North Carolina taxpayers will spend more than $78 million on energy-bill giveaways in fiscal year 2004. If they dumped the giveaways, they could hire more than 1,500 elementary school teachers … or provide health care for upwards of 48,000 children … or buy 348 new fire trucks.

This sort of fun with federal trade-offs can be had at the National Priorities Project Web site. The 20-year-old project, based in Northampton, Mass., provides citizens and community groups with tools for advancing social and economic justice.

The NPP claims to be the only group concentrating on how federal tax and spending policies impact communities. It shares information particularly useful for communities dealing with school improvement, living wage jobs and affordable housing.

Last year, the NPP launched an interactive database that provides “state-level data on socio-economic needs and federal expenditures on such issues as hunger, education, housing, poverty/income and military spending,” according to the NPP Web site. The database allows users to create tables, graphs and reports relevant to their communities.

One of the more amusing database tools is the “Federal Budget Trade-Offs” option, which allows users to sample how their tax dollars might otherwise be spent.

Users simply choose their state, a current program and a trade-off. Clicking “Get the Trade-Offs” brings up what that state currently spends on the program in place—as well as what could be funded in the trade-off.

For example, Indiana taxpayers will spend more than $160 million on ballistic missile defense in fiscal year 2004. Those monies, redirected, would provide more than 2,800 elementary school teachers. Users have a range of options in calculating what the federal trade-offs would be.

The NPP provides a “notes and sources” page for its trade-offs tool, which shows that most of the information comes from a combination of government sources and advocacy groups.

The NPP Web site also includes: a personal income tax chart, which gives a breakdown of how your income tax money is spent; various quizzes on housing, military spending and the environment; links for taking action on how the federal budget is prioritized; and ready-made charts on issues including education, transportation and tax allocations.

Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for

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