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Fox won’t say if he’ll resign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island House Speaker Gordon Fox says he won’t yet comment publicly on the raids of his office and home by federal and state law enforcement officials.

Fox told reporters outside his Providence home Saturday he would make a statement “when it’s appropriate.”

Authorities raided Fox’s Statehouse office and home Friday as part of an investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office, FBI, IRS and state police. Officials haven’t said whom or what they are investigating.

Fox wouldn’t comment when asked if he plans to resign. He also wouldn’t say if a lawyer is representing him.

Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello called an “informational caucus” Friday evening to talk about “the future of the House.” He hasn’t called for Fox to step down but says he has enough votes to be speaker.

Few details released about investigation

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The U.S. attorney’s office says an investigation is underway at the Rhode Island Statehouse, where police officers are stationed outside House Speaker Gordon Fox’s office.

U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Jim Martin says his office, the FBI, IRS and state police are engaged in a law enforcement action, but he would not give specifics.

Three state police officers were standing outside the closed door to Fox’s office on Friday morning.

Fox’s spokesman, Larry Berman, says state police came in Friday morning and asked everyone to leave. He says Fox is not at the Statehouse.

Martin would not comment when asked whether the Democratic House speaker was being investigated.

The IRS could only answer 61 percent of the calls for help from taxpayers in fiscal 2013, the IRS watchdog said.

Mary Knox Merrill / CSM via Getty Images file
The IRS could only answer 61 percent of the calls for help from taxpayers in fiscal 2013, the IRS watchdog said.

If you have a question about your taxes, here’s a tip: Be prepared to be very patient.

The Internal Revenue Service answered a smaller share of taxpayer calls and kept taxpayers on hold longer last year than in other recent years, a new report finds. What’s more, budget cuts could make it hard for taxpayers to get help this year as well.

The IRS could only answer 61 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers during the 2013 fiscal year, the taxpayer advocate said in a report released to Congress earlier this month.

That means that the rest of the calls – about 20 million – just didn’t get through, the independent taxpayer advocate said in the report.

Taxpayers who got help had to wait a long time for it. The taxpayer advocate said callers who got through were on hold for an average of nearly 18 minutes before talking to a customer service representative during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

The level of service is a sharp drop from a decade ago. In the 2004 fiscal year, the IRS answered nearly 9 in 10 calls, and the average wait time was less than three minutes, according to the taxpayer advocate, an independent voice in the IRS that works on behalf of taxpayers.

The taxpayer advocate blamed a lack of resources. The overall IRS budget has been cut every year since the 2010 fiscal year, the report said, and the amount allocated for training has been slashed significantly as part of that.

It’s not likely that things will get better this year. The spending bill passed by the House and Senate last week includes another cut to the IRS’s budget, even as the the tax man grapples with problems including the continued threat of identity theft tax fraud.

Given its limited resources, the IRS said that in 2014 it will stop preparing tax returns for people who need help, such as those who are elderly or disabled. The agency also plans to only answer “basic” tax law questions, and only to do so during the normal filing season that runs through April 15. Instead, it will direct people to the website and other automated sources of information.

“(I)t is a sad state of affairs when the government writes tax laws as complex as ours – and then is unable to answer any questions beyond ‘basic’ ones from baffled citizens who are doing their best to comply,” National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson said in the report.

In a statement in response to the taxpayer advocate report, the IRS said: “The IRS continues to make progress on a number of the critical issues outlined in the Advocate’s report. It is important to note that the IRS must carefully balance limited resources to meet its dual mission of providing taxpayer service and enforcing the tax laws.”

Outside experts say the lack of help is a concern both for taxpayers and for the government, which may not get all the money it should if people file their taxes incorrectly.

“It’s a lose-lose situation,” said Nina Crimm, a professor at St. John’s University School of Law and an expert on tax issues. “It’s a lose situation for … the average taxpayer, and it’s a lose situation for compliance and collection of revenues.”

Crimm’s advice: Get started on your taxes early this year, so you aren’t frantically trying to reach the IRS on April 14.

“They better start calling now,” she said.