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White House website tool shows how tax dollars are spent

As promised in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, the White House released a new online tool April 15 to show Americans how their individual tax dollars are being spent.

The Federal Taxpayer Receipt is a tool accessible on the White House website, created by the president’s senior advisers. It will allow American taxpayers to see exactly which programs and services their personal federal taxes are funding.

The tool requires key pieces of information from users — the amount of Social Security, Medicare and income taxes paid — in order to calculate which programs and services their tax dollars are going to.

The results are based on the percentage of overall federal spending for each category in fiscal year 2010.

The categories listed on the tax receipt are based on how the federal budget is organized. The budget is organized into 19 major functions, including agriculture and national defense, according the White House website. Within these functions are more specific sub-functions, like education and training.

Political science sophomore Johnathan Williams believes the tool was created to give the White House more credibility.

“I think there are other programs out there like this one,” he said. “I’m sure they just made it to be able to say that they have a program like this.”

While it is not an original idea, political science professor Rodolfo Espino believes the success of the tool will depend on the attention it receives from the public.

“I think it depends on how well it is advertised and publicized,” he said.

Espino plans on using the program as a teaching tool when discussing the budget during his lecture on the U.S. Congress.

Other independent programs have created tools similar to the Federal Taxpayer Receipt.

In 2008, released a tool called TaxTrackr that calculates where taxes are being spent with a list of programs and services similar to Federal Taxpayer Receipt. The methodology differs slightly between the two programs, in that TaxTrackr compares budget numbers from fiscal year 2007, whereas Federal Taxpayer Receipt uses numbers from fiscal year 2010.

Debora Ilea, president of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program and second-year law student, helps connect international students to free tax preparation services.

“If [Federal Taxpayer Receipt] is accurate, that’s great,” she said. “Taxes are something that people worry about.”

Ilea believes the tool was created in response to questions the White House has been receiving from the public.

“As a whole, it’s a good concept. It’s always good to provide another level of accountability and transparency,” Ilea said.

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