April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns, has arrived again. Where do your income tax dollars go? According to the National Priorities Project, the largest share – 26 cents of every dollar – went to military and defense spending in 2002. Since then, the military budget has increased, and Congress is in the process of approving the first $75-$80 billion for the Iraq war.

It is likely that true military spending will exceed $500 billion this year – one-third of your income tax dollar. If we add in the cost of past wars – veterans’ benefits and the military portion of interest on the national debt – between 40 and 50 cents of your income tax dollar is going to war.

By way of contrast, education gets three cents, nutrition (including food stamps) gets less than three cents, and housing and natural resources each get less than two cents.

The president asked for and received nearly $75 billion for the first installment of the war. He didn’t ask for anything to provide relief for states and communities which are laying off teachers, cutting kids’ health coverage, closing museums, leaving potholes unfilled, and raising taxes. The amount needed to balance state budgets this year? About $75 billion. It’s not coming from Washington, so it is coming out of our hides instead.

In past wars, there has been at least a pretense that sacrifice would be shared. During World War II, the top income tax rate for the very rich went as high as 94 percent. In the Vietnam War, a 10 percent surcharge was added to all income taxes, although in practice, the rich escaped any meaningful tax increase and the whole burden fell on the working class.

But nothing in the past can quite match the brazen robbery being committed now. The House majority leader, Tom DeLay, arguing for the Bush administration’s $726 billion 10-year tax cut said, “Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes.”

He’s not talking about cutting your taxes. Even The New York Times calls it an “upper-bracket tax cut,” a tax break “for the well-to-do.” Citizens for Tax Justice calls it a “big fat zero,” for a third of the nation’s taxpayers; they calculate that rich taxpayers will get more than $30,000 from the Bush plan, while a middle-income family will see less than $300. That $300 won’t go very far in the face of soaring state and local taxes and fees.

The Republicans are not against sacrifice – for the working class. Senator Ted Stevens, for example, called on New York City’s cops and firefighters to work overtime without pay as a wartime sacrifice, according to the New York Post.

And that is only the beginning of the sacrifices to be imposed on the working class. The Times reported on April 3 that the Republicans offer a “bleak budget outlook for a decade of red ink and depressed government programs … the most vital services in education, health and welfare are certain to be crimped and hacked by hundreds of billions of dollars.” Mass outrage made it hard for DeLay to force the administration’s measure through the House. And a handful of Senate Republicans joined Democrats to cut by half Bush’s gift to the wealthy.

Organizing against unfair taxes can certainly be effective – the American Revolution was provoked, in no small measure, by taxes on Americans to pay the cost of King George’s military adventures. Sound familiar? Right wing ideologues take advantage of “Tax Day” and “Tax Freedom Day” to manipulate working people’s justified outrage. The National Taxpayers Union, for example, uses tax increases as an excuse to attack all government spending. They ignore the difference between taxes paid by workers and those paid by the wealthy. And they use examples of government waste – a relatively small part of the budget – to demand deep cuts in the entire budget.

We can all applaud when a news commentator tells us we’re paying too much in taxes. But if the solution does not include two magic phrases – “tax the rich” and “cut military spending” – the commentator is selling snake oil.

The author can be reached at arthur.perlo@pobox.com



Art Perlo
Art Perlo

Art Perlo lived in New Haven, Conn., where he was active in labor and community struggles. He did research and writing on economic issues in Connecticut, including work with the Coalition to End Child Poverty in Connecticut which helped pave the way for the movement for progressive tax reform in the state. He wrote on national economic issues for the People's World and was a member of the CPUSA Economic Commission.