But what of Perry’s claim in his radio ads that “[e]very year, more than $40 million are leaving Missouri for the Lone Star State”? The media in Missouri left this one alone, with the exception of St. Louis’s KSDK-TV, which took a crack at “fact-checking” the statement but ended up accepting the assurance of Grow Missouri—one of the conservative groups sponsoring Perry’s visit—that it was true. Only (you guessed it) PolitiFact Texas followed through in fully vetting the claim, ultimately rating it as “half true.” The PolitiFact checkers—with an assist from the Tax Foundation—were able to match Perry’s claim with IRS data from the last two decades, but noted that the truth is “more complex and admittedly clunky than this claim acknowledges.”

Does this prove that, whatever problems Texas may have, the lack of an income tax is luring masses of “job creators” from Missouri to Texas each year? Not according to ITEP’s Gardner.

“It doesn’t tell you a thing about why it’s happening,” he said. “There are a multiplicity of reasons why people live where they live and do what they do. You can’t just draw a straight line from taxes to economic growth or taxes to migration decisions.”

As the tax debate goes forward this month, it would be interesting to see Missouri reporters examine this question by talking to business owners (and workers) who have relocated to Texas, in order to find out what kind of decisions are shaping this apparent exodus.

In this maze of numbers, hard truths remain elusive. But the Tax Foundation’s Stone and ITEP’s Gardner ultimately agree that Missouri is “pretty average” or “middle-of-the-road” among states in their groups’ respective measures, while Texas’s unusual tax structure places it in the Top—or “Terrible”—10, respectively, depending on one’s point of view.

Perry’s visit was only the first big volley in Missouri’s tax-cut override battle, which begins in earnest when the legislature reconvenes next week. This month, as the lies, distortions, omissions, and statistics accumulate, Missouri’s reporters will have to steel themselves with the facts as much as possible—and make sure they aren’t compounding the misinformation.

 

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Deron Lee is CJR's correspondent for Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. A writer and copy editor who has spent seven years with the National Journal Group, he has also contributed to The Hotline and the Lawrence Journal-World. He lives in the Kansas City area. Follow him on Twitter at @deron_lee.