Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tax Time: What Do Our Taxes Buy?

Like many Americans, I'll be filling out my tax forms this weekend. Just in time, Peter Rothberg over at The Nation has provided a great link to the National Priorities Project, where you can see the breakdown of where all your federal income taxes go. The main punchline is, of course, that a huge proportion is going to past and present military expenditures, including the vast amounts that we are pouring down the drain in Iraq. You can also get a graph scaling the proportion the median family income in your city or area.

But the most interesting feature, in my opinion, is the section on "trade-offs"...which allows you to see what the foolish and immoral expenditures of the Republicans and Bush Administration could have bought instead. You choose either a state or a congressional district. (Since I live in a small town on the border between two districts, I decided to go for the whole State of Pennsylvania.) Then you select one of several "bad" expenditures along with something really worthy we could have used the money for instead. Here are three examples:

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $5.2 billion for the cost of the Iraq War in FY 2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided: 6,310,120 Homes with Renewable Electricity."

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $422.1 million for ballistic missile defense in FY2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:
6,491 Port Container Inspectors."

"$56.5 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% this year could be spent on the people of Pennsylvania instead. If that money were used to support state and local programs, the residents of Pennsylvania could have $2.5 billion, which could provide:
41,309 Elementary School Teachers."

"Taxpayers in Pennsylvania will pay $17.4 billion for the cost of the Iraq War through 2007. For the same amount of money, the following could have been provided:
4,040,849 People with Health Care."

Wow--I knew the military budget was obscenely high (and the Iraq War in particular!)...but that figure even surprised me. So, just for the amount of money spent by Pennsylvania taxpayers alone on the Iraq War, we could have provided OVER FOUR MILLION PEOPLE with health care.

If you can read that figure and not be stopped in your tracks for a minute to consider once again the idiocy of our country's misplaced priorities, then think about those 4 million people--4 million people, living on the knife's edge of insecurity and bankruptcy, should a major health crisis come up. The working poor of this country--and increasingly, even those in the "middle class"--should be at the top of our national agenda, not at the bottom below tax cuts for the rich, imperial invasions, and insanely expensive weapons systems.

I realize that if you are reading this, I am probably preaching to the choir. But perhaps we can use this hard data to help convince our fellow Americans of the urgent necessity of drastically cutting our military spending? It's a conversation we simply must have at some point very soon. As the figures above show, the current fiscal year expenditures on Iraq from PA taxpayers along could provide over 6 MILLION HOMES WITH RENEWABLE ENERGY. If we are ever going to plan our way out of our fossil fuel dependency, we have to invest in renewable energy NOW while we still can. We simply must do it. And, as this evidence makes clear, the elephant in the middle of the room is our military spending, which we must cut (along with tax breaks for the rich) in order to accomplish our most valued goals.