The Los Angeles Times is getting more embarrassing every day. I'll celebrate when they are bankrupt. Being biased is bad enough. But to publish outright lies? That is what Michael Hiltzik's latest column is full of.
As a warm-up, Hiltzik starts with a little spin:
The most onerous lie is that Californians are burdened by the highest state taxes in the nation. The truth, according to 2006 figures derived from the U.S. census, is that, as a percentage of all personal income, California's tax and fee schedule ranks 18th in the country.
Whenever you see terms like, "percentage of all personal income," you know that someone is playing with numbers to make a large number look small. That's what the Urban Institute did. Saying that Californians pay x% of all personal income isn't probabtive. It's like saying: "Yeah, you guys pay a lot in taxes. You make a lot of money, too. So it even outs."
Think of it this way. Who pays more in taxes: A person who pays 10% of 1,000,000; or a person who pays 20% of $100,000? That's pretty easy, right? The person with the lower tax rate and greater income pays $100,000 in taxes; the person paying the higher tax rate pays $20,000 - a fivefold difference. It is thus not an "onerous lie that Californians are burdened by the highest state taxes." In fact, it's true.
Now, you might say that a rich person should not just pay more in absolute tax dollars. She should pay a higher relative tax rate, too. We could go back-and-forth on the progressive/regressive income tax discussion. We could have an honest debate. Finger fornicating the numbers, though, is as unethical as when credit card companies put, "We can steal your first born" in the fine print.
As ethical, honest people: Let's disclose the facts. Let's then have a vigorous if not vicious argument. Honest men and women can disagree. You are not a liar is you don't agree with me. I do not seek clones or followers - only honest men and women who are unafraid of truthfully debating the facts. Why are people afraid of honestly stating the facts? Is it because their positions are too weak?
Still, we should allow op-ed writers to spin the facts. It's not my style, but it's not an outright lie. After a warm-up, though, Hiltzik does lie:
The dirty little secret, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, a left-leaning nonprofit group, is that California's wealthiest residents shoulder the lightest burden of any income group in the state. The top 1% of California income-earners (average 2007 income: $2.3 million) paid 7.4% of their income in state taxes last year, counting the federal deduction for state taxes. The highest rate was paid by the poorest residents: Those earning $20,000 or less, with average income of $12,600, forked over 10.2% of their earnings.
I thought to myself: This cannot be true. It makes no sense. The top California state income tax rate is 10.5%. You need to make over $40,000 to pay the highest state income tax rate. So how does a person earning $12,600 pay 10.2% in state income tax?
I have no clue. What I do know is this. If you go to the State of California Franchise Tax Board's website, you can find the "2008 Tax Calculator." Click it. According to that helpful calculator, a person earning $12,200 would owe $172 in state income taxes. Maybe I'm mistake, but that seems closer to 1.2% than to 10.2%.
Spin is bad enough. Outright lies are intolerable. Michael Hiltzik's column should be corrected immediately. The L.A. Times should never allow him to publish another column.