Spending Your Tax Dollars

by Mark Lovett on June 22, 2009

In a recent poll readers were asked what services the Federal Government should be involved with, or better stated, how their tax dollars should be spent. The results were interesting, with support ranging from 39% to 89% for each of the categories.

While the poll was directed toward Americans, the debate on this topic is intense the world over, with opinions ranging from “let the government do it all” to “minimize government involvement”. In some cases the discussion centers on what is practical; for example, it’s not possible for each individual to maintain an army. Other opinions are concerned with self determination, such as citizens not wanting their government to be involved with their health care or education system.

Treasury Photo by David Reyna

Treasury Photo by David Reyna

What’s Most Important

The services which gained the top three spots tell a story of citizens who are seeking protection from criminal elements, both national and global in nature, while at the same time addressing a desire for ongoing negotiation between governments. And while the numbers are high, it is must be noted that none were unanimously supported. What would America and the world look like if there were no military forces or FBI? That’s a fascinating topic for future discussion.

  • Maintain Military Forces (DOD) (89.0%)
  • Maintain Federal Law Enforcement (FBI) (89.0%)
  • Conduct Foreign Policy (86.0%)


Don’t Waste Our Money

At the bottom of the results were four areas that failed to exceed the 50% level required for winning an election. Receiving just 39% of the vote was oversight of communications systems. Such a low level of support raised the question of whether citizens felt this service was intrusive, violated their right to privacy, or could be better served by allowing private industry to choose the appropriate technology and manage the infrastructure on its own.

  • Conduct Space Exploration (NASA) (50.0%)
  • Regulate Education (50.0%)
  • Conduct Covert Operations (43.0%)
  • Oversee Communication (FCC) (39.0%)

Those who voted clearly wanted to maintain a national defense, and approved of conducting foreign policy, but they were not inclined to support covert operations as a method of achieving protection. That practice has long been a contentious one in the United States, where periodic excesses have resulted in major scandals accompanied by a backlash of public opinion.

Americans typically support education at all levels, and recognize that knowledge is key for building a strong and vibrant society, yet they are clearly divided when it comes to the notion of the Federal Government having a say in setting standards or determining policy.


International Space Station

In contrast to the overwhelming support that space exploration has garnered in the past, it would seem that troubles here on planet earth, both physical and financial, have taken some of the luster from the idea of building space stations and reaching for the stars. Is this a matter of tending to our own backyard first?

Federal Dept Keeps Rising

The primary reason for conducting this poll was to gauge public opinion as to the services that the Federal Government should provide, but a secondary issue concerns the national debt, as the cost of those services not paid for by tax revenue are tacked on to a growing mountain of debt.


How much can the economy handle before servicing the debt becomes an impediment to growth?

Many say we’ve long since passed that point, with interest payments taking money away from vital programs, while others choose to ignore the issue altogether and claim the debt is little more than an accounting nuisance. While it’s not the purpose of this post to explore the topic of national debt in great detail, any statistician will tell you that such a rapid rise in any one financial factor is cause for concern.

Poll Results For All Categories

For your review, here is the list of all items voted on, in descending order of approval.

Maintain Military Forces (DOD) (89.0%)
Maintain Federal Law Enforcement (FBI) (89.0%)
Conduct Foreign Policy (86.0%)
Monitor and Fight Disease (NIH) (82.0%)
Maintain National Parks and Monuments (82.0%)
Regulate Customs and Immigration (82.0%)
Protect Environment (EPA) (82.0%)
Build Highways and Bridges (79.0%)
Enforce Equal Rights (79.0%)
Provide Domestic Aid (75.0%)
Set Energy Policy (DOE) (71.0%)
Regulate Transportation (DOT) (71.0%)
Fund Scientific Research (71.0%)
Maintain Global Law Enforcement (CIA) (68.0%)
Regulate Food and Agriculture (USDA) (68.0%)
Collect Business and Personal Taxes (IRS) (68.0%)
Provide International Aid (64.0%)
Regulate Illegal Drugs (DEA) (61.0%)
Regulate Health Care (57.0%)
Regulate Financial Markets (SEC) (54.0%)
Regulate Alcohol and Tobacco (54.0%)
Conduct Space Exploration (NASA) (50.0%)
Regulate Education (50.0%)
Conduct Covert Operations (43.0%)
Oversee Communication (FCC) (39.0%)

What’s The Message From Citizens?

In short, most people (greater than 50%) want the majority of services listed to be performed by the Federal Government, but what needs to be addressed is how these services should be paid for, as most people will tell you they also favor lower taxes.

  • What do you think of these poll results?
  • Do they agree with your way of thinking?
  • Should we support a balanced budget to pay for what we get?

Let your voice be heard, here and elsewhere, that’s the point of democracy!

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