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In the midst of Congressional debates about debt, budget cuts, and tax increases, a “penny poll” was held in every Maine county asking participants, “How would you like your federal tax dollars spent?” Mainers Larry Dansinger and Lisa Savage were among the leading coordinators of this effort.
Education, health care, and veterans’ benefits were the top choices for federal spending among the1,552 Mainers participating in polls conducted in each of Maine's 16 counties.
The results -- determined after counting 15,377 pennies -- diverge considerably from the actual spending by Congress, but were relatively consistent in different parts of the state.
What's a Penny Poll? Participants were given ten pennies, each representing ten percent of their federal income tax which goes each year to the federal government. They were asked to put pennies in jars representing the ten largest parts of the federal government’s discretionary budget. Roughly one-third of all federal spending, the discretionary budget is debated and allocated by Congress each year. The number of pennies participants put in each jar indicated where they wanted to see their tax dollars spent by our nation's government.
Results showed that education (21%), health care (19%) and veterans’ benefits (12%) were the top choices among the people who participated. Those were followed by environment/science (11%), food/agriculture (9%), both transportation and interest on the national debt (7%), housing (6%), defense (5%), and general government (2%).
“What the public wants its tax money to go toward is very different from where Congress is actually spending it. Education, health care, veterans’ benefits, and the environment/science all received greater percentages than Congress actually spends for them,” stated Larry Dansinger, who compiled the figures. “Defense, including our current wars, nuclear and conventional weapons, wages for our armed forces, and homeland security, gets much more than 50% of the discretionary budget now, but in the survey that category got just under 5%.”
The penny polls, sponsored by the Bring Our War $$ Home campaign and conducted by volunteers, were held at post offices, supermarkets, downtown areas, and other venues frequented by a broad cross section of the public.