As pundits and politicians dispute whether Pentagon spending changes announced by Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week amount to cuts, increases or neither, a new report says more than 37 cents of every taxpayer dollar went to military-related spending last year.

At the same time, less than 3 cents went to environment, energy and science-related projects combined.

Released this week, the National Priorities Project’s annual report, “Where Do Your Tax Dollars Go? — Tax Day 2009,” breaks down how the federal government spent the median-income family’s 2008 tax payments in each state and 200 cities.

With the April 15 income tax deadline fast approaching, the group says it aims to analyze and clarify federal data “so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent.”

Of every median-income family tax dollar, the report shows, 37.3 cents went for military spending last year: 29.4 cents for current military and war spending, and 7.9 cents for military-related debt.

By contrast, veterans’ benefits received only 3.8 cents of each dollar, and a similarly meager proportion went to housing, community and food-related programs. Education fared even worse.

In Detroit, for example, the median-income family paid $1,306 in federal income taxes for 2008. Of that, $487 went to military spending including military interest on debt, while a puny $50 went to housing and community programs, $50 to veterans needs, and $39 to education.

Jo Comerford, the National Priorites Project executive director, said in a statement that the group “looks forward to promising Obama administration shifts.”

During the Bush presidency, she noted, funding for the environment, energy and science decreased relative to budget spending overall, while President Obama’s budget “indicates these priorities are likely to change.”

Referring to the Pentagon spending changes announced by Gates, Comerford said, “Secretary Gates has begun ringing in ‘the new day for defense spending’ heralded by President Obama by cutting Cold War weapons systems, putting others on hold for further review and promising greater budget oversight.”

However, she cautioned, “The total U.S. military budget continues to exceed $600 billion annually, making it imperative that we take a closer look at Pentagon spending in the months ahead — especially now as Congress and the Obama administration begin preparing for the Quadrennial Defense Review.”

The project’s 2009 reports include a calculation of war costs for Afghanistan and Iraq and associated tradeoffs.

Visit for more information. The site provides convenient look-up tools that enable viewers to find costs for their state or city.

Meanwhile, in a campaign to educate the public about how their taxes are spent, Peace Action is organizing Tax Day “Penny Protests” around the country on April 15. Their slogan: “If the Pentagon goes on a diet all of us will eat a little bit better.” Participants will take their tax returns to the post office that day, along with pennies and glass jars that they will use to show how military spending is sucking funds away from education, housing and other needs. For details, see

suewebb @


Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.