Do You Know Where Your Tax Dollars Go?

(This post was originally scheduled to be published on April 16, but writing about the Boston marathon bombing took precedence.) 

April 15 was tax day—the deadline for filing your 2012 taxes. Congratulations, by that time you had completed them or at least filed an extension. Your tax dollars go to pay for specific items in federal, state, and local budgets. The National Priorities Project is a resource for learning about budget basics at all levels of government as well as analysis, news, and information related to spending cuts and revenue generation. has set up a federal tax calculator so that taxpayers can get a clear picture of where their federal tax dollars are spent.

Taxpayers can see how their tax dollars this year are to be allocated based on the proposed 2013 federal budget pie chart below. The government services and functions we value determine whether or not we are happy about where our tax dollars fall in the chart.


For instance, the largest portion of my 2012 federal taxpayer dollars went to the military; this doesn’t make me happy. Now, while I value a strong, well-equipped armed forces, I also know that the defense budget could be much leaner. I would prefer to see more of my tax dollars go toward education, infrastructure, or food security and poverty-reduction programs.

The second highest portion of my taxes went toward health, which I am okay with because I believe affordable, quality healthcare should be accessible to all Americans.  The lowest amount of my taxes, a whopping $61.91, went to Science ($27.68 of which was for Basic Scientific Research).  I would prefer more of my money be allocated to scientific research. See the average taxpayer receipt here.

If Americans want a say in where their tax dollars are spent, this knowledge can assist in activism, especially pertaining to deficit reduction and budget setting. To become informed citizens, first, it is necessary to learn what the federal budget items are—both mandatory and discretionary—and then know the amount spent on each item.

Knowledge is power. I encourage you to enter your own information into the tax calculator tool. Are these the priorities you value?

The National tools also allow taxpayers to build a better budget. The options to choose from are based on actual proposals. Where would you decrease spending and by how much? Where and how would you raise revenue? You can use this tool to build a budget that reflects your values and then share it with your congressperson.

If nothing else, this is a good exercise for Americans to think more critically about where their tax dollars go, as opposed to trusting political talking heads and their tax-related commentary, without examining the facts for ourselves. Plus there is a Trade-Offs tool for reallocating your tax dollars. If you could reallocate them based on your values, how would you do it? This is another way, as a taxpayer and a constituent, to engage your elected officials on tax policy and spending, should you feel the need or the desire. Who says taxes and budgets are boring?

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