See where every dollar of your tax money was spent

Anthony Sodd

File 36909

Balancing your personal or family budget isn’t easy. Imagine having to balance a state’s budget with millions of stakeholders, all of whom have different needs, desires and beliefs. That’s what lawmakers do. And while you may think you can do a better job, it’s harder than it looks. A new tool created by Denver-based Engaged Public and Cause Labs does a pretty good job of showing just how hard it is to balance a budget.

The Balancing Act tool does a good job of showing just how complex a municipality's budget is, and where all your tax money is going. For example, in Colorado’s state budget, the largest single expenditure is the $3.5 billion allocated for K-12 education, followed closely by the $3.4 billion for Health and Human Services. Assuming you wanted to increase the $632.6 million spent on services to vulnerable populations, you’ll quickly see the problem — basically that you need to pull that money from somewhere else.

The tool also offers a tax receipt. Tell it some basic information about yourself (your income, your age and your driving habits), and it’ll spit out a dollar amount you’re spending on various services. 

Some of the results are surprising. It turns out, for instance, that someone making $30 thousand (Denver’s per capita income) would be paying about $66 a year to fund state prisons. Meanwhile, that same person would be funding the Colorado State Highway patrol just $.59 a year. Actually, they would be paying more to fund prisons than they would to fund infrastructure projects ($26), the salaries of elected officials and their staffs ($19), and financial aid programs ($15) combined. Who knows, maybe we have really nice prisons?

So far the tool has been adopted by the state of Colorado, Hartford, CT, San Antonio, Kansas City and a library district in Idaho. The company declined to give specifics, but hinted that some large municipalities would be signing up to use the service soon.


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