WHERE YOUR TAXES REALLY GO: As tax day passes, millions of Americans will send a check to the IRS, but few know the math that goes into this exchange. In a publication titled “Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go?” the National Priorities Project (NPP) illustrates just that. The organization, which seeks to make confusing federal budget information accessible, breaks down how each federal tax dollar was spent in fiscal year 2010.
Perhaps not surprisingly (to some at least), the military received the highest proportion of American taxpayer dollars in 2010. For every $1 paid in taxes, the military—which includes national defense and security, nuclear weapons–related activities of the Energy Department and international security assistance—received 27.4 cents, up from 26.5 cents in 2009. Health spending came in second, with 21.5 cents of every tax dollar going toward Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP and other health-related expenses.
As NPP points out, federal spending in 2010 in some ways reflected the impact of the recession. The average unemployment rate for 2010 was 9.6 percent; thus spending on programs like job training, disability, retirement and unemployment insurance, and Social Security increased from 8.5 cents of every tax dollar in 2009 to 10.9 cents in 2010.
NPP’s breakdown reveals that some government programs receive surprisingly little federal money: education receives just 3.5 cents of every tax dollar; environment, energy and science receives 3 cents; and transportation receives 2.2 cents.
Compare this with how Americans think their tax dollars are spent. According to a 2005 Washington Post/Kaiser Foundation poll, the majority of Americans believed the government spent more money on foreign aid than on Social Security or Medicare. In reality, international affairs, which includes foreign aid, receives just 1.2 cents of every tax dollar.
This warped vision of the budget, however, is reflected in the $38 billion in cuts proposed in the 2011 budget, which largely come from the social and foreign aid programs that receive the least federal money. Meanwhile, military spending—the largest slice of the federal pie—will see an additional $5 billion for fiscal year 2011.
Maybe if Americans knew just how their money was being spent they could shape future budget debates in a more rational direction. That’s why some policy groups are advocating just that idea. As even the centrist think tank Third Way put it in a recent report, “Consumers can easily see detailed information on every product they buy, but the largest item that they purchase in a given year—their taxes—they get nothing. They have a right to know what they are paying for.” KATE MURPHY
WORSE THAN COAL? Natural gas has been given a big boost lately from policy-makers intent on fighting climate change and reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil. But according to a study published in early April by a group of Cornell University scientists, it’s not quite the panacea many have claimed it to be. In fact, the study shows that the total greenhouse gas emissions from extracting gas from shale may exceed those of burning coal and oil. “The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming,” the authors write.