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You paid your taxes, now find out how they're spent

Tax Day 2017 is over. That means Uncle Sam has the bulk of his take from our 2016 earnings, thanks to tax bills paid on April 18 with return filings and extensions.

Now what's he going to do with our money?

Steve Ballmer_Moblie World Congress 2010_Aanjhan Ranganathan via Flickr CC
Steve Ballmer at World Mobile Congress in 2010 talking about the Windows phone when he was still heading Microsoft. (Photo by Aanjhan Ranganathan via Flickr CC)

Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO and current owner of the NBA's Los Angeles Clippers, has the answer to that eternal taxpayer question.

Well, not Ballmer himself, but rather his newly launched government financial database called USAFacts.

The project been in the works for the last three years thanks to the efforts of economists, professors and other professionals that Ballmer assembled. The New York Times' DealB%k column described USAFacts as "perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments."

Visualizing where your tax dollars go: The data, 30 years' worth from more than 70 publicly accessible local, state and federal government agencies, is presented, per New Atlas, "in a number of clean, decipherable formats." Much of that credit goes to the Seattle design studio Artefact.

The government finances section delves into the numbers to help us find the financial details of how much money government makes, owes, as well as spending specifics on employees and services.

Basically, the database was created to help determine just what the government — at all levels — really does with your money.

USAFacts home page

Facts, not fake news: Even better than its design is the approach to the data presentation. USAFacts offers just the facts without any policy suggestions. "We put the data there in an orchestrated way so people can find it and create their own analysis," says Ballmer.

Plus, since it's not-for-profit, there's no commercial pressure to skew the figures based on dollar signs.

And it's offered as a free public service, according to the site, to fuel informed debates and decisions.

"I don't buy that we're in a post-fact world," Ballmer told GeekWire. "People talk about alternate facts, they talk about fake news … but the numbers are what they are. They tell us about the past. They give us the ability to judge the forecast that we all have for the future."

Governmental performance report: Ballmer, true to his corporate executive background, calls USAFacts "the equivalent of a 10-K for government." A 10-K is a comprehensive summary report of a company's performance that must be submitted annually to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

And it's a ginormous 10-K.

USAFacts US 2014 revenue-spendingo-deficit graph

Below is a bit of the breakdown from the more than $5.2 trillion in taxes collected in 2014.

Individual income taxes that year accounted for $1.7 trillion, or 33.27 percent, of total U.S. revenue. Around 80 percent of those taxes were collected at the federal level, with the rest brought in by state and local governments.

This amount (and more) was spent on, in part and per the preamble of the U.S. Constitution:

  • Establishing justice and ensure domestic tranquility = $396 billion (7.35 percent of total U.S. spending),
  • Providing for the common defense = $813 billion (15.09 percent of total U.S. spending),
  • Promoting the general welfare = $1.2 trillion (22.67 percent of total U.S. spending), and
  • Securing the "blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" = $2.8 trillion (51.75 percent of total U.S. spending).

Additionally, funding general government operations took $173.3 billion (3.22 percent of total U.S. spending).

Distributing non-grant assistance from the federal government to state/local governments and territories accounted for another $3.8 billion (0.07 percent of total U.S. spending).

You can slice and dice the data yourself. Or you can follow USAFacts' Twitter account to get assorted data tidbits.

Now that you're through with your tax filing, or at least taking a break before finishing up during the six-month extension period, you'll have time to peruse USAFacts. Enjoy!

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