New Colo. website allows taxpayers to track where their money goes

The Colorado Department of Treasury unveiled a new feature this week designed to help Coloradans understand how their state tax dollars are spent on an individual or household level. State Treasurer Cary Kennedy told CivSource that the interactive website is intended to show taxpayers a clear line from their paycheck to their communities.

“If the citizens are paying for public services like education, infrastructure improvements, health and medical care, they should be able to see how and where it’s being used,” Ms. Kennedy said in an interview.

Dubbed “Colorado Tax Tracks”, the website allows users to enter their Annual Adjusted Money Income to approximate their taxes by type, and understand how much of their taxes are going to the state’s budget.

According to the “Methodology” section of the website, taxes paid are based on Fiscal Year 2006-07, and appropriations are based on Fiscal Year 2007-08. The Disclosure of Average Taxes Paid (.pdf) is a yearly document compiled by the Department of Revenue and was a primary source of information in determining which taxes to report and the division of income classes. About 100 functions of government are included on Tax Tracks website, State Treasurer Kennedy said.

“It allows you to see how much is going to K-12 education, for example, and then within that category, we included several sub-categories, so that the taxpayers can see that breakdown.”

According State Treasurer Kennedy, her department spent “well over a year in the design phase” of the website. “A lot of that [time] was categorizing the data so it would be user-friendly – there are hundreds if not thousands of line items in our budget. We wanted to consolidate that so [users] could get enough detail to have good information, but not so much it would overwhelm them.”

Another facet of the website allows users to vote, both on their perceptions of how high or low tax levels are, and on the current levels of funding for major state programs.

“Voting allows the public to provide feedback. The value of the site is that it allows taxpayers to be the judge of whether they’re getting value for their tax dollars,” Ms. Kennedy said.

She indicated that the value of voting will become more apparent over time. “It will give us a good perspective of where the public is – areas they think we’re spending too much or too little. It’s not a scientific study, but over time, I think it will give us a proxy of where people are.”

Tax Tracks is one in a set of tools released by Treasurer Kennedy in the past several months, designed to make government more accountable for the tax dollars they collect. The transparency effort is spearheaded by the Transparency Online Project – a searchable database of state revenues and expenditures.

Additional resources include a monthly cash flow and daily balance sheet for the state, a detailed listing of state investments and the State Taxpayer Accountability Report – a summary of the state’s overall financial positions for taxpayers.

“Along with the other initiatives we’ve started, Tax Tracks makes us more accountable and it engages people so they understand how and where their tax money is being spent.”