Lies About Taxes (and Vermont)

     In the most dishonest reporting I’ve seen from a national magazine in quite some time, Forbes really laid into Vermont.
     “Take Vermont. It levies the nation’s largest tax burden on individuals,” Forbes reported in a real estate article headlined, “Where Americans are Taxed Most.”
     “Ask anyone living there if the green mountains, popular ski slopes and quaint bed and breakfasts are enough to soften the blow of $3,861 per person kicked up annually to the state government. You’ll likely get a lot of ‘nos.’ …
     “Vermont doesn’t mess around: sales, property and personal income taxes strike at $1,379, $1,004 and $1,306 per person, respectively. … The list of most taxed states comes from Census Department figures from July 2007 to June 2008. … Adding up total receipts and then dividing by the number of citizens, we arrived at our tax-burden-per-person metric.”
     First I’ll show you that Forbes is dishonest. That will be easy. Then we’ll ask why Forbes is dishonest. That will be easy too.
     Here’s why Forbes’ real estate “tax-burden-per-person metric” is pure hokum: Vermont has one of the highest rates of vacation homes in the nation. Vermonters don’t pay taxes on those homes. And with a state population of only 620,000, dividing real estate property tax receipts by population will give you a figure that means precisely nothing.
     Eighty-four percent of the housing in Ludlow, Vt., is owned by out-of-staters, according to the Burlington Free Press.
     Nearly 75% of a 1,300-home development in Queechee Lakes is owned by out-of-staters – and homes there start around $450,000.
     Vermont state government’s “Property Value and Revenue Annual Report” is easy to find online. In it, you will see that in the town of Stowe, a ski resort, Vermont residents own property valued at $38.3 million, and non-state residents own $681.7 million worth of property.
     Vermonters own $9.7 million worth of property in the town of Winhall; out-of-staters own $437.5 million worth.
     In Peru, a lovely little town about an hour north of where I live, Vermonters own $11.1 million worth of property; out-of-staters own $187 million.
     In West Windsor, the ratio is $12.7 million owned by Vermonters, $142 million owned by out-of-staters. In Weston, the ratio is $5 million to $100.5 million. And in Woodstock, a tourist haven, Vermonters own $22 million of property, while out-of-staters own $213.6 million.
     This is all from official Vermont government statistics.
     Forbes’ reporting in its “taxes are gonna kill us all!” article is either incompetent or dishonest.
     In fact, it is both.
     The other state Forbes slams is Hawaii – supposedly the second most-taxed state. Hawaii, like Vermont, is Democratic, and has an extraordinary number of vacation homes, making Forbes’ “tax burden per person metric” pure bilgewater.
     When a supposedly high-class magazine makes gross reporting errors and omissions that favor the magazine’s political viewpoint, it makes one suspect that the incompetence has a purpose, and that the purpose is dishonest.
     Forbes is a business magazine. It’s written for rich folks. And let’s not argue about what “rich” means. Here’s what Forbes boasts on its own Web page: “Forbes.com, Home Page for the World’s Business Leaders, is one of the most trusted information resources for the world’s affluent business leaders.” Forbes says that its average reader is 44 years old and his average household income is $147,055.
     Let’s skip lightly past Forbes’ somewhat unnerving Germanic style of capitalization, and take the mag at its devalued word. Forbes is written for “the world’s affluent business leaders.”
     In this country, affluent business leaders tend to vote Republican. And for going on nine years now, the Republican Party’s sole mantra – aside from killing foreigners and helping rich Americans steal from poor ones – has been that all of us – especially Forbes readers – pay too much in taxes. Republicans have no other program.
     During these nine years, the U.S. economy has gone to hell in a handbasket. We have gone trillions of dollars into debt.
Here is a simple truth: The only way for the government to pay off that debt is to collect more in taxes than it pays out in programs. There is simply no other way to make the country solvent. Whether the government does that by “increasing” taxes or “cutting” programs is irrelevant. (When words are put inside quotation marks, it means either that someone is talking, or that the words are lies.)
      The federal government has shown it is unwilling to do either thing. And the only time it did start paying down the national debt – under President Bill Clinton – Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warned that doing that could endanger the U.S. economy.
     Greenspan really said that.
     Forbes’ “reporting” on taxes, and on Vermont, is just political eyewash designed to pander to rich people, and to whip up resentment against a Democratic state.
     Forbes “reported” that if you ask Vermonters if we approve of our state “tax burden,” “You’ll likely get a lot of ‘nos.'”
     You’ll “likely” get a lot of nos, hey? Well, there’s a good way to find out. It’s called reporting.

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