The right-wing website Breitbart.com is promising to "shine a light" on the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) in the coming days, a campaign that comes as corporate sponsors and lawmakers flee the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Media should be cautioned that any efforts to compare the two organizations is without validity, given their contrasting missions, standards of transparency, degrees of corporate influence, and ideologies.
Earlier this week, the New York Post published an article hyping an online application by the Tax Foundation that allows the user to see how many people entered or exited a state over a given time period and where they went.
The Post used the Tax Foundation's program to assert that New York's tax burden is the driving force behind the state's net decrease in migration last year (Fox News favorite Art Laffer also jumped on this information to push for lower taxes). But these interpretations of the Tax Foundation application are rebutted by evidence from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and the Tax Foundation itself.
From the Post's Erik Kriss and Nicole Danna:
New York state tops the nation in one key export -- people fleeing high taxes.
More than 3.4 million New Yorkers -- with combined annual earnings of $119 billion -- pulled up stakes and left for other states from 2000 through 2009, according to the Tax Foundation.
The top destination: Florida, where 600,000 New Yorkers landed after leaving the high-taxes of the Empire State in the last decade -- taking nearly $20 billion in income with them, new data shows.
New York was top of the heap for out-migration, outpacing California in second place, the conservative think-tank reported based on federal tax-return data.
This isn't the first time Kriss has written a story using data from the Tax Foundation to essentially advocate for lower taxes. Last year, Kriss wrote a nearly identical piece, at the time stating:
Taxed-out New Yorkers are voting with their feet, with a staggering 1.6 million residents fleeing the state over the last decade, a new report found.
For the second consecutive decade, New York led the nation in the percentage of residents leaving for other states, according to the report by the Empire Center for State Policy.
The population loss is "the ultimate barometer of New York's attractiveness as a place to work, live and do business," said the report's co-author, E.J. McMahon. "It's the ultimate indication that we've been doing things wrong."
Most analysts blamed New York's high taxes and skyrocketing cost of living for the mass exodus.
The Tax Foundation ranked New York highest in the nation in the combined state and local tax burden in 2008.
Danna, Kriss, and the Post ignore problems with this analysis. First, the Tax Foundation specifically explains that this type of interpretation of their data is insufficient to explain the migration. In the Tax Foundations FAQ about the Tax Foundation Migration Tool, they note they aren't trying to imply that taxes are why people move:
Since you are the Tax Foundation, aren't you trying to imply that taxes are why people move between states?
No. Taxes are one of hundreds of factors that go into a person's decision to move. Others include age, technology, job prospects and the quality/quantity of government services provided. If one looks anecdotally at the data, he/she will see that people move from high-tax states to low-tax states and vice versa. A true study that sought to quantify the importance of taxes for locational decisions would need to account for as many other factors as possible, in addition to possible serial correlation issues between variables, especially taxes.
As, Tax Foundation analyst Nick Kaspark points out in Danna and Kriss's own piece, one of the reasons people move to Florida is due to "Florida's popularity as a retirement destination noting 'lower density, sunny, beaches."
Second, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), while higher taxes may play some part in people's decision to move, "the effects of tax increases on migration are, at most, small." From the CBPP:
Attacks on sorely-needed increases in state tax revenues often include the unproven claim that tax hikes will drive large numbers of households -- particularly the most affluent -- to other states. The same claim also is used to justify new tax cuts. Compelling evidence shows that this claim is false. The effects of tax increases on migration are, at most, small -- so small that states that raise income taxes on the most affluent households can be assured of a substantial net gain in revenue.
It would not be credible to argue that no one ever moves to a new state because of the desire to live someplace where taxes are lower. But neither is it credible to say that taxes are a primary motivation, nor that migration has a large impact on the revenue impact of tax measures.
As CBPP nicely sums up, "Finding a correlation -- two things happening at the same time -- is not the same as proving one of those things caused the other."
Georgia media have been silent as members of ALEC in Georgia's legislature have successfully pushed through a version of ALEC's Charter Schools Act, which would create a state-controlled board with the power to establish and fund charter schools over local opposition. A Media Matters analysis found that while Georgia media have frequently written about the bills, they have completely overlooked ALEC's influence in the debate.
Pennsylvania's five largest newspapers have generally failed to cover the mounting defections of lawmakers and corporations from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing advocacy group whose membership and model legislation have had significant influence on Pennsylvania government.
The Oklahoman's straight news coverage of the controversial natural gas extraction process of hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") has been slanted in favor of the process under the ownership of energy tycoon Philip Anschutz, who acquired the paper in September 2011. The paper's opinion page has been one-sided -- devoid of voices warning readers about the potential health risks and environmental dangers of loosely regulated fracking activities.
On Wednesday, the New Hampshire Union Leader penned a misleading editorial about the tax rates different groups of Americans paid as a percentage of their income. The piece attacked President Obama's call for wealthy Americans to pay more by claiming "the rich and super-rich pay a far higher percentage of their income in taxes than the lower and middle classes do." From the Union Leader:
As you can see, the rich and super-rich pay a far higher percentage of their income in taxes than the lower and middle classes do. On average, people who earn more than $500,000 a year pay more than three times the percentage that people earning less than $100,000 a year pay.
When looking at all federal taxes paid, the richest 20 percent of Americans paid 68.9 percent of them. The richest 1 percent paid 28.1 percent. Despite recent rhetoric from the President, the rich shoulder a much larger share of the federal tax burden than everyone else.
