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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taxpayer receipt or is there better information

I was intrigued by a September 2010 Idea Brief from The Third Way - A Taxpayer Receipt. This group would like to see the IRS add a feature to its website which would allow taxpayers to input their taxes paid (the amount shown on their 1040 + payroll taxes) and have a receipt created. The receipt would show their taxes paid broken down into the various ways it is used in the federal budget from Social Security to defense, the Smithsonian, EPA, the IRS and more.

The rationale is that people should know how their money is being spent and to understand "choices in the deficit debate."

The group notes that California's Franchise Tax Board offers an online receipt and federal legislation was proposed in 1997 to provide a similar tool at the federal level (H.R. 2827).

I think having more information about the federal budget is a great idea. I would like it to be more information though. A few observations:
  1. The IRS is already required to provide a revenue and a spending pie chart in instructions to IRS forms. With most people not receiving the forms in the mail and probably not reading them page by page online, I suspect that few see these pie charts today. You can see them on page 100 of the 1040 instruction book. Congress needs to modernize this requirement to have this information posted on the IRS website. I think it should be readily available on the website of every senator and representative as well. It should also be more detailed, such as breaking down some of the general fund expenditure by agency.
  2. The receipt will imply that only those who pay payroll taxes or federal income tax directly are contributing to government spending. This is not true because all individuals also pay some portion of business income taxes. This could be addressed by modifying the online receipt tool to include an estimate based on income level as to how much business and other taxes they are paying indirectly.
  3. Also have individuals input their taxable income amount and have their marginal and effective tax rates printed on the receipt.
  4. Show what income quintile they are in and its dollar size and percent of taxpayers in it.
  5. Also provide a receipt for what the breakdown would have been based on the budget of five years ago. This will highlight some significant changes, particularly interest owed on the debt.
  6. Include each person's share of the national debt and how much interest will be owed for the year on that amount.
  7. Include explanations on the budget items and the budgeting process.
  8. Include the names and email addresses of their elected officials so they can ask questions or seek additional information.

What do you think? Anything else you'd want on the receipt?

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