COL Do you really know what government costs you?

By David Strom

Everybody knows we pay too much in taxes.

Grumbling about the cost of government is as normal a part of life as complaining about the weather -- the difference being that if you grumble enough, maybe you can change the level of your taxes, but you haven't much chance of improving the weather!

But have you ever really thought much about what government really costs you?

I don't mean just in taxes -- we can all give a decent guess how much we pay in income or sales taxes. No, I mean how much it costs to deal with all the rules, regulation, bureaucracy and paperwork government imposes on us, our employers, and people we do business with every day.


Think of it -- just to comply with the current tax code Americans spend millions of hours and billions of dollars to ensure that they are complying with the more than 17,000 pages of tax regulations the government imposes on us. So not only do citizens pay the taxes -- they are forced to become unpaid accountants for the government.

And that's just one small way government costs us more than it seems at first.

In fact, according to Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington-based taxpayer advocacy organization, the amount you pay in taxes to the government accounts for only about two-thirds of the real cost of government. When you add up all the hidden costs of government -- the rules, regulations, the hours of frustrating paperwork that government imposes on everyday Americans, the added costs to each of us are staggering.

What does that mean in real terms? It sometimes seems impossible to get a handle on anything as big and confusing as the cost of government. But Americans for Tax Reform has hit upon a pretty easy way to understand the issue: If you add up all the time you work to pay your tax bill, and then add up all the time it takes to pay the expense of government rules and regulations, you can figure out the number of workdays it takes to pay off your bill to the government.

And guess what: The average American works 193 days a year to pay the cost of government!

If you paid it all at once, as opposed to throughout the year, it would take all the income you make from the 1st of January to the 11th of July just to pay the cost of government.

On July 12, you can start working for your family!

Of course, nobody actually pays that bill all at once -- but in a way, that's the point of "cost of government day." We sometimes forget that there is a real cost to all that government we have gotten used to -- and that it just makes sense to say no to government expansion.


Why is that so important? Well, consider this: Just since 2000, the cost of government has increased by 8 percent for the average American. Of course, some of that is simply paying for the war on terror, and none of us can quarrel with that. But frankly, some it is just plain government expansion.

How much government can we afford? Who knows? Maybe the better question is how much time do you want to spend working just to pay the government's bills instead of your family's?

All in all, 193 days working for the government seems pretty expensive to me.

David Strom is Legislative Director of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota.

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