Where Tax Dollars Go

The Martha Stewart Show, April 2008

Many people don't realize just how invested in the federal government they are. Graphic designer Jess Bachman has created a visual guide that shows just where your tax dollars go.

His poster, "Death and Taxes," illustrates the president's budget request for 2009. The budget is debated, amended, and approved by Congress, ideally by October 1, to begin the fiscal year. (The budget fluctuates yearly according to the wishes of the president and the power of Congress.) Although all of the information contained in the poster is available at the Office of Management and Budget at whitehouse.gov, it is thousands of pages long and uses confusing terminology. Thus, Jess wanted to create something that was easier, allowing people to easily compare and contrast information, and come to some realizations. For example, although it may sound wonderful that the National Cancer Institute will get $4.8 billion next year, it's only about half of what the Missile Defense Program is getting. So cancer, which is the No. 1 killer in the U.S., is trumped by the Administration's desire to protect us from rogue missiles.

Spending for the Department of Defense is more than $515 billion, up 7 percent from last year. The military takes up a particularly large amount of spending -- $189 billion in addition to the $515 billion is going toward the military. This covers everything from construction to personnel, including more than $2 billion spent on 10,878 Hummers.

The Department of Health is the largest department outside of the Department of Defense; the National Institutes of Health funds all major health research, from cancer to drug abuse. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) is periodically in the news, whether it is for avian flu or anthrax, and terrorism-related spending has been creeping up on the standard infectious disease spending for a while.

Spending on the Indian Health Service is sizable, at $3.325 billion and, unknown to most Americans, as is other Indian-related federal spending, like housing. Most people think the Native Americans get their tax-free reservations and that's it, but they are also a major beneficiary of federal health funding, a billion more than we spend on HIV/AIDS research and treatment. Unfortunately, the Department of Health will receive a 2 percent cut in funding for 2009, although there is one program making leaps and bounds -- the Public Health Emergency Fund, which will come into play in the event of a bioterrorist attack.

Many people have the misconception that the Department of Education funds their local schools, when most of the education is paid for with property and other taxes. The Department of Education mainly funds special education and tries to maintain some kind of basic standard across the nation, via the perennially underfunded No Child Left Behind Act. Another major function of the federal government in education is the Pell Grants and loans that numerous college students rely on. Unfortunately, the Department of Education is up 0 percent for 2009, meaning there is no new money going in, which doesn't even keep up with inflation at around 2 percent.

There are many deep budget cuts, like the Safe and Drug Free schools programs, which are down 59 percent, and the Historically Black Colleges fund, which is down 26 percent, among others. Interestingly, there is always one program in the Department of Education that is rising every year -- the National Security Language Initiative, which teaches students as young as kindergarten the languages of our adversaries (Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Hindi, and Farsi) so they can "strengthen our national security" in the future. This is a good example of education programs having to make cuts, unless they are defense-related -- then the budget goes up significantly, like in this National Security Language Initiative.

Some other interesting facts to note: The Treasury Department is made up of 90 percent IRS, which spends $5 billion each year collecting and enforcing taxes. Our national debt is now up to $10.15 trillion, an 8 percent increase from last year. And from this year alone, our budget deficit is $407 billion, up 70 percent from last year.

If you are unsatisfied with how your tax dollars are being spent, be sure to let members of Congress know. When deciding on how the money is spent, Congress listens to the administration, experts, lobbyists, and the people living and voting in their districts. So unless people prefer the former three parties deciding how much scholarship money your kids receive next year, it is best to make one's voice heard. Write to your members of Congress -- to whom, incidentally, we're paying $200,000 a year.

Special thanks to Jess Bachman for sharing this information. For more information, or to purchase a copy of the "Death and Taxes" poster, visit wallstats.com. Enter the promotion code "Martha" when checking out to get an additional poster for free with your purchase.


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