In his weekly “Stories I’d Like to See” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Mitt’s tax bracket:
Note to television producers or editors about to do interviews with Mitt Romney on the campaign trail: The tax rate for the lower-middle class and middle class (joint filers earning roughly $17,000 to $70,000) is 15 percent. So any of your reporters doing an interview with Romney should ask him if he paid more than 15 percent of his total income in federal income taxes last year, or more than 25 percent—the bracket for income from $70,001 to $142,700.
Because of preferential treatment of capital gains, of “carried interest” income earned by people in the private equity business, and of money derived from offshore investments, as well as other tax breaks, there’s a good chance that Romney didn’t pay at a rate of 25 percent or even 15 percent. Be sure to use “total income” in the question, which would be Romney’s income before taking deductions for many of the tax breaks not available to average wage earners. (Update: Shortly after this column was published, Romney was asked precisely this question, and told reporters that he paid “closer to the 15 percent rate than anything.”)
Romney’s likely answer, based on what he has said so far, will be that he has not decided to release his tax returns but that he may do so later.
To which your reporter should respond: “Yes, I know, but don’t you know—or can’t you check your tax return and tell us—simply what your tax rate was? Or just tell us what it says on line twenty-two on your IRS form 1040 tax return (“total income”) and line forty-four (“tax’”) or line forty-five (“alternative minimum tax”). We’ll calculate the percentage and spare you giving us all the details that you fear will invade your privacy. Won’t you at least tell us that? With all the debate about tax reform, don’t you think voters should want to know if you’re paying taxes at least at the same rate that Americans with average incomes are?”
This is going to be an increasingly big issue; why not have one of your people take the lead?
2. How many years up the river for an abortion?
While we’re on the subject of questions reporters might ask on the campaign trail, here’s another that I can only remember NBC’s Tim Russert asking various anti-choice candidates: “Once you outlaw abortion, how much prison time would you sentence a woman to who has an abortion? What about her doctor? If abortion is murder, then isn’t the woman guilty, at least, of conspiracy to commit murder, and isn’t the doctor a murderer?”
With the Republicans candidates competing to be the most anti-choice, their answers ought to be interesting.
One final question for Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry: “You’re adamantly against activist federal judges interfering with the will of the people by overturning laws passed by state legislatures, right? So why did you go to a federal judge (unsuccessfully) seeking to have Virginia’s laws about getting on the ballot in the state’s Republican primary be declared unconstitutional?”
3. Do Cuomo and Christie run the world’s worst public agency?
Lining up on the long and hideously inconvenient taxi line at JFK Airport a few weeks ago reminded me of a story I’ve wanted to see for years: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey might be the world’s worst public agency this side of Afghanistan. The PA runs JFK, Newark Liberty, and LaGuardia airports, and all three perennially rate among the worst in the world when it comes to on-time performance, restaurants and other concessions, transportation services, and general cleanliness and convenience. Being responsible for what may be the world’s three lousiest major airports (at least the worst three out of five or ten) is an amazing hat trick for an agency that is also jaw-droppingly over-funded, largely through ever-escalating airport landing and gate fees and sky-high tolls on the metropolitan area’s bridges and tunnels.