As Americans file their taxes this year, they have to contend with all the changes from the recent tax reform. But aside from filing frustrations, taxpayers have another reason to be discontent: 9 in 10 voting-age Americans (224 million people) do not believe the government is currently spending their tax dollars wisely, according to a new survey from the personal-finance website WalletHub.

“It’s common that people think a lot of government spending is wasted; this is standard over time too,” said William G. Gale, the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Federal Economic Policy at The Brookings Institution. “However, when asked whether individual programs should be cut, most people say no.” According to Gale, Americans also overestimate how much of their taxes go to categories like foreign aid, which makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

2019 WalletHub Taxpayer Survey

  • Fewer than 4 in 10 people are happy with President Trump’s tax reforms. 70% think they benefit the rich more than the middle class.
  • 89% of people think the government currently does not spend their tax dollars wisely.
  • 31% of people say making a math mistake is their biggest Tax Day fear, edging out not having enough money (28%) at the top of the list.
  • 36% of people would move to a different country for a tax-free future. 24% would get an “IRS” tattoo and 15% would take a vow of celibacy.

Even if they are at time misinformed on how their taxes are spent, Americans do have clear preferences about where they’d like that money to go. For example, 75% of WalletHub’s survey respondents said they’d rather pay for healthcare than a border wall. This is significant in light of the recent partial government shutdown (the longest in history), which was sparked by President Trump’s call for border wall funding and congressional Democrats’ opposition.

“It’s really important that voters express their position through their votes,” said Eric A. Lustig, director of the Center for Business Law at New England Law. “The tax system has never been about paying for what you want and not paying for what you don’t want. That’s a job for the Congress and President. In an early tax case, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said that ‘taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.’ In fact, these words are chiseled on the exterior of IRS headquarters in Washington.”

Individuals can play a part in determining their tax rates by electing like-minded representatives. The 2020 elections are the next big opportunity to do so, and more than 50% of Americans say healthcare will be the biggest issue for them when voting, according to WalletHub’s survey. This “could bode well for Democrats,” said Paul Weinstein Jr., director of the public management master’s program at Johns Hopkins University, “if they focus on cost - which is the biggest concern for most Americans - and if the party does not overpromise on coverage.”

The tax tables and how taxes are spent will surely change in the future as the government’s political makeup transforms. For now, though, Americans must focus on filing correctly in 2019 – an exhausting process for many people. According to WalletHub’s survey, nearly 50% of people would rather serve jury duty than file their taxes.

“Being on jury duty can be interesting and get you a few days off work,” said Michael Ettlinger, director of the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. “You feel you are performing a useful service to your community. Dealing with tax filing is complicated and the consequences of doing it wrong can be substantial – which makes it stressful.”


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