FOX News Channel host Bill O'Reilly labeled as "socialist" a proposal to reform the New Jersey property tax system and attempted to discredit it by misrepresenting how the current system works. On the May 20 edition of O'Reilly's nationally syndicated radio program, The Radio Factor With Bill O'Reilly, O'Reilly spoke disparagingly of a proposal by New Jersey Governor James McGreevey to increase state income taxes on households earning over $500,000 and use the money to give property tax rebates to 2 million low-income, middle-income, and elderly residents. Arguing against the proposal, O'Reilly misleadingly claimed that upper-income New Jerseyans already pay a larger percentage of their income than lower-income residents.
O'Reilly criticized the tax proposal, calling it quasi-socialist, communism, and socialism and labeling it a "deviation" from the wishes of the Founding Fathers -- and then he added that Democrats favor the proposal:
O'REILLY: All right, so it's income redistribution. It's basically slapping more tax -- and remember, if you were earning $500,000 or more, you're paying your property tax already. You're paying a federal income tax. You're paying a state income tax. You're paying all the other taxes that come along.
Now, is this good? Is this what we should be doing here in America? Now, remember -- remember how the country was founded. So this is a deviation, because the Founding Fathers didn't want any federal income tax at all. That only happened around the turn of the 20th century. And they said OK, leave it to the -- leave it to the locals to tax and take what they need.
So it's basically a kind of quasi-socialist mentality. Remember, in the socialist countries, it's basically leveling off -- if you make a lot then we take it from you and we give to the bottom so that nobody has too much. That's communism, that's socialism, obviously got a lot of appeal. Got a lot of appeal.
It doesn't work because it robs incentive. I mean, that's why it doesn't work, but in this country, income redistribution is a hallmark of the Democratic Party and the Liberal bent of it. Hillary Clinton loves it. All right. And McGreevey obviously loves it, but is it morally right? Is it what this country was founded on? See, there's the question.
The truth is that lower- and middle-income New Jerseyans pay a larger portion of their income in property taxes than do upper-income residents. According to a report by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, the poorest 20 percent of New Jerseyans paid out 5.6 percent of their annual income in property taxes, while the richest 20 percent paid out about 4 percent. Indeed, the New Jersey tax system as a whole -- including property taxes, state income taxes, and sales and excise taxes -- is similarly regressive, with the poorest 20 percent of residents paying 12.5 percent of income while the richest 20 percent pay about 9.6 percent. Undeterred, O'Reilly continued to criticize the proposal and used the discussion as an opportunity to praise President George W. Bush:
O'REILLY: So they basically are saying look, if you're making a lot of money, we're going to take as much as we can and give it to people who aren't making that much money. So do you think that's fair? It's a very, very simple question. Do you? ... Because Bush doesn't. Bush basically says all Americans are entitled to be treated the same when it comes to taxation.
E.D. Hill -- an anchor of FOX News Channel's morning show, FOX & Friends, who was sitting in as a guest host with O'Reilly on The Radio Factor on May 20 -- tried to point out the salient fact about New Jersey's current system; however, O'Reilly interrupted her, conflating federal income taxes with the proposal concerning New Jersey state property taxes under consideration:
HILL: But the argument is that -- that -- that you -- that the wealthiest pay less percentage-wise.
O'REILLY: But they don't. I pay a lot more than you would -- Look. At one time in my life, I was making $150 a week in Scranton, Pennsylvania. OK? I was paying maybe 12% of my income. Now I'm paying about 35% after all the deductions that I don't even want to take, by the way...
Interestingly, moments before this exchange, O'Reilly read part of a sentence from an April 30 article in the Gloucester County Times that described the proposal as follows: "Critics of New Jersey's [current] property tax system call it unfair to the middle class and elderly, who pay a larger share of their income [than do upper-income residents]."
However, when O'Reilly paraphrased the sentence above, he conveniently cut himself off before completing the sentence that explained the crucial point about the regressive structure of New Jersey's current property tax system:
O'REILLY: [reading] "Critics of New Jersey property taxes who call it unfair to the middle class and elderly who pay a larger share of their in --"
O'Reilly didn't allow his listeners to hear the final word of the Gloucester County Times sentence: "income." Instead, he declared that it was really all about stealing from the rich to give to the poor -- "a very, very simple question."