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I Paid How Much...for What? Federal Income Taxes, Dissected

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015   

SEATTLE - It's federal income-tax filing deadline day, and those rushing to send their returns may wonder exactly where the money goes. Individual income tax payments make up almost half of all federal revenue.

The National Priorities Project keeps tabs on government spending. Its research director, Lindsay Koshgarian, said 27 cents of every federal income tax dollar paid in 2014 went to the military, 26 cents went to health programs and 15 cents was used to pay interest on the federal debt.

"What that means is that there's not a ton of money left over for everything else," she said. "That's well more than half of every tax dollar goes to pay for those three things. So, when you get down to something like education spending, you're spending two-and-a-half cents of each dollar you pay on education."

In the state of Washington, the average resident's 2014 federal tax bill was $13,261 - slightly higher than the national average. The top three federal expenses - military, health programs and interest on debt - ate up slightly more than $9,000 of those dollars.

Koshgarian said eight cents of the 2014 tax dollar was spent on unemployment and job-training programs, and five cents on veterans' benefits. That leaves pennies for food and agriculture, transportation, housing, scientific research and programs involving energy and the environment.

The nonpartisan group also examined the government's complex system of tax breaks. Koshgarian said they're worth a lot.

"The amount that the government spends on tax breaks in giving money back to folks who pay taxes is actually bigger than what we spend in the federal budget each year on all of these programs, like the military and education, combined," she said.

The group said the average Washington taxpayer paid almost $15 for the National Park Service, another $15 for the Federal Aviation Administration, $62 for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and almost $400 for the SNAP or food stamp program. The list of average tax expenditures by state and by category is on the National Priorities Project website. Washington figures are here.


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