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The tax receipt calculator

I really liked Third Way's proposal for a taxpayer receipt. So, it turns out, did Kareem Shaya, and he did them one better: Rather than just mocking up a taxpayer receipt, he created an online calculator that lets you plug in your income and payroll taxes and see how much went where. I can't vouch for whether the numbers are exactly correct, but this is certainly the kind of idea that could be easily perfected. And you know who could easily perfect it? The IRS, which knows the underlying data and could send a printout back to taxpayers.

Oh, and while I'm talking taxpayer receipts, Ethan Porter had an article calling for this reform back in the spring.

By Ezra Klein  | October 1, 2010; 9:25 AM ET
 
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Comments

I spend way too much on Amtrak.

Posted by: visionbrkr | October 1, 2010 9:33 AM | Report abuse

Who knew we spent so much on National Parks--I like that! Not so much the spending on two foreign quagmires--oops, wars.

Posted by: AuthorEditor | October 1, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

http://datapoint.apa.virginia.gov/ is an interesting site that's been around for a few years. The "Charge Card" and "Checkbook" topics (with drill-down) are interesting.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 1, 2010 9:47 AM | Report abuse

--"Who knew we spent so much on National Parks--I like that! Not so much the spending on two foreign quagmires--oops, wars."--

If you were allowed to keep your own money, you could spend it any way you liked.

And you could tell yourself that you were living in a free country.

Posted by: msoja | October 1, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

A "print out"... how quaint and cost incurring... I suppose you'd like them to use a postal carrier too.

Posted by: steigen | October 1, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

It's not a bad idea. Certainly, some people wouldn't necessarily be as angry about their taxes if they had some idea of where the money was going. Or, a better idea than they do now.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | October 1, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

By the way, the direct link to the Virginia state tax receipt calculator is http://datapoint.apa.virginia.gov/exp/tax_dollar.cfm . The ability to see each individual agency expenditure (see link above) is more useful, though: it's nice to be able to download the data and (for example) to sort by payee name.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 1, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Third Way should add in the "bailouts" (TARP, GM/Chrysler) and the "stimulus" (ARRA).

Posted by: macrowley | October 1, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

It's not necessarily so easy to tell where the money is going, since the agencies don't all report back properly. The Sunlight Foundation found that usaspending.gov had almost $1.3 trillion in broken spending reporting for 2009.

http://sunlightfoundation.com/clearspending/

Posted by: arowla | October 1, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I wonder why the department of agriculture and farm subsidies didn't make the list?

Also, what about the secret CIA and DARPA programs?

Posted by: AB14 | October 1, 2010 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Also, TARP and the stimulus probably are included. TARP will probably end up making a profit. The stimulus was 1/3 tax cuts, and the rest was spent on things like NIH, highways, the EPA, and the other items already on the list.

Posted by: AB14 | October 1, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Well this is useless. We have a $2.4 Trillion federal budget and most of the things are taken up with items like NASA, NIH, Foreign Aid, Head Start, Public Housing, Amtrak, Funding for the Arts, and the Pell Grants.

How about virtually everything goes into the Military Budget, then everything else is shown as 'deferred National Debt'.

Ezra, as a self-professed 'wonk' you should know better than to shill for something like this.

Posted by: Jaycal | October 1, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

@Jaycal: "Well this is useless. We have a $2.4 Trillion federal budget and most of the things are taken up with items like NASA, NIH, Foreign Aid, Head Start, Public Housing, Amtrak, Funding for the Arts, and the Pell Grants."

Did you look at that same charts that I did?

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Interest on the Debt, Iraq and Afghanistan, Veterans Benefits, and Military Personnel...those are the top 7 items in the budget...

and those account for 50% of the budget...

Your 8 items: 3.5%

So what in the world are you talking about when you say "most of the things are taken up with" these 8 items?

We could eliminate all of those, and it would barely make a dent.

Maybe I am completely missing your point.

Are you saying that this receipt is pointless because it gives the impression (to those NOT paying attention to the sums of these numbers) that we have a lot of waste like "arts" we could get rid of, when really we don't?

Posted by: spearmint_altoids | October 1, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

The receipt generated by that website can't be correct. It indicates that more of my tax dollars going to "National Parks" than to "Federal Highways". However, for fiscal year 2010, the Department of Transportation's budget was $72.5 billion, which is six times the budget of the Department of Interior ($12.0 billion).

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | October 1, 2010 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Can somebody make one of these with tax expenditures included?

Or do people think this stuff doesn't cost anything?

Posted by: Mike3211 | October 1, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

Some 3rd party company could likely set this up. Would be a great use of stimulus dollars.

Posted by: krazen1211 | October 1, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Rather than a receipt, I'd like to have a menu so I can order what I want with my money I send to Uncle Sam. The receipt would then simply confirm I got what I ordered.

Posted by: Lomillialor | October 1, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, please have your stat guy or gal crunch these numbers, because they don't add up.

QuiteAlarmed is exactly right:
"The receipt generated by that website can't be correct. It indicates that more of my tax dollars going to "National Parks" than to "Federal Highways". However, for fiscal year 2010, the Department of Transportation's budget was $72.5 billion, which is six times the budget of the Department of Interior ($12.0 billion)."

