News coverage of a recently-proposed $820 million tax hike in Kansas was a case study in the many ways that media bias influences public opinion. The unions, highway contractors and others pushing the idea were not challenged on their many undocumented claims, and even though the proponents all stood to gain from higher taxes, media failed to challenge the notion that tax increases were even necessary. Some of the same outlets that railed against the ‘largest tax increase in Kansas’ history’ in 2015 (roughly $400 million annually) now heap praise on those proposing to stick citizens with twice that amount! The Cap Journal editorial board said the special interests “…deserve credit for being honest about the problem and formulating a way to fix it,” as though there is only one way to resolve the issues.
How can the same people – be they legislators, special interests or media – be critical of a $400 million tax increase one year and then almost fawn over the suggestion of an $820 million tax hike the following year? This form of media bias can be explained in one word – politics. As in, it depends on who did the proposing. Democrats and most Republicans were unwilling to reduce some of the wasteful spending in government in 2015, so some traditionally conservative legislators put a $400 million tax increase together and media pounded them. But now tax increases are worth considering because the tax increase wasn’t really the issue for media last year – that was about pounding on political enemies. The new legislature is far less conservative so it is given different treatment – and permission to raise taxes, even if doing so isn’t necessary.
The same media that has harshly and repeatedly told citizens that the Kansas economy isn’t doing well didn’t bother to ask how extracting $820 million from citizens would impact the economy; raising that ugly reality would dampen the mood. They also didn’t bother getting input from those who would have noted that there are many ways to reduce state spending without compromising quality of service. For the record, the National Association of State Budget Officers shows Kansas spent 27 percent more per-resident in 2015 than the states without an income tax – each of which provides the same basket of services. Federal and debt-related spending are excluded in that calculation.
And then there are the many undocumented claims made by the proponents. Kansas Action for Children, Kansas NEA, Kansas Organization of State Employees and the Highway Contractors Association offered absolutely no documentation to support their claims and instead of asking for some proof, media dutifully repeated their press release. I wrote requesting the following documentation but as usual with that group, my request was ignored:
- The per-taxpayer income tax impact of those earning more than $15,000 single / $30,000 married
- Assumed number of filers, Adjusted Gross Income and tax liability by income bracket for the base year and the year with higher tax rates
- Calculations relating to predictions of the number of taxpayers with increases and decreases in income tax liability
- Explanation for prediction of people receiving an income tax reduction when no rates are proposed to decline
- Basis for estimation of new tax resulting from elimination of the “LLC Loophole” with the impact shown by income bracket
- Predicted tax loss and employment loss due to people and employers leaving Kansas due to tax increases, attributable separately to the LLC change and individual tax increases
- Calculations related to proposed sales tax sweep to the General Fund and $0.11 per gallon increase in gasoline tax
- Calculations related to reducing sales tax by 1.5 percent, including the basis for increased revenue and the per-taxpayer impact by your proposed income tax brackets
- Calculation supporting the claim of adding $820 million in revenue to the General Fund for FY 2018
- Basis for saying that 70% of Kansans will see either no tax increase or reduced taxes.
Here’s another great example of media bias. Even though the Kansas Center for Economic Growth admits to not being the independent non-profit it holds itself out to be, media continues to provide cover for the impostors and quoted them as one of proponents of wanting to nip $820 million from taxpayers. Can you imagine how media would (rightfully) react if an organization that opposed tax increases was caught fibbing about its identity? And if its fiscal analyst was cited by the Securities and Exchange Commission for his role in securities fraud while he was state budget director, you know they’d remind readers at every opportunity. But there are apparently different rules for those with whom media sides.
Media bias, whether intentional or not, has become a daily fact of life. And media wonders why so many people have lost trust in them.