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Tax Court’s 2024 Budget Justification

Posted on Feb. 15, 2023

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As it does each year the Tax Court submitted a budget justification to Congress. It did so on February 1, 2023, and placed a link to the document on its website. Like any self-respecting arm of the government it seeks more money for the coming year, 14% more, primarily to cover the increased salary costs resulting from the cost of living adjustments triggered by the recent period of high inflation but also in anticipation of new judges to fill current vacancies and other court needs.

These budget justification requests contain a lot of data about the Court. This post seeks to highlight the data I found most interesting.

The Mission and Expeditious Resolution of Disputes

The report starts off with a statement about its mission:

The mission of the United States Tax Court is to provide a national forum for the expeditious resolution of disputes between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service; for careful consideration of the merits of each case; and to ensure a uniform interpretation of the Internal Revenue Code. The Court is committed to providing taxpayers, most of whom are self-represented, with a reasonable opportunity to appear before the Court, with as little inconvenience and expense as is practicable. The Court is also committed to providing an accessible judicial forum with simplified procedures for disputes involving $50,000 or less. (emphasis added)

It’s a good mission and one the Court has generally done well in meeting except for the expeditious resolution part.

As we posted last October, those of us at PT do not believe the Court has done a good job of expeditiously resolving its cases. Based on non-empirical observation of the length of time it takes for the Court to resolve cases such as the discussion in this post, it moves way too slowly, though that statement is not true of all judges. The report provides no information regarding the timeliness of the outcomes in its cases though it does say on page 21 that “[w]hen a case is tried, the judge generally issues a written opinion within one year.” Working with my RA, I hope over the coming months to provide a more data based view at the timeliness of outcomes resulting from decisions. I welcome the assistance of anyone who wants to engage in a data dive into the timeliness of Tax Court outcomes. Perhaps such an effort will assist the Court in future reports regarding its mission.

One More Special Trial Judge

The report indicates that the Court seeks to add one more Special Trial Judge. Doing so would raise the number to six still four less than the Court had in the 1980s. The hiring of a Special Trial Judge is done by the Court and does not require a Presidential appointment. For this reason I expect this will happen unless Congress completely guts the Court’s budget, something unlikely to happen.

Access to Court Records

There is a section in the report on “Electronic Filing and Case Management System.” This section describes the Court’s fix to its case sealing problems as though fixing a problem was an enhancement. It also describes sending letters to pro se petitioners alerting them to Low Income Taxpayer Clinics in their area as though this was a new feature in 2022 and not something the court had done for a decade.

Nonetheless the last sentence of this section provides a small glimmer of hope that the Court might consider its practice of making public documents difficult to access:

After DAWSON’s first full year in production, the Court reviewed technological demands and was able to consolidate the application’s cloud hosting environments, resulting in significant savings. DAWSON is integral to Court operations and there is continual evaluation of how to make engaging with the Court for the public as easy and straightforward as possible, while protecting the data stored in DAWSON. (emphasis added)

I don’t have any great hope for greater electronic access based on this statement but hope springs eternal. There are ways to make this happen if the Court becomes truly interested.

Filing Fee

The report, like the report from the previous year, suggests that the Court seeks to raise the filing fee from $60 to $100. Doing so would make the Tax Court only slightly less a fantastic bargain than it is now. The Court’s filing fee has been fixed at $60 for decades. It is one of the greatest bargains around. The low fee and the Court’s willingness to waive the fee for qualified applicants demonstrates its desire to be available to all petitioners. Raising the fee, if it happens, makes sense to me.

Practice Fee

The Court explains why it has no plans to impose a periodic practice fee for those authorized to practice before it.

Judicial Conference

The report indicates that it will not have a judicial conference this year.  It has not had one since 2018 due in large part to Covid. I anticipate it will do something big in 2024 to celebrate its 100th anniversary. One of the best parts of the 2018 conference occurred for me when Les and I were told that we were considered by the Court to be part of the press. I don’t really think of myself that way but it was fun to hear that the Court did.

Caseload information

The report provides the following charts on the Court’s cases. The first chart shows the number of cases filed in each of the most recent years:

Figure: image.png

The second chart shows the types of cases filed in FY 2022:

Figure: image-1.png

The third chart shows the number of electronic versus paper petitions filed in FY 2022:

Figure: image-2.png

The fourth chart shows the number of trial calendars and type – remote version in person. Note that for FY 2022 remote sessions outnumber those held in person. It will be interesting to see if that trend holds in FY 2023 or if the Tax Court goes back on the road more. Remote motions sessions, probably not counted here, remain a terrific innovation.

Figure: image-3.png

The fifth chart shows the continued decline in number of cases tried and opinions issued. This may be the lowest number of opinions ever issued by the Tax Court. There is a chart in an article by Caitlin Hird and me, linked through the last sentence of this post, showing the number of trials in prior years.

Figure: image-4.png

This is just an overview of the report. These annual reports provide a rich source of data about the Court and are worth reading if you want to better understand how it works.

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