, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and determined that in order for the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act to have any effect at all on government military appropriations, about three quarters of all taxpayers would have to declare themselves conscientious objectors and pay their taxes into the Peace Tax Fund.
On second thought, though, it turns out to be even worse than that. I hadn’t figured in to my calculations those taxes that aren’t covered by the Act at all, such as the corporate income tax.
The Act defines military spending — the sort of spending that taxes deposited into the “Peace Tax Fund” may not be spent on — as spending for “1) the Department of Defense; 2) the Central Intelligence Agency; 3) the National Security Council; 4) the Selective Service System; 5) activities of the Department of Energy that have a military purpose; 6) activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that have a military purpose; 7) foreign military aid; and 8) the training, supplying, or maintaining of military personnel, or the manufacture, construction, maintenance, or development of military weapons, installations, or strategies.” Not included in this are veterans benefits or debt (and interest) payments associated with past military spending.
In , this all would have amounted to nearly $600 billion (according to figures from the National Priorities Project).
In , the federal government brought in over $350 billion from the corporate income tax, which is not affected by the Act (excise taxes, customs duties, and a number of other taxes and fees are also not covered by the Act — if you add these in, this goes up to above $500 billion, but since some of these go into trust funds rather than the general fund, I’ve left them all out of the calculation here). In addition, the government took on over $160 billion in debt (debt, and its repayment, are not covered by the Act, and make for an easy loophole in the unlikely case that Congress will need to get around its restrictions).
So that’s already over $510 billion that Congress could spend on military spending before it has to look at tax revenue potentially covered by the Act. How many people would have to pay into the Peace Tax Fund for Congress to have trouble getting its hands on the remaining $90 billion it wants to spend on the military?
Personal income taxes and estate/gift taxes are covered by the Act. In , the government brought in about $1,180 billion through those taxes. If 93% of taxpayers declared themselves conscientious objectors to military taxation and paid their taxes into the Peace Tax Fund, then less than $90 billion of this $1,180 billion would be remaining in the general fund for Congress to spend on the military and it would be forced to either ignore the law, borrow more money, change the tax code so as to take more money from taxes that aren’t covered by the Act, take some of those excise taxes out of trust funds and put them into the general fund, repeal the Act and raid the Peace Tax Fund, redefine some of the military budget as being outside the military budget (the food in the mess halls, isn’t that really a Department of Agriculture function? shouldn’t the Department of Energy be in charge of security at those Iraq oil fields?), or use any number of other strategies that crafty legislators can think up better than I can. Or maybe they would even cut military spending, assuming that the fact that 93% of their constituents had gone pacifist hadn’t already convinced them to do so. Yep, if 93% of U.S. taxpayers were — in the words of the Act — “opposed to participation in war in any form based upon the taxpayer’s deeply held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or training” and if all 93% of them paid their taxes into the Peace Tax Fund, Congress would have to take notice and do something about it.
I may be beating a dead horse here, but it does seem to me that sometimes when I talk to “Peace Tax Fund” fans, they’re nourishing a fantasy that if the Act were to pass, some day this might translate into an actual form of pressure taxpayers could bring to bear to force a change in the spending priorities of an unwilling government.