Politifact Should Stick To Checking FACTS

When Politifact NJ actually checks facts, they often do good work. Unfortunately, they have a bad habit of conflating fact-checking with opinion-making.

Case in point:

As much as Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald would like to call it something else, a tax increase is still a tax increase.

A Democrat from Camden County, Greenwald has proposed raising the state income tax rate on taxable income exceeding $1 million, and then using that new revenue to offset property taxes for people earning up to $250,000.

But that’s not a tax increase, Greenwald claimed in a recent TV interview.

“First of all, it’s not a tax increase. A tax increase is when you increase a tax that brings in more revenue that you spend in government,” Greenwald said during a July 15 interview on “Inside Story” on Philadelphia-based 6abc.

“What we’ve offered is to take 16,000 people and have every penny that comes in from them offset property taxes up to 20 percent for 2.6 million filers, the other 8.8 million. So, it’s not a tax increase. It’s a tax shift.”

Greenwald’s claim doesn’t make any sense, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

So what’s the problem?

– Do 16,000 people pay tax on more than $1 million. Yes.

– Will Greenwald’s bills use that money to offset property taxes through the Homestead Benefit Program? Yes.

– Will Greenwald’s proposals mean that the total revenue the government takes in doesn’t change? Yes.

That’s not my fact-checking by the way; that’s all from Politifact. By their account, Greenwald’s bills would do exactly what he says they do. But he still earns a “Pants On Fire!” rating – complete with exclamation point! Why?

But despite how the money would be spent, raising any tax rates is clearly a tax increase. Calling such a measure a “tax shift” doesn’t make any sense, and Greenwald should know better.

Let’s be clear: that is a subjective statement. I happen to agree that tax expenditures should usually be thought of as spending; but whatever Politifact and I may think, it doesn’t change the fact that Greenwald is describing his bills correctly. And his logic is transparent: he is cutting taxes in one place to increase taxes in another. It is a tax expenditure, but it is also a shift; there’s no reason it can’t be thought of as both.

Put another way: if Greenwald’s bill cut the income tax by the same amount that it raised the gas tax, would that really be a tax increase? No, not really; it would be a shift. Is this so much different?

Again, Politifact and Greenwald can have a good faith argument about this. But saying Greenwald has his “Pants On Fire!” when he is accurately describing his bills is what really doesn’t make any sense; they are the ones who should know better.

Politifact, you’re better when you stick to the facts.

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