It's quite apparent from the editorial that the Union Leader is leaving out a substantial amount of information about taxation and the rich in America. First of all, from 1983-2009 the top 5% of Americans accounted for 81.7% of the wealth gain in the United States. Despite gaining a bigger piece of the pie, thousands of millionaires and billionaires are paying a smaller share of their incomes in taxes than millions of middle-class Americans; in 2009, for instance, 1,470 of the richest Americans paid no federal income taxes at all.
Tax rates for the wealthiest Americans have been steadily falling over the past 50 years. In 1960 the top marginal income tax rate was 90% while today it is just 35%. However, given the Union Leader's own data, it doesn't seem like many are paying that rate anyway. What is notable from the Union Leader's data is that after the $2 million to $5 million dollar bracket the percentages begin to decrease again -- evidence that many of the wealthiest earners are paying a lower percentage of their income in taxes than those that make less than them.
By only referencing income tax rates, the Union Leader deceptively omits the fact that the middle class shoulders a disproportionately excessive burden when it comes to payroll, excise and state and local taxes. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities points out:
Considering all taxes -- federal, state, and local -- the bottom 20 percent of households pays an average of 16 to 17 percent of their incomes in taxes. The next 20 percent of households pays about 21 percent of income in taxes, on average.
It's disingenuous for the Union Leader to put up income tax numbers and claim the burden on the rich is so onerous. Ultimately the hardship and burden falls on those making the least, not the most. As Jonathan Chait, formerly of The New Republic, explained in an October 2010 column:
It would be nice if nobody had to pay taxes. Given that we do, though, shifting a greater share of the burden onto the rich causes less hardship. (Raise Paris Hilton's taxes by 1 percent and that's one less vacation home for her grandchildren; raise her maid's taxes by 1 percent, and her kids are sweltering because they can't afford air-conditioning.)
The New York Post, the New York-based daily newspaper run by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., has published 21 opinion pieces on the controversial process of natural gas extraction called hydraulic fracturing (or 'fracking') since January 1, 2011.* Many of the op-eds on fracking attack Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) or "enviro-radicals" for not acting faster to cash in on the economic benefits associated with domestic drilling. In addition, the Post almost always fails to acknowledge the health and environmental risks associated with fracking -- when it does, it immediately dismisses the dangers, despite ample evidence to the contrary. For example:
The fact is, fracking has proved not only to be a fundamentally safe undertaking, it has delivered immense economic benefits to localities across America.
New York is the only state in the nation where it is not allowed -- and that needs to change.
The fear-mongering nihilism that has marked the debate so far needs to end - and, at the very least, it's up to Cuomo to accelerate the current review.
Indeed, not only would New York become a major new source of relatively clean energy - natural gas; the move is also sure to spawn a whole new industry for economically sclerotic Upstate, generating thousands of jobs.
That's what's happened elsewhere in the country where fracking is allowed - including, notably, neighboring Pennsylvania, where tens of thousands of workers have found jobs at companies that employ the process.
Alas, in New York, enviro-radicals got then-Gov. David Paterson to ban the process, pending further study.
They claim that fracking can taint drinking water. Hyperbolic media reports and films like the pseudo-documentary "Gaslands" further fueled public fears.
Yes, there have been fracking accidents -- but no lasting damage, and no harm has been done to water supplies.
Contrary to the Post's assertions, there have been a host of environmental problems associated with fracking. Wyoming is dealing with both groundwater contamination and air pollution, Ohio and Oklahoma have seen earthquakes potentially associated with fracking, and groundwater contamination has affected wells in Pennsylvania and other areas around fracking wells.
The Post also gets its facts wrong when it comes to states that have banned fracking. In Feburary, New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie imposed a one-year ban on the practice in New Jersey, stating, "Potential environmental concerns with fracking in our state must be studied and weighed carefully against the potential benefits of increasing access to natural gas in New Jersey."
As Media Matters has previously noted, in their fervor to promote fracking, the Post has even gone so far as to hide the industry funding of fracking studies in their editorials.
* The Media Matters analysis was conducted by doing a Nexis search for the terms "hydraulic fracturing" or "fracking" and analyzing the number of times one or both of those terms was used in an opinion piece published by the Post.
CORRECTION: Media Matters has identified a serious error that resulted in the omission of several Charlotte Observer columns and articles discussing municipal broadband during the time of this debate. We cannot support our earlier conclusion that the Charlotte Observer did not inform its readers on the issue of North Carolina's "digital divide" over the past two years. Media Matters prides itself on a long history of accuracy in its media studies, and we apologize for the error.
Starting in 2008 seven states -- Louisiana, South Dakota, Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas -- passed measures or promoted policies that would change the education curriculums in their states to begin teaching "different perspectives" in environmental science instruction. The major newspapers in each of these states gave varying coverage to the issue with some not even covering the issue at all. In addition a Media Matters investigation shows that, despite the appearance that these state proposals and model legislation by the conservative organization the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), not once did these newspapers mention ALEC or their model legislation in their coverage.
Last week the New York Post penned an op-ed attacking a proposal by NY Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-64) that would raise NY's minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. The editorial repeated debunked myths that raising the minimum wage would increase unemployment, increase the cost of products and services, and lower economic activity. Contrary to the Post's assertions, there has been little to no negative correlation between minimum wage and unemployment, and in some cases it's been shown that increasing the minimum wage would actually help create economic activity.