April 28, 2016 Print

The cost of government is often a mystery for ordinary taxpayers, whose money is taken and funneled into an endless array of programs and expenses with opaque accountability. A new tax and budget calculator website, created by the Austrian Economics Center and the F. A. v. Hayek Institute, Atlas Network partners based in Austria, provides detailed information about state revenues and expenditures and brings a new level of government transparency to Austrians.

“For several decades, politicians in Austria have won elections by promising benefits,” said Britt Schier, head of the office for the Austrian Economics Center. “Of course the question who would pay was never discussed sufficiently.” The new calculator website, Staatskosten.at (“Price of the State”), showcases “the big picture plus detailed information on your personal tax burden and benefits, government waste and inefficiencies.”

Schier pointed out that Austria’s tax system is so complex and inefficient that few people can file their own taxes without outside help. Staatskosten.at, she said, “is the first online tool that provides easy-to-understand information on all relevant figures and issues. It brings together tax revenues and the effective costs of the respective tasks performed by the state.”

The budget portion of Staatskosten.at breaks down the total 2014 Austrian budget of €171.94 billion (prior-year budgets are also available) into separate sections for revenues and expenditures, showing, for instance, that 28 percent of the budget is collected from Social Security contributions and 26 percent from taxes on income and wealth — and 41 percent of expenditures go toward Social Security payments, with health services the next largest category at 15 percent. A modular budget section allows users to tailor their own customized budgets for several different expenditure categories, comparing their own prudent choices with the reality of Austria’s actual budget.

The Staatskosten.at tax calculator has an interactive interface that lets users customize salary estimates, various expenditures, and lifestyle factors to determine how much they’ll pay in Social Security contributions (including employer contributions), income taxes, value-added taxes, excise duties, and various other fees. A government waste section breaks down the details on where and how those funds are too often misspent.

The Austrian Economics Center was inspired to create Staatkosten.at from the tax and budget calculator website PriceoftheState.org, built by the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS), an Atlas Network partner based in Slovakia. These projects are part of a wider trend in think tanks holding their governments accountable for taxation and spending through public calculator websites, such as the “Mocu Mokescius” (“I Pay the Taxes”) calculator from the Lithuanian Free Market Institute and a similar calculator for Poland from the Civil Development Forum.