent for a period of time. On the surface, this will create a perverse incentive not to invest in active transportation.
Rails to Trails (RTC) is urging everyone to contact their representatives now, using an online form, and ask that they speak to colleagues on the US House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee. Kevin Mills, VP of Programming at Rails to Trails, believes in rights to partake in domestic hiking, backpacking, riding and walking. "For a tiny sliver of transportation funds, less than 2 percent, these programs have provided affordable, healthy transportation options, generated jobs and economic development and preserved historic and environmental assets that provide the quality of life that Americans want and deserve."
Federal Workers And Retires Owe $3.4 Billion In Back Taxes To IRS
Ironically, 279,000 tax delinquent Americans are Federal workers and retires who owe $3.4 billion in back taxes. The Senate Bill is addressing this huge tax debt by allowing the IRS to attach government workers "Thrift Savings Fund" which is currently exempt. The departments and agencies with the largest percentages of employee/retiree tax problems are:
U.S. Office of Government Ethics: 6.49%
Federal Reserve Board: 4.86%
U.S. House of Representatives: 4.24%
Housing & Urban Development: 3.89%
Veterans Affairs: 3.78%
Health & Human Services: 3.51%
Air Force: 3.11%
U.S. Senate: 3.08%
U.S. Tax Court: 2.25%
What the future will bring for international travel by those who owe taxes or even domestic travel by someone simply looking for a new place to hike is unknown right now. In real life, travel may seem unrelated to taxes, except perhaps for those annoying airport taxes on international destinations. But a bigger tax and travel connection could keep you at home permanently.
What's the chances of this bill being passed? Niels Lesniewski, Editor of CQ SenateWatch, says legally the provision has precedent on its side. It's hard to tell if it will withstand Republican opposition, but he believes the passport provision has a good chance at becoming law for one reason, money. "This provision is expected to raise almost $750 million in the 10-year window that they do the budget... I think it will get passed eventually, and not necessarily as part of the transportation bill, but it seems like relatively low hanging fruit."