CRUNCHEd: a blog about people and numbers

8 Initiatives That Need More Tax Dollars

With the start of each new year, American workers begin eyeing the calendar to determine when they can stop working for the government’s cut in taxes and start working for themselves. Lucky us, this year we’ve got Taxmageddon to enjoy, which probably means more people you know angrily wondering aloud where all that money goes. That info is fairly well-publicized, but what about the stuff that doesn’t get much of the pie? Here are eight areas that we were surprised to learn don’t get more love from lawmakers when it comes time to write some checks.

  1. Infrastructure:

    In February 2012, long before the average American had been choked on fiscal cliff news, President Obama proposed $476 billion over the next six years for bridges, highways, and mass transit. Instead, the eleventh-hour budget deal ultimately did little more than kick the can down the road. That’s a real shame, because as people who’ve been watching their bridges collapse know, the U.S. needs infrastructure spending, and fast. While certain parties in Washington push for even more cuts, spending is expected to fall behind by nearly $140 billion in the next 10 years, which ironically is very close to the amount that would be needed to add 3.5 million jobs to the economy.

  2. Disaster relief:

    As you know if you followed along with the Hurricane Sandy story (or worse, were waiting on the money), government disaster relief can be shockingly difficult to come by. Federal aid after a natural crisis is anything but guaranteed. Just ask Floridians after Tropical Storm Isaac, or Illinoisans (are we saying that right?) after the March 2012 tornadoes, or Oklahomans after the tornadoes a month later. It took weeks of wrangling and public outcry before Congress finally agreed to give Northeasterners shaken up by Sandy $50 billion in aid.

  3. Police in schools:

    In the light of recent tragic events, you may be wondering why tax revenue is not being spent to put armed guards in schools to protect the kids. Well, hold that thought, because they may be on the way. President Obama has recently voiced support for federal funding of such police, which he calls "school resource officers," and Vice President Joe Biden has been working on the gritty details of getting a plan of action in place. Of course, it’s a controversial plan that not just everybody is OK with. The National Parent Teacher Organization called the president’s stance "disappointing" and others say there is no correlation between police in schools and student safety.

  4. Border security:

    Although it often gets tied up in the immigration reform debate, border security is its own important subject. Whether it’s the Mexican border or the Canadian, knowing who and what comes and goes to and from our country is a vital part of national security. So you wouldn’t be blamed for wondering why 76% more of your tax dollars have been spent on foreign aid than on customs and border security from 2008-2011. We sent $20.599 billion outside the U.S. in 2011, while only $11.698 billion went to border protection. The former escaped the budget cuts many departments saw and should continue to account for about a percent of the federal budget.

  5. Debt relief for Americans:

    As a taxpayer, it might interest you to know that Uncle Sam still owes you $200 billion on that bailout you so generously offered to Wall Street banks. Even years later, most of us are still wondering why the feds didn’t just give that money straight to the Americans swimming in debt who needed it. In a recent book, economist Paul Krugman urged Washington to do just that: spend tax dollars on debt relief. Instead, they’re pushing the other way, toward austerity, having set up what Stone writer Matt Taibbi calls "an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash."

  6. Army equipment that works:

    It costs somewhere between $850,000 and $1.4 million a year to post one soldier in Afghanistan. One. Makes it easy to see how military and defense can account for 20% of the federal budget. But for all that spending, puzzling stories routinely pop up that make taxpayers wonder if those dollars couldn’t be better allocated elsewhere. Like when the Pentagon turns down the cheaper, better anti-IED systems the troops prefer for costlier (crummier) versions. Or when the Army invests $5 billion in uniforms that "only work in gravel pits." Or when the Afghanistan army — the guys we spent $20 billion on in just 2010-2011 for training and equipment they’ll have to have to maintain order when our troops leave — says their guns are old, their cars are weak, and their boots are falling apart.

  7. Anti-smoking programs:

    As crazy as it may sound, given what we’ve known about the dangers of smoking for a good 40 years or so, many Americans still enjoy a good cigarette or 30 every day. States are on track to bring in a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement money this year, but they’re only slated to spend about $460 million on tobacco awareness — less than 2% of that figure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, has launched its first ever ad campaign to combat the slowed decline of smoking rates, and is not impressed with the 50 union members’ efforts. Only two states, North Dakota and Alaska, fund prevention programs at the rate recommended by the CDC, and only three more fund to at least 50% of the suggested level.

  8. PBS:

    To hear Mitt Romney tell it, the folks at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are sipping Cristal and lighting cigars with flaming Benjamins. The reality is, yes, PBS does get federal funding, but it’s .01% of the entire federal budget, or $1.35 per American. Why does Romney think they’re always doing those fundraisers where you can get a tote bag for $150? PBS and radio station NPR are set to receive $445 million of your tax dollars over the next two years, an amount the government can spend before you’ve had your morning coffee. Smothering Big Bird isn’t going to do much for the trillion-dollar deficit.

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