Originally Published by Common Dreams

“A government which spends more on its military than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As April 15th nears and Americans devote countless grueling hours toward tax preparation, how many people examine where their money actually goes?

Certainly the prospect of shelling out money each spring to the Internal Revenue Service does not contribute to an atmosphere of personal tranquility and peace in the days and hours before the postmarked envelopes and begrudgingly-written checks are sent to the faceless bureaucracy which keeps our country afloat. The process of relinquishing hard-earned money sends pangs of frustration and resentment through many people.

Is there a way to make this less painful? Can we envision a day when we give with glee because we know that our taxes ending up in the right places, helping the right people and addressing the problems in our society which affect us all? Can we ever become less resentful about paying taxes? Perhaps the answer is found in our priorities.

If you want to personally quantify your values, follow where you spend your money. Are you buying movie tickets, supporting millionaires? Are you buying gasoline? Shopping at the GAP? Eating out? Are you donating to worthy causes? Are you sponsoring an underprivileged child overseas or in your town? If we want to know on an individual level where our priorities are, our expenses can provide important clues.

If we want to know where our priorities are on a national scale, we can follow our federal spending as well. This year, our federal budget gives a big boost to the military, our way of solving problems internationally. The Osprey aircraft and Virginia attack submarines received a combined $4.2 billion dollars and nearly half our budget is allocated for past and present military spending. At the same time, significant cuts were made in “programs of social uplift”: $700 million in job training and employment, $85 million to train doctors in children’s hospitals, $596 million from the Department of Education and $417 million to repair housing. Interesting.

And the core values which we hold dear are reflected in the national budget: power, authority, defense and protection. Education, healthcare, social services and investment in workers get short shrift this year. Nine million children (one in seven) have no health insurance in the United States. One in eight never graduate high school. One-fourth live with only one parent. Over the next ten years, more than 2.2 million teachers will be needed to address the high turnover rate in the educational system and compensate for retiring teachers. The average length of time a new teacher sticks with the profession? Two years.

At the heart of the matter is what really will make us more secure – a big military or a healthy, smart, fulfilled population. Can we actually become safer if we are better educated, well-nourished and have well-paying stable employment and hope for the future? Or is a big military the only way? And what do taxes have to do with this?

Almost half of our taxes are applied to keeping our country safe through a strong military.

The quote by Dr. King gets at the heart of the matter. On a personal level, we are taught to rely on gadgets like mace, tasers, martial arts and self-defense, The Club and complex home security devices to protect our stuff and our well-being. On a national level, we are taught to rely on national missile defense, nuclear weapons, a large well-equipped military and the theory of mutually assured destruction. These ploys play upon our fears of death and insecurity, and they make a great deal of money for a small amount of people. Imagine if we began to embrace the idea that life is fundamentally insecure and that regardless of all the protective measures, the gizmos, the gimmicks and the firepower we buy or rely on, that our time on earth is limited and fragile.

Moreover, do we need to live in fear and suspicion of others in order to be safe?

By addressing the root causes rather than effects of violence – like lack of education, low-paying jobs, poor health care, stress and relationship problems – through adequate funding and appropriation of financial resources shows that American people are at the heart of our concern. In contrast, focusing only on tragedy and insecurity detracts from the positive components in American society.

This year, Hart High School in Valencia, CA had to cut funding for its bus transportation for extra-curricular activities which require distance travel; many other high schools nationwide have experienced similar cutbacks. Is it morally right to deprive students of after school activities, thus increasing the likelihood that they will end up unsupervised and getting into trouble? Can we justify spending $1.1 billion in military aid to Colombia rather than funding buses for high school sports teams and bands?

As tax day draws nigh, we as Americans are challenged to examine our lives, our budgets, our bank account balances and our priorities. We have power through deliberate acts of conscience to challenge the IRS to appropriate a portion of our money to a peace tax fund. We can ask Congress to fund a cabinet-level Presidential advisory Department of Peace. Our paycheck is our power and our voice. How should our money be spent?

We decide.
*An admirer of Henry David Thoreau, Leah C. Wells advocates peaceful applications of tax dollars toward increasing teachers’ salaries, funding to after school programs, college scholarships and social services.