Nothing to sneeze at
On the gas tax road again

Happy Tax Freedom Day

Today is Tax Freedom Day, the day when Americans will finally have earned enough money to pay off our total tax bills for the year.

Or so says the Tax Foundation. Every year, the tax research organization looks at all taxes we pay and calculates the happy moment when our incomes become all our own again.

The annual date is arrived at by dividing the official government accounting of all taxes collected in previous years by the equally official government tally of all income earned in those years. Tax Foundation analysts then take that historical (since 1900) trend and the most recent economic data and project the current year's tax burden.

So we've been working 116 days to pay our 2006 tax bills.

The Foundation study also notes that we will spend more on taxes this year than on food, clothing and housing combined:

"In 2006, Americans will work 77 days to afford their federal taxes and 39 more days to afford state and local taxes. That makes taxation a bigger financial burden than housing and household operation (62 days), health and medical care (52 days), food (30 days), transportation (30 days), recreation (22 days), or clothing and accessories (14 days)."

Wait a minute. Over the last five years, major tax cuts have been enacted. Why then is our tax burden still so high?

"The economy has been growing at a good clip since mid-2003," said Tax Foundation President Scott A. Hodge, "and those growing incomes are pushing people into higher tax brackets. When that happens, tax collections grow faster than incomes."

I can hear the radical tax protesters and the only slightly less fanatic tax-cut activists going ballistic. Take a breath.

The reality is that governments, just like you and I, must have money to operate. That certainly doesn't mean they have carte blanche with our tax money. Every taxpaying citizen has the responsibility to critically analyze how well each government, from federal to state to local, manages its budget.

But there's no way to get around the paying of taxes. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was right: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society."

Of course, some anti-tax imbeciles naifs advocates will argue that Holmes was an activist judge whose words should be discounted. And these folks contend that we can get along fine with lower and even no taxes. One lawyer active in Texas's Republican Party, in reviewing a tax bill now being considered by a special legislative session, even told reporters that grassroots party members believe in no new taxes regardless of how the money gets spent.

This attorney, however, didn't elaborate on what services that she and the grassrooters would like to do without.

Since state lawmakers were called in to deal with school funding, I guess we can just cancel the tax bill and close all the public schools. Fine, home and private schooling for all. Of course, you'll have to buy all the books yourselves, since the public libraries will be shut down. Also out of business will be the firefighters who show up to save your house or the police who arrive if it's your burglar instead of fire alarm that goes off.

I grew up in West Texas, but I don't want to revert to living in the Wild West without any government, and tax supported, services.

I'm not making light of the attorney, and others', political positions. But in all the no-tax talk, I generally just hear the simplistic response that we can cut spending to make up for the lost revenue. I just want to know how? What goes and just who gets to decide?

I hate paying a big tax bill as much as the next person. I try, however, to understand what the money is for. If I'm not happy with the answer, then it's time to find a way to adjust the system. Make it fair, effective and self-sustainable, rather than just dismantle it.

You can read the Tax Foundation's complete Tax Freedom Day study, including a look at each state's separate tax freedom day calculation, here.

Tracking your tax money: If you want a more personal idea of where your tax dollars are spent, check out Where Are My Taxes?

The site's creator, computer programmer Joe Milner, sent me this email: "I recently wrote a cool free site that lets you type in your federal liability, and then it calculates how much of your own money went to each department and program in the government."

Joe's right. I don't do math or computer programming, but I do like calculators and this is fun. For fun, I plugged in $15,000 and was told the biggest chunk -- $3,401.99 -- goes to the Social Security Administration. The smallest amount, $24.04, went to the Legislative Branch, broken down this way:

-- Senate: $4.92
-- House of Representatives: $7.10
-- Capitol Police: $1.64
-- Architect of the Capitol: $2.73
-- Library of Congress: $3.82
-- Government Printing Office: $0.55
-- Government Accountability Office: $2.73

Note to all you bean counters out there: Joe says the numbers in the specific department breakdowns might not add up to the overall total. "I am not including income line items unless they are really big. I wanted to concentrate on what the government is deciding to spend money on, not where the government is collecting income. Because those income figures are subtracted from the department totals, however, the totals seem to be slightly off."

Hey, a few thousand here, a couple million there. It's still a fun calculation.

Death_and_taxes_poster2_2_1 An artist's take on taxes: Over at Deviant Art, you'll find a more visual approach to taxes.

This poster takes government data and graphically displays where the money goes. The figures are from 2004, but the artist is working on one incorporating 2007 amounts.

Why create a poster representing federal spending? The artist says it was done in the hope that it "makes people think and ask questions.

"Why do we spend more on jets than we do on public housing? Why is the Endowment for the Arts so small? What's with all this foreign military financing?

"I'm sure you can come up with numerous questions of your own. Unfortunately I don't have any answers. Our leaders do. Your president, his cabinet and your congress person have these answers. Ask them for the answers or better yet, demand them."

I like the poster and I like the way this artist thinks.


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