I TEND TO GET angrier than usual this time of year.

And if you haven't yet filed your federal income-tax return (due 11:59 tonight, by the way), or even if you have, you know what I mean.

The painful, often costly process is an annual annoyance, either poring over paperwork or paying someone to do it for you.

Then the figures remind you how government spends your money while many corporations and rich people use loopholes to keep theirs.

Congress' Government Accountability Office says that more than half of U.S. corporations paid no federal income tax, zero, during the boom years of the late 1990s, and that corporate tax receipts are at a 20-year low.

Meanwhile, the new Democratic Congress, the one elected to bring change and reform to Washington and get us out of Iraq, just added $20 billion (that's with a "b," folks) worth of pork spending to the president's recent $103 billion war request.

(My personal favorite: $15 million added by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to eradicate Mormon crickets - I assume a direct slap at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.)

I'm not arguing against paying taxes; I just want it to be easier.

If I'm gonna be bled, I don't want to have to work at (or pay someone to work at) opening the vein.

Because of that, I've always liked U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter's flat tax, something he's advocated for more than a decade and reintroduced in Congress last week.

The biggest attraction for me? It replaces 17,000 pages, 7.1 million words (four times the number of words in the Bible) of IRS regulations with a postcard. And it ends the estimated 13 hours it takes the average Joe to fill out the basic 1040.

Under Specter's plan, you fill out 10 lines in maybe 10 minutes, toss it in the mail and you're done.

Sounds pretty good, eh?

Specter says his flat-tax proposal slashes government regulations and bureaucrats, closes loopholes and pumps up national productivity.

Specifically, it cuts $10 billion to fund the IRS and its 94,000 employees; closes an estimated $300 billion tax-avoidance gap (money not paid to the government thanks to loopholes); and allows $265 billion spent each year on tax compliance to be saved or invested to spur the economy - $2 trillion over seven years, or $7,500 per person.

If, by now, you're thinking, good Lord, why haven't we done this years ago, this is too good to be true, you're right. It is too good to be true.

For one thing, a flat tax - Specter wants 20 percent with no exemptions except mortgages and charitable donations - means lots of middle-class earners stripped of deductions end up paying more in taxes.

For another, it means wealthy folks (because of no tax on investments, dividends, or profits from unincorporated business) do better.

And, finally, because other taxes such as sales and payroll disproportionately impact lower incomes, a flat tax shifts the overall burden (on a proportionate basis) from the rich to everybody else.

"It exempts most of the income of the rich [assets beyond salary], doesn't raise enough money and slams the middle class," says Bob McIntyre, director of the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice.

And while lots of economists like a flat tax, there's a view that even if it were enacted, it wouldn't be likeable for long.

"The political realities of the tax code," says Bob Inman, professor at Wharton School Finance and Economics, "is Congress loves specials deals . . . I'll lay you $1,000 that even if you get it through, they inevitably will be tempted to put in exceptions and exemptions."

Still. I love the notion of simplicity, deregulation, closing loopholes and gutting the IRS. Surely there's a way to move toward that without further skewing taxes against middle- and lower-income folks - more deductions, a lower flat rate, whatever.

The current system is cumbersome, complicated and unfairly applied. Specter's proposal can at least serve as a starting point in fixing it.

But when I ask him why this hasn't happened, he tells me, "Congress is really unwilling to consider it seriously."

This is part of the reason I get angrier than usual this time of year. *

Send e-mail to baerj@phillynews.com.

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