The foundation, Stone told me, gives the greatest weight in its index to the individual income tax, at 33 percent, followed by sales and corporate taxes at about 20 percent each, property taxes at 14 percent, and unemployment-insurance taxes at 11 percent.
Of course, journalists are under no obligation to weight these items in the same proportion as Stone’s group does, or to accept its conclusions. While the Tax Foundation places Texas in its overall Top 10, the liberal-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy actually lists the Lone Star State as one of the “Terrible Ten” in its own tax rankings, which measure the progressivity of state tax burdens. Texas ranks low here because it has no income taxes, which tend to be the most progressive form of taxation, but has relatively high sales and property taxes, which tend to be more regressive—hitting poor and middle-class people the hardest.
“When you think about Texas having high or low taxes, the question is for whom?” Matthew Gardner, ITEP’s executive director, said in an interview.
The ITEP report argues that “[s]tates commended as ‘low tax’ are often high tax states for low- and middle-income families,” adding that Texas is one of the 10 states with “the highest taxes on the poor.” Neither Perry and friends, nor any of the news or editorial pieces in Missouri that I read last week, mentioned the ITEP report.
In addition to the distribution of the tax burden, of course, there’s also a question of whether enough revenue is raised—and whether it’s spent usefully. Both the Star and Post-Dispatch editorials did make arguments for public investment in supporting Nixon’s veto of the tax cut. Gardner of ITEP also argued that businesses and individuals look at many other factors besides taxes when considering location, including education and infrastructure—two more measures on which he says Perry’s state falls short.
“Texas is chronically underfunding transportation and education,” he said.
A Perry Parody
Education was one of several issues cited by KPLR’s Charles Jaco in his parody video of Perry’s TV spot, in which the governor and other Texans featured in the ad are overdubbed to cite some of the state’s least boast-worthy attributes. This video offered a creative approach to covering the story, but some facts were a bit distorted in the process.
“We have the lowest percentage of high school graduates in America,” says one Texan in the parody video. The Austin American-Statesman’s PolitiFact Texas recently looked at this claim in another context and found it to be true, but it is important not to conflate this statistic with actual graduation rates, where Texas fares much better.
The parody ad claims that Texas has the most uninsured people of any state in the union. As it happens, this claim was also examined by PolitiFact Texas in a different context and found to be “mostly false,” though not far from the truth: in fact, California has the largest total number of uninsured, but Texas has the highest percentage.
Another claim in Jaco’s video is that Texas is “the second-poorest state” after Mississippi. This is not true; the latest Census figures do place Texas near the bottom in this category, with an 18.5 percent poverty rate, but there are nine states, in addition to Mississippi and the District of Columbia, which fare worse. Missouri is better off but has nothing in particular to brag about here, with a poverty rate of 15.8 percent, right at the national average. (When contacted for this report, Jaco acknowledged via email that he misread the poverty ranking on a February 2011 report from Texas Democrats that he used to gather information for the video. The report, which relies on older data, shows Texas with the fourth-highest poverty rate.)
Still, whatever their shortcomings, the Jaco video and the Star and Post-Dispatch editorials drew blood, calling into question whether Texas is the paragon Perry says it is.