April 14, 2011

Where does it all go?

What if we got a receipt?

I am doing my taxes this week. If I was expecting a return, they would have been done long ago, but I put them off until now to delay the drain from my bank account. I have done my own taxes every year since I was 16. It is never a treat, but most of the time is spent gathering receipts and cross-checking them with Microsoft Money (self-employment adds to the headache). Preparing my own taxes is one of those things that I know I can do, so I hate to spend the money to have someone else do it.

And I do them by hand. These days there are .pdf forms you can download to make them neater than my sloppy penmanship, but they do not do the math for you. It is more painful than using a computer program, but this is another place where I figure my time is worth less than the software price.

This year though, I used an online version of Turbotax. It was free, so the price was right. The online version was pretty slick, and the necessary forms populated with all the important numbers. Being who I am, I will still go through it by hand to double check it. I still have to do my state taxes, which will be a first (CA has them, WA doesn't). I am debating paying the extra fee to use the Turbotax for the state return as well. Since tax day is only four days away, I may just pony up.

There are a couple of bills coming before Congress that would provide taxpayers with a relatively detailed receipt of where their money was going (Seattle Times article). As Congress debates about the amount in the penny jar when it comes to our budget, it turns out the American public has little idea where all our money is being spent. According to a recent survey:
..half the respondents believe that international humanitarian aid consumes at least 10 percent of the federal budget. The actual figure is about half of 1 percent. The median guess for share of the entire federal budget allocated for the Corporate for Public Broadcasting was a whopping 5 percent - more than what the government spends on transportation, law enforcement and homeland security combinded.
If the American public had a better grasp on where our money was going, we could better decide what we want government to pay for, and what we could cut back or eliminate. We would be less inclined to believe the hyperbolic rants about how we need to slash NPR for budget reasons.

The portion of the budget that goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is actually only one one-hundredth of one percent, 424 times less than the average person believes. And the cuts to this budget have nothing to do with reducing the deficit. NPR's portion is a fraction of that one one-hundredth of one percent, and the "Congressional Budget Office calculated that the net savings from defunding the network would be zero."

If we knew where our money was going, we could see what cuts would actually make a difference. And we would recognize what was actually fiscal responsibility, and what was just politics. A detailed receipt for our purchases would be a good start.

1 comment:

matt said...

Check it out: http://mashable.com/2011/04/12/tax-visualizations/