A few months ago I read about a group that was advocating what I think is a terrific idea – the requirement that government provide a receipt when you pay your taxes. If we really understood where our tax dollars went we might have a different perspective on the political landscape, and our governmental priorities. So for instance, let’s imagine that a year from now you received a receipt after paying your taxes based on the just-released tentative budget (and keep in mind this budget will change a lot by the time the arguing is over so this is fairly hypothetical). To make it simple, assume that you paid $20,000 in Federal Taxes, and you received the following receipt from the government (and I rounded off some of these amounts):
Thanks for your payment of $20,000 for Federal Taxes. Here is how we spent your money.
- $11,400 was spent on the army, to fight wars, to maintain military bases all over the world, and to build really expensive weapons.
- $1400 was spent to keep people healthy.
- $1220 was spent to educate your kids.
- $1040 was spent to maintain the State Department and other international departments so we hopefully don’t need to attack other countries.
- $1000 was spent to take care of the soldiers who have been killed or injured.
- $790 was spent to maintain highways and roads, to fill an occasional pothole, and to keep trucks, railroads and airplanes operating safely.
- $670 was spent to pay the people that frisk you at the airport, to catch guys that put bombs in vans and park them near public squares, and for other Homeland Security costs.
- $650 was spent to provide housing for people that need it (and a few that don’t), and to help improve poor neighborhoods.
- $500 was spent to keep energy flowing to your houses and businesses, and most likely to subsidize huge oil companies that don’t need the money and tend to shift revenues overseas so they don’t have to pay much in taxes.
- $360 was spent to pay farmers not to grow food, to grow food they normally would not grow, and for other agricultural purposes.
- $340 was spent to keep you safe from criminals.
- $220 was spent to keep our money supply circulating and safe.
- $210 was spent to keep the workforce working – and to make sure you have a safe workplace.
- $200 was spent on national parks and to keep the land in reasonably good condition.
And imagine if instead ot the above 14 catagories we really detailed the expenses – 50 or 100 catagories that told you exactly where your money was going. No matter how you break down the budget it is hard to ignore what we really spend our money on – the military – both past and present. One can only wonder how the country would change if we rapidly began shifting military budget into education and infrastructure that would make the country smarter and more stable?
And I think the “receipt with your taxes” idea should flow through to the state level. Imagine the real accountability for our leaders if we all knew exactly how our taxes were spent?