EconLog | Arnold Kling | A Whiff of Liberaltarianism from the LefThat actually sounds like a terrible idea to me.
Cait Lamberton writes,
Promote the concept of tax choice. What exactly is tax choice? Simply put, it is a policy that would permit taxpayers to allocate a percentage of their income taxes to any portion of the discretionary federal budget. In a tax choice program, a taxpayer who wishes to support public education, for example, could send some of her income tax dollars specifically to that part of the federal budget, while a taxpayer who feels strongly about the military could allocate a portion of his income tax payment accordingly."
First of all, votes are already completely unaware of how much money is being spent on what. Why give people with an ignorance of the current allocation the ability to change the allocation?
Secondly, this will end up funneling more money to the popular and sexier programs rather than to necessary or efficient ones. Space exploration will get extra lucre, but who will be the ones checking off the box on their tax forms for sewage treatment or the department of weights and measures?* Observe the same effect in fund-raising for disease research: most diseases raise money out of proportion to their lethality.
(* Legislators could attempt to minimize this problem by underfunding NASA in favor of NIST, knowing people will voluntarily give more to support the former when Tax Day comes. But then what's the point of tax choice if the budgets can be made in advance to anticipate it?)
This brings us to the third point: if you want more money to be spent on X, then donate your money to a group which addresses X. No need to have the IRS take it from you.
Tax choice sounds like a nice way to sidestep the poor decisions of legislatures, but in binding their hands I think you'll end up with more problems than you started with. Various California budgetary rules have had the same effect.
This is one place I am distinctly not in favor of choice. I think the federal budgeting process is a complete mess, but it at least hints at sober adults making considered judgements. At its worst it becomes largely uninformed people making highly emotional judgements. They way to address that is not tax choice, because that is also uninformed people making emotional judgements.