By Andre Salhab
As Dave Barry once joked, tax time is when “you gather up those receipts, get out those tax forms, sharpen up that pencil, and stab yourself in the aorta.”
Despite Barry’s levity, completing tax returns is no joking matter, and the complexity of the tax code leaves most of us using that sharpened pencil to scratch our heads in confusion.
Not so for Justin Axelrod, a third-year law student at the University of Florida Levin College of Law with a love of all things taxation. At 25 years of age, Axelrod is the youngest member ever appointed to the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel by the U.S. secretary of treasury. He’s excited by the prospect of committing between 300 and 500 hours of time annually during his three-year appointment, which began in December.
“To be on a committee with these people from all sorts of backgrounds, it’s just humbling,” Axelrod said.
Established in 2002 under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel serves as a citizen forum that provides direct feedback to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS uses this feedback to increase its responsiveness to taxpayer needs, to work more effectively for all taxpayers, and to improve services. Made up of seven, geographically-based sub-committees, the Taxpayer Advocacy Panel has a real influence on the IRS’s strategic initiatives to improve its policies and programs.
Axelrod sits on the panel’s 13-member Area 3 Committee, which represents the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. He also serves on the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Issues Committee, which partners with the IRS to focus on national initiatives or issues that cut across geographic boundaries. He said he isn’t sure why he was among the 100 people selected to serve nationwide, but believes his enthusiasm for tax and willingness to get his generation involved in tax administration were important factors in the decision.
One of the things Axelrod hopes to initiate during his service on the panel is free taxpayer clinics for families with low-income at the UF College of Law and Florida A&M University College of Law. He thinks it will serve a need in the community and also will give law school students in tax practical, hands-on skills. Currently, there are low-income tax clinics in Florida but none in the vicinity of these colleges.
Another goal of Axelrod’s is to reach a new generation of tax payers. To do this, he started a blog at www.justintimewithjustin.com and established a Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Facebook group. He said young people need to know that taxes affect everyone. He frequently updates his blog and Facebook page with information on tax-related issues and events and seeks to educate people on their rights and responsibilities as tax payers.
“Whether you like it or not, at sometime in your life you are going to have to deal with the IRS,” he said.
Axelrod said he wants people to know that the panel is there for them when they do, and he works hard to respond to each suggestion or comment posted to his blog or Facebook page.
“You’re going to get a voice,” Axelrod said. “It is important for people to be heard. I am your voice and so are the other members on the panel.”
Even Dave Barry might put his pencil away with a sigh of relief.