A Friendly Tax Day Reminder: You Are Spending More to Finance the War Machine Than You Might Realize

Up to 44 percent of our federal income tax dollars go to current or past military spending.

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Covert drone wars in Yemen and Somalia. Violent displacement from Afghanistan. Fresh troop deployments to Iraq. These might not be the first things that come to mind when you race to file your federal income taxes before today’s deadline. But new statistics on where your dollars actually go suggest that, perhaps, they should be.

According to new calculations from the War Resisters League (WRL), up to 44 percent of your federal income tax dollars will go towards past or current military spending.

Here’s how the grassroots anti-militarist organization breaks it down. First, it’s important to note that WRL looks only at federal income taxes, not trust funds like Social Security and Medicare, which come from different pools.

Looking at the federal year of October 2016 to September 2017, the organization concludes that 25 percent of federal income taxes go into current Pentagon and military spending. This finding is backed up by the research of the National Priorities Project, which puts current Pentagon and military spending at 25.4 cents to the dollar.

Meanwhile, 19 percent of federal tax dollars go into past military spending, which represents “veterans’ benefits plus 80% of the interest on the debt,” WRL concludes.

Such calculations, of course, do not inherently imply that funds for veterans’ benefits should be slashed. But the cost of treating the wounds of war must certainly be included in efforts to accurately calculate the true price of combat.

The organization includes an important footnote: “Analysts differ on how much of the debt stems from the military; other groups estimate 50% to 60%. We use 80% because we believe if there had been no military spending most (if not all) of the national debt would have been eliminated.”

Lindsay Koshgarian, research director for National Priorities Project, told AlterNet that it is correct to assume that some proportion of the debt can be attributed to past military spending, but she was not prepared to state exactly what percentage.

What is clear, she said, is that heavy military spending does not reflect the priorities of the U.S. public. For example, just 3.6 cents to the dollar of federal income taxes goes towards education, compared to 25.4 cents on current military spending (this figure does not include past military spending. “Yet, when Americans are polled and asked for their priorities for the country, education is always in the top three but spending on it is so low,” said Koshgarian.

“One piece that people often don’t realize is that over half of the Pentagon budget goes to private contractors,” Koshgarian continued. “And the biggest part of that is procurement, which is weapons and other goods. A very big piece of that goes to service contractors—everything from food vendors to phone vendors and all these service contracts and consultants. Those contractors have been shown to cost three times as much for the same service. There is a huge amount of money going to corporate profit.”

Some who are closely watching the military budget have concluded that war tax resistance is their most ethical option. “When I really got involved in working for peace, I realized I could not at the same time pay for war,” Ruth Benn of WRL and National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee told AlterNet. “I'm active in many forms of protest about many issues, but I find that war tax resistance ties it all together for me." 

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Sarah Lazare was a former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams. She coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.