Your tax dollars at work

Please don’t read this column unless you are outrageously mellow or have a high tolerance for outrageous behavior by your government.

I have just finished hours (it seemed like weeks) of work on my taxes. Being rightfully afraid of riling the IRS, I erred on the side of caution. Thus, I am shocked and appalled at how far too many of our tax dollars are being spent.

Whether or not you agree with the U.S. military presence in Iraq, it’s costing a bundle — way more than we were told to expect. It has cost us $250 billion so far and some economists think the price tag could eventually reach $2 trillion. (That’s broaching the size of the entire annual federal budget. The national debt totals about $8 trillion. Remember when defense chief Don Rumsfeld said Iraq would cost us $60 billion tops?)

Since President Bush has been in office, the military’s share of the income tax dollar has risen by 20 percent, according to the National Priorities Project. Those folks conclude that more than two-thirds of each dollar you spend on your federal taxes goes to the military, health and interest on the national debt.

In other words, the military gets 29 cents of your tax dollar; education gets 4 cents.

Another factor that every taxpayer should remember is that he/she is also paying state and local taxes, gasoline and airplane taxes, sales taxes, real estate taxes and all kinds of registration, license and other miscellaneous government fees.

Greg Speeter, executive director of the National Priorities Project, says in a press release: “When military spending takes a 20 percent greater share of our tax dollar while job training, housing and veterans’ benefits take less, we are faced with stark examples of the neglect taking place here at home.”

Of course, that is not how the president sees it. He’s on a campaign tour of America, telling voters how significant progress is being made in Iraq to fight the war on terrorism, how healthy the economy is and what a dramatic difference the new, if costly, Medicare prescription drug benefit has made for seniors.

Although the deficit has soared under this president, Republicans in Congress, worried about keeping their seats with an unpopular war raging in Iraq and scandals brewing everywhere, are intent on making rising federal spending an issue in the congressional elections in November. (The White House is encouraging this _ it’s called chutzpah.)

Meanwhile, a Democratic congressman from West Virginia, Alan Mollohan, has become the new poster boy for egregious spending. He has steered $250 million in federal tax dollars by virtue of his seat on the House Appropriations Committee to five organizations he created ostensibly to improve economic development in his state, employing his friends at huge salaries.

The New York Times described one of his projects as a “glistening glass-and-steel structure with a swimming pool, sauna and spa rising in a former cow pasture in Fairmont, W.Va., . . . likely to sit largely empty upon completion this summer, because the Mollohan-created organization that it was built for, the Institute for Scientific Research, is in disarray.”

(Our Senate, at the same time, turned down a bipartisan proposal to set up an independent office to investigate ethics complaints against its members, particularly the “earmarks” or outlays of federal largesse to special groups or companies made in exchange for campaign contributions. The Senate’s so-called ethics committee, having disavowed all knowledge of some convicted lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, said the office would have been redundant.)

In his latest budget message to Americans, Bush said that he has identified 141 programs that should get the ax or be pared significantly. Don’t hold your breath waiting to find out how serious he is about doing that. Meanwhile, he notes, rightly, that such entitlement programs as Social Security and Medicare are growing faster than we can pay for them. In an election year, the White House has signaled there will be no serious effort to deal with the problems that if left untended are going to bankrupt us.

But don’t worry; be happy. Says Bush: “America’s economy is growing at a healthy pace, and more Americans are working than ever. In the face of a series of challenges, including most recently devastating natural disasters, Americans have stood firm, and America’s economy has demonstrated its strength and resilience time and again.”

The IRS Web site quotes a great American, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.”

If Holmes were alive today and had just finished doing his taxes and regularly read his newspaper, here’s betting he would revise that quote, to wit: “Taxes are the price we civilized people pay for the privilege of being justifiably outraged every April.”

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail