Sunday, March 6, 2011

Thanks but No Thanks

I heard there were some budget cuts a'coming, so I whipped out my favorite new website, What We Pay For, to see just how much those cuts were going to save me. I plugged in my approximate income level, and took a look at the breakdown of how much of my tax bill goes for each of the things I heard mentioned in the news, on Twitter, or in conversation over the last year or so. Totally unscientific cherry-picking, I know, but here's what I found, anyway:

(Note: If you go to the site, you can see 2009, 2010, and 2011 projected figures; these are the 2010 figures.)

My Total Share of the Federal Budget: $25062.00

Cuts I heard proposed:

Corporation for Public Broadcasting: $3.52
Children's Health Insurance Fund: $94
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): $50.51
Administration for Children and Families (includes Head Start): $359.30

Savings: $507.33

Why did I pick these out? Because they all benefited my family at some point in the last decade. When I got out of the Air Force in 2001, the job market was miserable. It took years for my wife and I to both find jobs that would allow us to pay down the debt to creditors and family that we accumulated during my time in service and that horrible transition. We had no choice but to lean on these programs, and our goal all along was to get on our feet as quickly as possible.

I owe these programs, and whatever bogus studies you can pull out showing them to be "ineffective", the fact that they helped me and my family means that they were not, and are not, ineffective. Inefficient, maybe - but that means adjusting rules and oversight, not cutting programs that keep people like us from falling too deep in the hole to recover.

Somehow, cutting this $507 off my bill doesn't seem like a good deal.

Here's a good chunk of my bill, too:

Dept. of Defense Procurement: $936.18
(Under that is: Aircraft Procurement, Air Force: $94.98)
Defense Health Program (includes TriCare): $212.45
Family Housing: $15.79
Military Personnel: $1088.56
(Under that: Military Personnel, Air Force: $194.45)

Again, I'm just cherry-picking stuff that I can relate to; I find it interesting that I'm still paying for TriCare, and that I pay slightly less than 1% of an airman's salary every year. Too bad there's no easy way to see what we pay for the contractors who were supposed to replace these airmen as the military was "streamlined" over the last decade.

These are also - mostly - things that I don't mind paying for, because I feel like I'm paying something back. Most of these expenses are things that benefited me while I was a servicemember - most. But unlike with the social programs, it's what you can't see in the Defense budget that bothers me.

We've all heard horror stories about procurement - whether we paid attention or not. Some problems are famous (like the development of the Joint Strike Fighter), and some are elusive. In the name of security, it's hard to pin down how much of the Navy's hostage computer network falls under this Procurement pot, so we can't even figure out how much of that $936 might be going to HP for sub-standard equipment and service.

In fact, because of loose rules regarding oversight of defense contractors, we may never know how much has been wasted. We do know that this is not a new trend.

I don't know where I picked it up, but I sometimes refer to my taxes as "paying my dues to be an American." I'm not exaggerating - I needed these programs, and I want to make sure they are there for others who will need them. Considering what we got out of WIC alone, we have a lot of "repayment" to do - if the Congress will allow us to continue to do so.

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