The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

March 28, 2011
A federal tax receipt

As the calendar creeps toward the April 15 tax filing deadline, many Americans might wonder just how all their federal tax dollars are being spent. Proposed bipartisan legislation intends to make that information very easy to get. The Taxpayer Receipt Act (S. 437) would "require the Secretary of the Treasury to provide each individual taxpayer a receipt for an income tax payment which itemizes the portion of the payment which is allocable to various Government spending categories."

The idea has been discussed and promoted by David Kendall and Ethan Porter of the center-left Third Way think tank and the liberal Democracy journal. The authors hope that if Americans really understood where their money is going, there would be much less ideological conflict over government spending, taxation and deficit control.

Here's how it would work: every year after filing your taxes, the IRS would send you a short summary (no more than a page) showing what you paid in income taxes/FICA and how that money is allocated among major government programs. See a mockup receipt here.

The Third Way web site provides an online calculator where you can plug in your annual tax liability and see exactly how the federal government spends it. Let's say you paid $10,000 in income and FICA taxes. $2,044.94 goes to Social Security and $1,306.74 to Medicare (that's for current payments to those programs, not for future obligations). $2,017 of your $10,000 goes to defense. $928,48 and $789.22 go to low-income assistance and Medicaid, respectively. All the above constitute nearly 71 percent of the total. The rest is allocated to things like interest payments, unemployment, veterans, education, etc.

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