Jointed goatgrass or your life: how much of your tax burden do government programs cost?

Author:Doherty, Brian

Taxpayers carry the burden of financing various government programs. The contribution of each taxpayer is determined by their annual gross income. Big companies may regard the taxes as insignificant, but for small taxpayers, these amounts can add up to an entire life's worth of savings.


"Public radio costs american taxpayers just 29 cents a year," Los Angeles radio station KCRW recently announced while defending their continuing public subsidy in the wake of threats to eliminate it from the new, Gingrichized Congress.

Arguments like that are inescapable whenever threatened parasites defend their picayune share of the federal girl grab bag: "At piddleydink million a year, the tribute rock band support program on which I depend only represents one-scintillionth of the federal budget, and only costs each taxpayer 2 cents a day. Most people drop that kind of money on the floor without a thought every day...."

But money is fungible. A per-capita division of the costs of some barely-worth-worrying-about nonsensical program isn't the only way to think about your tax burden. It is equally legitimate - and more infuriating - to figure that every single cent of what you pay is going to your particular favorite abuse of public funds.

What you'll find, unless fortune has smiled upon you indeed, is that your entire year's worth of taxes - in some cases your entire lifetime of taxes - barely accounts for a percentage point of a year's worth of such programs as, say, the National Endowment for the Arts. However much it might be per day per capita, it's still $183.9 million a year. (All budget figures in this article are for fiscal 1995.) Which means the entire federal income tax burden of 267 millionaires is going to pay for it - and nothing but. Soak the rich, indeed.

It's one thing to think about working one month and two days of the year (based on the Tax Foundation's 1994 calculation of Tax Freedom Day) to pay for all the government your federal income tax can buy - which is far less than half of all your total taxes, but still the most noticeable. It's quite another to think about working that same time to pay for 1/1000th of the yearly budget of a federal giveaway to educate native Hawaiians ($12 million).

The chart shows how many people in a given income range it takes to pay, out of their average federal income tax burden, for one year's worth of a motley collection of the mutts of the federal budget. (The figures are based on 1992 income tax returns, the most recent year for which data are available, showing an average of the actual federal income tax as paid by those with adjusted gross incomes within the given ranges.)

These are mostly mangy, pathetic little programs, not noticed at all by most, hated by some of the few who...

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