Tell your Congresspeople how you want your tax dollars spent, in less than 5 minutes

Back when I was running my own small business, I would pay my quarterly taxes — including my self-employment tax — and wonder what the heck those dollars were going to. Every few months I’d be reminded that more than a third of every dollar I earned was going into the relative ether.

On one particularly earnest day, I attempted to learn how our federal government runs America with income tax dollars — how tax revenues are forecast, dollars transferred, and budgets allocated.

Only a few paragraphs into a (wonderful) Wikipedia article on the U.S. federal budget, I was already overwhelmed by the complexity. Two-year long budget cycles (at best), appropriations committees in Congress, and budget categories that haven’t changed since the 70's — but are interwoven in ways that I suspect even the best information architect on Earth would be challenged to understand!— well, it’s like a million knots tied together.

2 pie charts portraying real federal spending vs what Americans think; only 2 slices: “Waste” and “stuff that benefits me.”
2 pie charts portraying real federal spending vs what Americans think; only 2 slices: “Waste” and “stuff that benefits me.”
Found by one of our advisors: Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle (2011), Washington Post Writers Group

Fortunately, there are some incredibly helpful resources like usaspending.gov (which I HIGHLY recommend exploring) showing me where spending already happened. This is the kind of government transparency that gives me hope; that we can leverage modern technologies to make our federal spending more understandable, visible, and actionable.

The thing is, usaspending.gov is a retrospective view; my tax dollars have already been spent by the folks in Washington, and HOPEFULLY (I cross my fingers) they made a real difference.

Hope can take us pretty far. But we can do better than hope; in an age of abysmal approval ratings for our elected officials (who are in service of We The People), we can truly know. If only we choose to engage. If only we don’t let apathy and dependency take hold.

If only, then America’s best days are still ahead of us.

To that end, I imagined a future in which we:

  • Have an operational system like Tax Choice for guiding America — to complement the representative democracy system we already have.
  • Leverage technology and age-old financial best practices — to budget responsibly so we don’t spend more than we have.
  • Enable citizens to allocate their tax dollars to what they care about most, but not directly — Congress defines which budgets and sets caps, so we can stay balanced overall and also auto-close budgets as they hit their caps.
  • Create a more connected America — by making tangible the virtuous loop between the wealth generated by entrepreneurship and the social programs we can invest in as a result, so more people prosper.

This is why TaxesForDemocracy.org now exists; because I want to live in this future. Fortunately, so does my brother Alex Hay — he’s my co-founder and CTO — and so the two of us spent nights and weekends since last year on this labor of love, creating our first version of a more connected America.

In this first experience, we are aiming to learn whether anyone else in America wants to be part of this movement; to join the conversation by telling their Congresspeople how they want their taxes spent.

We’re starting on Twitter, where much of the political discourse resides in observant ways; we wonder whether Twitter can also be a forum for digital activism that enables citizens to express their wishes without leaving the couch. That IS where many folks are at right now; tired and wondering if their voice matters. Everyone’s voice matters. EVERYONE’S VOICE MATTERS.

We also hypothesize that elected Congresspeople will appreciate the dialogue; after all, they want to hear from their citizens to co-design the country. And if they don’t, well they can’t escape the next election cycle!

Of course, all of this is just a hypothesis. Just an idea two Ohio natives are working to make real: to bring about the change we want to see in America.

We hope you’ll join us by adding your voice to the mix.

— Steph Hay, Founder + CEO

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