The Times West Virginian

April 20, 2014

Organization shows Americans how tax dollars are spent

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Last week, the deadline arrived for citizens across the state and country to pay their 2013 income taxes.

But how exactly are those federal income tax dollars spent by the government?

Anyone who has ever pondered this question can turn to the National Priorities Project for a detailed answer.

The National Priorities Project works to make the U.S. federal budget accessible to everyone. This national nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization strives to break down the barriers to the data, so that Americans can be informed and play a part in how tax dollars are spent.

The group touches on a variety of different issues related to the federal budget, said Jasmine Tucker, research analyst for the National Priorities Project.

The entity, based in western Massachusetts, celebrated its 30th anniversary in October 2013. It is made up of a staff of eight people and a research team of three individuals.

The organization started its tax receipt calculator in 2010.

Tucker said the National Priorities Project made this year’s calculator available to its large constituency of partner organizations in late March, and released the data to the media earlier this month. It is available online at nationalpriorities.org.

The calculator uses data from the Internal Revenue Service and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to show what the average U.S. taxpayer paid in federal taxes and where those monies went, she said. These numbers are broken down into major issue areas and different program areas.

According to the National Priorities Project, out of every dollar that comes from 2013 federal income taxes, 27 cents goes toward the military, 22.7 cents to health-care programs, 13.9 cents to interest on federal debt, 9.8

cents to unemployment and labor, and 5.1 cents to veterans benefits.

In addition, 5 cents is designated for food and agriculture, 4.5 cents for government, 4 cents for housing and community, and 2 cents for education programs. Also, 1.9 cents is allocated for energy and environment, 1.5 cents for international affairs, 1.4 cents for transportation, and 1.1 cents for science.

This year, for the first time, the tax receipt calculator also allows people to see the averages by state. In addition, people can look at which states paid the most and least in federal income taxes, Tucker said.

She explained that the National Priorities Project utilizes 2011 state-by-state data, because that is the most recent information available from the IRS, and checks for inflation.

The National Priorities Project reports that in 2013 the average taxpayer in the country paid $11,715 in federal income taxes. The average in West Virginia was $3,790 lower — at $7,925.

Tucker said the federal budget involves the allocation of a lot of dollars, and people often have no idea what those amounts actually look like. The tax receipt calculator talks about the budget in terms that people can understand.

Citizens know how much money they pay in taxes, and this tool allows them to see exactly how much of their taxes went to specific issues or programs, she said.

In addition, on the National Priorities Project website, taxpayers can enter exactly how much taxes they paid and see an individualized receipt for where their money went.

“That really is a catalyst for action,” Tucker said.

She said the goal is that viewers will look at this information and see how much of that government spending fits with their own beliefs or priorities. Then, they can talk to their elected officials about where they would like to see changes.

The webpage has been seeing a lot of action from consumers, Tucker said.

“People find it incredibly useful,” she said. “People are really shocked, and they often don’t like what they see. It’s enlightening for them and gives them the tools they (need).”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.