It looks like the U.S. government may be well on its way toward
issuing each taxpayer an itemized receipt. As I've said before, this is a really good
A bipartisan bill to establish a tax receipt has been introduced in the House, following a similar
move last month in the Senate. Tennessee Democrat Rep. Jim Cooper offers a sample (pdf) of what the receipt would look
I wish Cooper's receipt broke down more of the budget lines into
subcategories. It'd be good, for instance, for taxpayers to know how much of
their spending on ground transportation goes to highways, as opposed to
railroads and mass transit. (I'd also like a footnote pointing out that we
routinely spend our income taxes on highways even as conservatives repeat the
false line that gas taxes cover them, but that's probably too much to wish for
in a bipartisan proposal.)
If the extra lines of numbers pushed the receipt past the page
break, they could always eliminate the separate bit at the bottom with the
numbers about the national debt. That chunk of scary boldface type takes what's
otherwise a nonpartisan service and gives it an political slant: We should be
informed about where our tax dollars go, because the government spends way too much money. Stop the madness!
Actually, we should be informed about where our tax dollars go
because we deserve to know, and because it's good for democracy. But the bill
wouldn't have Republican names on it without a spoonful of ideology to help the
public service go down, and I'm mostly just glad this thing might get done.
In the meantime, the White House website has a nifty online
tool that will generate a 2010 income tax receipt for you. But the
problem isn't that people who tend to visit government websites can't figure
out where their tax dollars go--the information has long been readily available
to anyone who wants to know. The real problem is that most taxpayers are far
less proactive about informing themselves.
Passing a bill that sends a receipt--even an imperfect one--to
each one of us would be a huge step forward. I'm convinced that our
conversation about government spending would be far healthier if all taxpayers
earning $50,000 a year knew that when someone says we spend too much of their
money on, say, Community Development Block Grants, we're not talking about
hundreds of their dollars.
We're talking about $17. If you think that's too much to spend
toward funding locally controlled efforts to do things like put roofs over
people's heads, we'll have to agree to disagree. But an itemized tax receipt
would at least help us start with the facts.