George Nee and RIFuture.org should be Called-Out for Promoting Misleading Info
In promoting their plan to tax the rich, the Rhode Islanders for Tax Equity group recently put out a misleading video and chart attempting to equate a drop in Rhode Island’s income tax rates on the wealthy to the rise in the state’s unemployment rate.
Absent any credible citations, the group might just as well have blamed America’s exploding national debt on Rhode Island’s state income tax.
The group, RIFuture.org (its web partner), and George Nee (group member and president of the AFL-CIO) should be called out for propagating these non-credible assertions.
From a professional research perspective, there is a significant difference between causation and correlation. Their video and chart strongly imply that the drop in income tax rates actually caused the unemployment rate rise, yet it fails to provide any evidence to support this absurd claim. There isn’t even any documentation to support how the two measurements may even be correlated; further, they don’t even attempt to explain a correlation. Simply plopping two graph lines on top of each other does not qualify as legitimate research, and certainly does not prove a correlation or causation. Any claim derived from this amateurish effort is a pure fabrication and should be viewed as nothing less than political propaganda.
From a factual perspective, their representation of state income tax rates lacks full transparency. The chart used to support the video shows flat-tax income tax rates only, based on 2006 changes to the law. It does not mention that the 9.9% rate still remained on the books until 2011; and it fails to mention that the flat-tax was merely an “option” for anyone to choose. And they also neglected to mention that upon choosing the flat-tax option that personal exemptions or deductions would be limited; meaning that the effective top tax rate was not reduced by as much as they try to make it appear.
The 2011 tax rate bill was a compromise that eliminated the flat-tax option, lowered the top tax rate, but also severely capped exemptions and deductions. This 2011 amendment was revenue neutral and was not a windfall for the wealthy. Some will pay more income taxes under this scenario, while others may pay less.
The Tax Equity group also willfully ignores the most significant factor that must be highlighted in any discussion about state unemployment trends … namely the great national recession that negatively impacted every state beginning around 2008. Further, the 5.99 percent top tax rate did not take effect until 2011, well after the Ocean State’s unemployment rate had spiked.
Finally, any credible claim must also take into account a more comprehensive statewide picture. As our Center’s Report Card on Rhode Island Competitiveness clearly showed, even with lower top income tax rates, Rhode Island’s overall Tax Burden and Business Climate categories still grade-out as an “F”. Their attempt to blame the drop in income tax rates for the lack of progress in creating jobs and economic growth in Rhode Island is completely and shamefully inaccurate. Only reductions in the broader tax indices, which would serve to improve our overall individual and business tax climate, can be fairly judged to have an impact on our state’s economy. A final note here: the Tax Equity’s group’s misguided desire to raise income tax rates would turn our State’s best tax grade – a “C” in Personal Income Tax Rate – back into an “F”. Raising the rate, as they propose, would leave Rhode Islanders in a worse position than prior to 2006, as the top rate would be raised back to 9.99 percent, but with current levels of severely restricted deductions.
Moving foward, there will be many legitimate issues and points-of-view to be debated in the public arena, but we encourage the media, public officials, and all citizens to demand a higher standard than the level of distortions put forth in this video and chart.
Mike Stenhouse is the CEO for the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity, a non-partisan public policy thank-tank.