When a Virginian buys groceries, purchases a cheeseburger and fries, or pays a utility bill, he or she is presented with a receipt detailing the cost of individual items or services purchased, the tax included in the total, and a total amount due. The issuance of an itemized receipt is a standard practice that holds the retailer accountable and makes the customer aware where every penny goes.
Because Virginians are limited insofar as their ability to take their business elsewhere when it comes to paying taxes, that is all the more reason to demand an itemized tax bill that details how much and on what services government is spending their hard earned money. With Virginia facing an uncertain fiscal outlook over the course of the biennium and beyond, and the ever present specter of tax increases lurking on the horizon, it is imperative that Virginians know how their money is being spent.
Virginia's Auditor of Public Accounts recently created a new webpage using Commonwealth Data Point titled "Where Does Your Money Go?" This page is a step forward in efforts to put transparency in taxation into action and allow Virginians easy access to such information.
Back in 2005, in a victory for transparency, Senator Walter Stosch secured passage of legislation which required Virginia's Auditor of Public Accounts to create a website, now called Commonwealth Data Point, where anyone can access state expenditure, revenue, and demographic data for the last decade. Building on this achievement, Delegate Saxman worked with the Auditor’s office to expand the functions of Commonwealth Data Point to include a website that puts itemization into action.
Using this website, anyone can enter an amount of individual income tax, sales and use tax, or other direct taxes paid by an entity or individual to the state of Virginia for the prior fiscal year and generate a report displaying, both in percentages and real dollars, how their general fund tax dollars were spent. The report also gives percentages for the four previous fiscal years as well—meaning Virginians can see how spending priorities have changed over time.
For example, according the Data Point, if a Virginian pays $1,000 in income taxes, 35 percent or $350 of that was spent on K-12 education in Fiscal Year 2007. Taken in comparison with the four prior fiscal years, it is clear that spending on education has increased from 31 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2007—with no appreciable increase in the quality of education or quality of outcome in Virginia’s public schools.
Transparency can still improve in Virginia, but this is a major positive development.
Take a moment to look at the new Data Point website here.