The Commissioner’s Column Plain Tax Talk, Smart Tax Policy By Connecticut Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan O ften, communication is not a strength at tax agencies. Yet voluntary compliance, so fundamental to our tax system, depends on informed taxpayers. It is little wonder, then, that there is sometimes a “huh?” response to our publications and a “gotcha” feeling about the whole process. Too many taxpayers probably believe a recent Dilbert comic got it right when the resident agency ogre who authored brain-exploding tax documents said, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t turn me on just a little.” At DRS, one of our strategic drivers is striving to think and act with more of an “outside in” perspective. In other words, we first need to ask how what we say will actually be understood and how what we ask can actually be done with the least amount of confusion or burden. Of course, taxpayers and tax preparers are not one uniform group. Therefore, our communications need to be audience-driven rather than one-size-fits-all tax speak. Similarly, our policies and practices will always benefit from our talking with and listening to our consumers. Recently, just for fun, I mocked up a DRS standard form publication. About halfway through the document, after all the usual introductory boilerplate, the publication sort of finally got to a point: Subject to such civil and criminal penalties as are provided pursuant to Title 12 of the Connecticut General Statutes (revised to 2013), taxpayers are hereby required to file with the Department of Revenue Services, utilizing the form hereinbelow and returned by first class prepaid mail, a record business address location for purposes of receipt of any and all official correspondence for state tax purposes which, to the extent of reliance by the State Department of Revenue Services on the information so provided, shall be considered legally sufficient. In other words, please send us your legal business address! Okay, maybe we are not that bad, but we are not so good either, and we need to do better. Research demonstrates that plain thinking, plain speaking, plain writing, and plain meaning all demonstrably improve the prospects for timely and accurate compliance – not to mention goodwill. We took a first step this summer when the DRS launched our new External Editorial Review Board. Our team of volunteers includes tax accountants and other professionals (including CPAs and CTCPA members Nancy Boland of Nancy J. Boland, CPA in Litchfield, Richard Merrick of Merrick & Associates in Manchester, and Tony Switajewski of BlumShapiro in West Hartford), tax preparers, programmers, and educators. paid advertisement 8 www.ctcpas.org