While the "Receipt" is a great idea, The Third Way has an agenda. They want everyone to fear deficits and spending as if austerity and budget cuts will somehow solve our economic problems. The Third Way is wrong. Deficits and debt are indeed a long term problem, but not our immediate problem, we have to stimulate growth now.

The average time a nation needs to recover from a financial crisis is ten years. The Third Way's deficit and spending obsession will only prolong our recovery. As part of the Pain Caucus, The Third Way ignores the fact that we'v already had a lost decade. If we follow their advice, we'll have ensure another lost decade, maybe two.

We need more government spending by providing aid to states and local governments, and investing in our infrastructure, as we've had a collapse in aggregate demand. If we cut spending now, a national paradox of thrift will chloroform our fragile economy.

The numbers in The Third Way receipt aren't all accurate, don't add up, and are misinforming readers. This bad data is now being touted on Talking Points Memo and throughout the blogosphere.

Please have somebody in your shop fact check them and produce a receipt that's verifiable.

Posted by: gregw571 | October 1, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Are the National Parks expenditures gross or net? I thought they took in more money through visitor fees and concessions than they spend and were actually a profit center for the government, like TARP is shaping up to be.

Posted by: tl_houston | October 1, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I'm skeptical of the parks part as well.

Lom, that is a horrible idea.

Posted by: MosBen | October 1, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea, but neither the Third Way nor Shaya's calculators come close to adding up... there's still a decent chunk of money missing (probably due to omitted categories -- I don't see big items like unemployment insurance, military procurement, or food stamps). I do understand these calculators were just examples, but they shouldn't be used as gospel as of yet.

Posted by: vvf2 | October 1, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

WHOOPS: Glad everyone likes the idea but bad news for the Park Service. Hat tip to Matt Yglesias and those of you who found an error in our tax receipt graphic. The National Park Service $$ was incorrect. We’ve reposted the Idea Brief and receipt at www.thirdway.org Here's the thing:
An educated consumer is a progressive’s best customer.
Progressives might have a better chance of
winning greater funding levels for programs that invest in children, education, energy, environment, transportation, innovation, foreign aid, humanitarian assistance,and housing if taxpaying citizens had a better idea of how their money is spent. Most of these items represent a pittance of government spending as compared to other items in the budget. At the same time, Americans might encourage Congress to be more fiscally
responsible if they saw how much of their actual taxes went for things like interest
on the national debt.

Thanks for weighing in,
Sean Gibbons
Third Way

Posted by: sgibbons1 | October 1, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, both the receipt & the calculator are great ideas, BUT as a couple people have mentioned that the two sites don't quite match up.

If you put the amount from Third Way into the calculator you get very different results.

The main one being that military spending is WAY larger than entitlement according the calculator. The opposite is true for the Third Way's receipt.

It's also worth noting that the receipt breaks up different military expenditures, masking overall military spending. And as vvf2 mentioned, it leaves out procurement. (Is that included in the calculator's "defense spending category," thus explaining the huge disparity?)

Posted by: Trogdorprof | October 1, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

The online calculator is a great idea but needs to be revised because the numbers simply do not add up. My total was $2,000 more than the amount of tax I submitted.
For those concerned about National Parks Service dollars, remember that in addition to the national parks familiar to everyone, they administer the White House, National Mall, national seashores, rivers, recreation areas, preserves, reserves, parkways, memorials, battlefields, historic sites, etc., etc.

Posted by: Kalamazoo2 | October 2, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

--*[T]his is certainly the kind of idea that could be easily perfected. And you know who could easily perfect it? The IRS, which knows the underlying data and could send a printout back to taxpayers.*--

What does Klein know about perfecting ideas? I wouldn't bet he'd know which end of a shovel to grab.

For instance, as far as I know, the IRS knows where the money the government steals comes from, but I'm not entirely sure, unlike genius Klein, that they are experts on where the money goes after their little agency has collected it.

Any fool with a copy of the most recently available expenditures could write a script to divy up tax payments. Aren't there already pie graphs and the like littering the web?

And isn't it interesting as an aside: According to at least one of the published receipts, the IRS gobbles more income tax dollars than either the Legislative Branch or the Judicial Branch. Might say something about collectivist priorities.

Posted by: msoja | October 2, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

--*[F]or fiscal year 2010, the Department of Transportation's budget was $72.5 billion, which is six times the budget of the Department of Interior ($12.0 billion).*--

Even though the propagandist from thirdway claimed to have corrected the alleged error, there is still plenty of room for skepticism. The Department of Transportation takes in a LOT of money via avenues other than the income tax.

I haven't seen any of these clowns describing how they break out income taxes from all the other taxes imposed on the populace. I'm not saying they aren't doing it, but I haven't seen them saying they are doing it, and it seems like precisely the slight bit of extra work that might make the endeavor about 2% more legitimate that progressive clowns would leave on the editing room floor as a testament to "government work".

Posted by: msoja | October 2, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

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