Bill Knight column for Thurs, Fri, or Sat. April 20, 21 or 22
Long-time Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”
Fortunately – for good or not – the National Priorities Project (NPP) has just released its annual, to-the-penny breakdown of how the federal government spent each dollar of income taxes paid by individuals in 2016, and it shows that more than half of every tax dollar went to the military and health care – mainly Medicare and Medicaid. Mere pennies went to education, science and other popular priorities.
Specifically, out of every federal income tax dollar paid in 2016, 29.1 cents went to health care, 23.4 cents went to the Pentagon and military, 13.2 cents went to interest on federal debt, 7.5 cents went to unemployment and labor, 6 cents went to veterans’ benefits, and just pennies went to each of food and agriculture, government, education, transportation, housing, science, international affairs, and energy and environment programs.
“Much of what we’re paying for reflects priorities that Americans have, like access to health care,” said Lindsay Koshgarian. research director at the nonpartisan, nonprofit NPP. “But a recent poll showed that Americans want to spend less, not more on the military, which currently takes up nearly a quarter of every tax dollar. And some things that Americans want the federal government to get involved in, like education, are seriously lagging.”
In Illinois, NPP shows that taxpayers here paid an average of $15,097, $1,046 more than the national average, a disagreeable statistic. However, NPP’s “Seven Tax Facts” for 2017 put taxes into a more agreeable perspective:
1. Americans are unified about one thing: Pay your taxes. The federal budget is roughly $4.2 trillion, and most of that – more than 80 percent – comes from payroll and income taxes we pay as individuals.
“While we may be a divided country in almost other every respect, our respect for taxes actually brings us together: 94 percent of Americans agree that paying your fair share of taxes is a civic duty,” NPP says.
2. Paying taxes strengthens our communities. “How do you feel about your local food bank? Does your city have Meals on Wheels? Are there good schools? Do the potholes get fixed? Is there a good hospital nearby? All these things depend in part on federal spending to thrive. And all make our communities healthier, happier and stronger.”
3. Health care is the biggest item on your tax receipt. The health care portion of your tax dollar is split almost equally between Medicare (11.4 cents) and Medicaid (12.4 cents). The Children’s Health Insurance Program accounts for just 0.5 cents of every tax dollar: half a penny.
4. Got a nickel for the troops? “Of every dollar you pay in income taxes, 23 cents goes to the military – but only 5 cents supports our troops.,” NPP says.
5. Some profitable corporations pay nothing in taxes. “Corporations contribute only about 11 percent of federal revenues – and many profitable corporations use tax loopholes to pay nothing at all.”
6. Our tax system helps working families, too. “While many of the biggest tax breaks in our system benefit the one percent or corporations, some tax breaks benefit working families, such as the Earned Income tax break and the Child Tax Credit.”
And 7. The highest individual tax rate used to be 91 percent.
Meanwhile, a budget proposal from the Oval Office Occupant proposes cutting spending in nearly every part of government except the military (which would receive a 10-percent increase).
“Individual taxpayers’ income taxes are the largest source of federal revenues every year – which means individuals are the primary billpayer of the federal government,” Koshgarian said. “We deserve to know where our tax dollars are going, and we have a responsibility to act on that information by participating in the political process.”
The NPP also provides online interactive resources (at nationalpriorities.org) such as an average U.S. taxpayer’s receipt (on average, Americans paid about $14,000 in federal income taxes in 2016) and a personalized, individual tax receipt calculator that shows a detailed breakdown, including spending on specific initiatives like immigration enforcement, Medicaid, the State Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency, among others.