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MULTILINGUAL FORMS ARE NO `EZ’ MATTER

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Recently the Internal Revenue Service revealed that it would issue tax forms in a language other than English. While many of us have questioned whether the language used on our tax forms is indeed English, it turns out that the IRS has never printed tax forms in a language other than English until this year.

If you are a resident of southern Florida or southern California, you can now call a special 800 number and order a tax form in Spanish, get help filling it out and get your questions answered in Spanish. This new program may expand to other parts of the country and other languages quite soon. The IRS is discussing a Vietnamese form as well.These actions undermine an essential principle of fair taxation: that tax laws be applied consistently and accurately. In a nation where many citizens buy computer programs and hire specialists to cope with their tax liabilities, multilingual taxation spells big trouble.

The biggest problem will be translation errors. Forms easy to translate, such as 1040EZ, require little knowledge of English to complete them. An English-literate family member or friend can easily answer any questions the non-English speaker may have. More complicated forms are another matter.

Anyone who has struggled with a 1040 form knows that the English version of the form is not exactly a model of straightforward language. An accurate translation of this highly technical terminology is no sure thing. What happens if there is a mistake?

The answer to that question is unknown.

Taxpayers are rarely successful in holding the IRS responsible for incorrect or conflicting advice given to them in English, let alone Spanish. This raises another question: Which version of the form will be official for legal purposes?

There have been legal cases fought over the translation of a person's Miranda rights. Well-meaning government agencies have disagreed over the proper translation of "you have the right to remain silent." Imagine what a creative lawyer could do if the matter were to involve the tax code.

We can certainly expect endless litigation over inaccurate and ill-nuanced translations of our national tax forms and instructions.

And, of course, Spanish tax forms will simply increase the costs of administering our tax laws. This policy will be a full-employment program for tax accountants and other IRS employees who happen to speak Spanish.

Other professional ethnic activists will object to simply printing tax forms in Spanish. "What about other languages?" they will ask. And the IRS, or the courts, may well agree. Contemplate for a moment the costs to all taxpayers of tax forms, complete with toll-free numbers and fluent speakers to give advice, in every language or dialect spoken in America by even the smallest group of taxpayers.

This divisive and dangerous policy is once again proof that until Congress passes an official English law, the bureaucrats will continue to replace the Washington Monument with the Tower of Babel. And all of us will pay for it.