Ken Plum: To tell the truth

Column by Ken Plum
www.kenplum.com
 

We did not have a television in our home until I was 16 years old. When Dad finally made some extra money raising broiler chickens in addition to his full-time job doing maintenance work on the Norfolk and Western Railroad, he took the extra hundred dollars and bought us a black and white television as color was not yet available. Reception where we lived was limited to one channel, WSVA-TV, Harrisonburg. On Saturday night it was Lawrence Welk whether you liked him or not. Funny how his re-runs seem a lot better than the originals did.

Game shows were popular in those days, including “To Tell the Truth” where an individual and two impostors tried to fool a panel of Kitty Carlisle and other celebrities as to who was the authentic person.

Much of political debate reminds me of an effort to find out who is telling the truth. There are television talking-head commentators, instant “experts,” blogs, etc., all spinning their versions of the truth. Any wonder that the public gets confused or becomes cynical! One issue subject to a lot of spin is government spending and taxing.

USA Today did an analysis of tax payment and reported last month that “Americans paid their lowest level of taxes last year since Harry Truman’s presidency.” Citing Bureau of Economic Analysis figures, USA Today reported that “federal, state and local taxes, including income, property, sales and other taxes – consumed 9.2 percent of all personal income, the lowest rate since 1950.” The historic average for the last half-century was 12 percent. One of the contributors to the reduction was the tax cuts in the $862 billion federal stimulus package. Tea Party folks seldom mention this fact.

At the state level, taxation has remained essentially even according to Fiscal Analytics of Richmond. Governor Warner pushed through with bipartisan support various tax reforms that raised $1.6 billion in new revenue. His efforts to more fully fund core services were undone with a series of six major tax cuts that left a net of $38 million for the decade. In other words, tax cuts almost equaled the tax increase.

There is also a lot of concern expressed about the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Many contend that we should not be taking federal money. For Virginia, ARRA has basically kept our budget balanced. Virginia accepted about a billion dollars in federal money that prevented large cuts in the school budget last year. This year the state budget was passed in anticipation of the Congress providing about a half-billion in Federal Medical Assistance Program (FMAP) dollars. If the Congress fails to act as now seems possible, Virginia will need to come up with a half-billion in cuts or revenue.

To tell the truth on emotional issues like government spending and taxation, it is important to work from good data. Hopefully this column has provided good information on which to formulate an opinion. I am always pleased to hear from you at kenplum@aol.com.


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