I really ought to stop commenting on the ever-flowing cascade of fatuity produced by the Campaign for Vermont’s opinion essay machine. But it’s like eating potato chips: betcha can’t eat just one.
Today’s entry comes from the Master of Fatuity himself, Tom Pelham, CFV co-founder, state functionary in a variety of Administrations, and self-regarded freakin’ genius. The latest Words From On High are entitled “It’s Complicated.” By which he means, “Only I can understand this stuff, now let me explain it to you in a really condescending way.”
Now look, Tom Pelham knows far more about government financing and taxation than I do. But it’s also obvious that his insights are heavily colored by his fiscal conservatism, which makes his policy prescriptions difficult to trust. Or, in my case, easy to dismiss.
But we soldier on. Pelham begins his essay — distributed for free in the Vermont media — by slamming the Vermont media.
Over the years, it has become clear that some in the media do not fully grasp how Vermont’s education property tax system works.
Damn reporters. How dare they not be as brilliant as Tom Pelham?
His point, and he does have one, is that the media are misrepresenting the implications of the school property tax system’s income sensitivity provisions. (If that sentence made your eyes glaze over, then you’ll be in a coma by the time you finish Pelham’s mighty slog.)
Pelham may well have a point: the tax system is a tough nut to crack, and the media’s nutcracking proclivities are intermittent at best. But his underlying message is an ideological one: that income sensitivity unfairly shifts the tax burden upward. This leads to the conservative canard that lower-income voters happily approve school budget increases because they don’t proportionately feel the pain of higher taxes.
That’s just plain old bullshit from the ideological charnel house that brought us “Welfare Mothers in Cadillacs” and “Obamacare Will Make Americans Lazy.”
Actually, if you take a look at the following chart from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (which I posted last week in this space, but it’s equally relevant here), you’ll see that in spite of the effects of income sensitivity, the property tax hits working folks the hardest.
Hmm. Gee. To judge by that chart, Vermont could use a little bit more income sensitivity. Because it seems as though the working poor and middle class are still paying a bigger proportional share than are the top 20%.
Tom Pelham is well versed on the gears and pulleys of tax policy. He knows how it functions. But there’s the machine, and there’s the stuff produced by the machine. That’s what matters about public policy and its outcomes. And in that sphere, Tom Pelham is no smarter than your average reporter (or blogger).