September 07, 2006

So, it's that time of year again, and I'm wading through a (mercifully short) voter's pamphlet in preparation for Washington's mid-September primary. In compliance with some apparent rule out there that says one cannot have an election without something about taxes in it somewhere, there's a local initiative looking to add approximately $150 to the "average" homeowner's property taxes. They insist that these funds would go exclusively to local schools.

I'm probably naive when it comes to things governmental, and I'm generally pro-education, but I find I have a small problem with all the repeated requests for more money (more taxes). Not that I'm going to spurn broccoli and pontificate about No New Taxes or anything, but it seems that there's quite a bit of money going to the various governments out there and that it never quite seems to be enough. If our government is supposed to be "for the people, by the people", is it too much to hold our government to the same standards as regular people? I balance our checkbook weekly, and the government can't be bothered to balance a budget once a year?

So here's my suggestion: Let's have a website (or several) out there, covering each level of government (city, county, state, federal), with a plain-English (ie, you don't have to be a lawyer to understand it) breakdown of where the money comes from and where it goes. Seattle has a population of 573,000; let's be conservative and hypothetically say that a quarter of those people are property-owners. That's 143,250 people to pay property taxes, with an average of $3,209 each. That's a total of $459,689,250, which looks like a large number to me. And this isn't taking into account business taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, vehicle taxes or any other way the government has of getting income. Government price tags always seem to run millions to billions, so clearly this hypothetical $460 million isn't quite enough, but where does it go?

I'd like to see how much money comes in for a government and where it comes from. Then, I'd like to see where it's going. And not just "14% - transportation". I should be able to chase that 14% down to the dollars and cents spent on stop signs and reflective paint. Don't say "Administrative costs"; tell me how much you spent on pencils and the person who sharpens them.

If it was clear exactly where the money I hand over to all the various levels of government go, then I might feel better about the larger picture. I might not mind polite, well-reasoned requests for more money. Because if I can clearly see that the government is spending it's money wisely and responsibly, balancing it's checkbook and not wheeling-and-dealing on credit, then I can trust that there is truely a need and that the government is going to spend the newly requested funds on what it says it will spend them on.


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