Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Taxpayer Rule

I've sometimes thought that election day should be held on April 15th rather than the first Tuesday in November so that people have it fresh in their minds that they pay for services from the government and can vote accordingly. But undoubtedly some political scholar would say this is a bad idea because (for example) we don't want elections to be about how much we pay in taxes or we don't want to elect someone just because he or she promises to reduce spending more than everyone else.

I've also wondered if we could send an itemized list of government spending to each taxpayer, calculated to show how much each of us paid the previous year for entitlements, defense, scientific research, farm subsidies, education and all the other things our tax dollars go to pay for.

That would be a good first step: a breakdown (within reason) of where our tax dollars have gone over the past year. We can't itemize every last penny that Uncle Sam spends; he probably can't either, to tell you the truth. But a list of our major expenditures, maybe the top 50 government line items and our personal share of each might be enlightening. Just as we now get a regular mailing from the Social Security office telling us how much we've contributed and how much we can expect our monthly check to be at retirement, given age and years of working etc. I don't see why a breakdown of what we're buying from the federal government would be so hard.

The second step would be experimental and just for our own information at first. It would allow taxpayers to rank or vote on the various line items in the federal budget. Their top choice (whether it was social security or head-start programs for young children) would be the government program they most desire and their last choice would be the expenditure they would most like to get rid of. Of course these choices would be non-binding on government administration, but I'm sure it would be informative both to the government budget types as well as to the rest of us Americans to see what exactly we want and don't want to spend our money on.

And of course the more radical third step would be to actually implement the choices that we taxpayers made when we review the breakdown of where our money went and what programs it funded. We'd all probably be in for a rude awakening if the U.S. government took us seriously in cancelling the programs that many of us say we would rather do without. From what I understand from reading the newspapers, many U.S. taxpayers don't realize the degree to which they benefit from government expenditures and that were their preferred cuts to be implemented, they would soon clamor for a return to the old way of doing business.

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