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A coal miner’s plight: Paying for public broadcasting is less than a dollar of his taxes

A coal miner attends a signing ceremony in the Oval Office. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)
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“When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no. We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
— White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” March 16, 2017

This article has been updated with a significant correction.

Mulvaney is the White House budget director, but these comments suggest little understanding of the taxes paid by single mothers or coal miners.

Single mothers in Detroit, most of whom are living in poverty, likely pay no taxes at all and instead would be receiving funds from the U.S. government via the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Coal miners also do not earn a lot of money, but in many cases may pay at least some taxes. Let’s look at several examples.

Average annual wage in Kentucky: $39,067
Average annual wage, loading machine operators (Bureau of Labor Statistics): $51,850
Average annual wage, supervisors of production workers (BLS): $75,000

We assumed the coal miner was married, with two children, but the spouse did not work. Then we did a quick calculation using the H&R Block tax calculator.

The Kentucky coal miner owed no income taxes but actually got a $2,245 refund.

The machine operator paid $1,530 in federal income taxes, while the supervisor paid $5,003.

How much of that went to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting? Less than a dollar.

The CPB is such a tiny part of federal outlays — less than 1/7,300th — that the machine operator paid about 20 cents of his taxes to the CPB, while the supervisor paid 60 cents.

[Correction: Mea culpa, we messed up with the decimal point. An earlier version of this article said the miner paid a percentage of a penny, when in fact it is a percentage of a dollar.]

The biggest part of the federal budget is entitlement programs — especially Social Security and Medicare — but President Trump has pledged to leave those untouched. That’s where the real money is, whereas programs like the CPB are a relative pittance.

President Trump just released his budget plan for the next fiscal year, which proposes some big changes in government spending. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

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"One of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs?"
in an interview on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe"
Thursday, March 16, 2017