With remnants of Tax Day still on my mind (and my desk), I wanted to bring up a point I heard tossed out by a woman who, I think, was from the IRS when she was a guest on a CSPAN call-in show a month or two ago.
She pointed out that tax returns are the largest national survey taken annually and we could have more "fun" with them than we do. (And as a wonky-seeming government analyst, it really did, endearingly, seem to be her idea of fun.)
One thought she threw out there in passing has to do with the Revenue and Expenditure charts that used to be included with the instructions for the 1040 form. I believe they were not included this year, but the ones for last year (with data for 2005) look like this:
Details are in the caption, but the federal government basically runs on one part income tax, one part social security/medicare/retirement tax, and one part that's a combination of corporate income tax, borrowing, and other miscellaneous taxes. (Corporate taxes, specifically, made up just 11% of 2005's federal money.)
In expenditures, paying back our seniors took up the lion's share, with medicare, social security and other retirement programs at just over one-third of government spending. A quarter went to national defense. A little less, a fifth, went to assistance programs like medicaid, unemployment, and social services. And just one-tenth went to investment in the future, things like education grants, job training, science funding, transportation infrastructure. (NIH and NSF budgets put together were a little more than 1 percent of the total.) Seven percent of our money went to pay interest on the debt.
So this guest on CSPAN had a cute idea: what if, on the 1040, the largest annual national survey, we included an optional section with a blank pie chart where you could draw in how you want your tax money spent.
I'd be curious to see how folks -- from each party -- would want their tax money spent. I'm guessing the biggest change would be in national defense, for not only political but also moral reasons, as Wes Houston sang for Broadside in the 1960s, "You don't even have to have to leave your home to be a killer -- you've got your Congress, your Senate and your President, all the rest of your government. Out of your dollar give 'em thirty cents: you'll own a killer." I've been feeling the responsibility of that ownership more strongly than usual lately.
At the risk of playing into an Onion headline ("Democrats demand inquiry into how they're doing so far"), a YouBudget interactive pie chart might be an interesting widget to post on Democrats.org (or the Congressional website for that matter) the next time budget discussions heat up.