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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

A refund? Yeah, give it all back

Another Tax Day, another nutty idea:

Why shouldn’t taxpayers make direct decisions about how much money they want to spend on other government programs, like paying off the national debt, the war in Iraq or the National Endowment for the Arts? This would force the federal government to focus time and resources on projects citizens actually want, not just efforts that appeal to special interests.

[. . .]

A new final page of the 1040 form would be created, called 1040-D (for democracy). At the top, the taxpayer would write in his total tax as determined by the 1040 form. Following would be a list of government programs, along with the percentage of the federal budget devoted to each (as proposed by Congress and the president). The taxpayer would then multiply that percentage by his total tax to determine the “amount requested” in order to meet the government’s total spending request. (Computerization of tax returns has made this step simple.) The taxpayer would then consider that request and enter the amount he was willing to pay for that program in the final column–the amount requested by the government, or more, or less, down to zero.

[. . .]

Real budget democracy, of course, means not just that the taxpayers can decide where their money will go but also that they can decide how much of their money the government is entitled to. Thus the last line on the 1040-D form must be “Tax refund.”  The form would indicate that none of the taxpayer’s duly calculated tax should be refunded to him; but under budget democracy the taxpayer would have the right to allocate less than the amount requested for some or all programs in order to claim a refund (beyond whatever excess withholding is already due him).

"Real budget democracy" would of course destroy the careful system of checks and balances of our republican form of government. The beauty of "deciding who gets to decide" would be wiped out if the citizens kept the ultimate power of the purse string. We could just put a bunch of computers in office to calculate how much money we say should be spent on what. We would then have government by public whim.

This idea is being advanced, sad to say, by a libertarian from the Cato Institute think tank. One reason it's hard to get people to take that philosophy seriously is that some of its adherents tend to push the idea of less government right up to the edge of anarchy.

If he's just being preposterous to get a discussion going, I get that. It's not like Congress has been responsible in doings its job of budgeting.