Monday, November 13, 2006

JSOnline's Dan Benson: Doesn't Get It

Evidently Mr. Benson was assigned to write a story for those who understand Dr. Suess (but not much more than that.)

When you read a newspaper article, note the Tone and Content of the last few graphs. In most cases, the T&C indicates that the article is coming to a Conclusion With Which All Should Agree. In some few cases, the last graphs present facts which are very significant and which someone wants buried.

In this article, we have the "Conclusion With Which All Should Agree" formula:

Stability in the tax rate is the key, Hartford Mayor Scott Henke said.

"The tax rate is the easiest barometer for a local official to use," Henke said. "If your rate is stable, your community is in a stable financial situation. If they go up and down, the taxpayers are in a peak and valley situation."

Henke said his goal is to keep the tax rate within 5 cents - up or down - year to year.
With the real estate market beginning to flatten, local officials who have touted low tax rates as a measure of their effectiveness may have a hard time explaining higher rates in years to come, Berry said.

"They're setting the stage to be criticized, perhaps unfairly. They could freeze their budget and the rate would still have to go up," Berry said. "It's going to happen because of what's happening in the real estate market."

Oh, yes, there's the mandatory 'naysayer' quote:

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas in September hailed his 2007 budget as the "most significant tax decrease" in the county since it adopted a county executive form of government 15 years ago, despite a $3 million spending increase and a $1.2 million increase in the total tax levy.

The proposed tax rate, however, is $1.83 per $1,000 of equalized value, down from $1.97 this year. That means the owner of a $250,000 house would save about $35 on the tax bill from the previous year.

"(Vrakas) is calling it a tax decrease because the impact on some homeowners is that their tax bill may go down a couple bucks," said Christine Lufter, president of the Waukesha Taxpayers League.

Focusing on tax rates is "the most deceptive way of selling a budget. It's not an indicator of government efficiency," she said.

Obviously, Lufter's position is correct. Vrakas' pronouncement is a lie.

But now that we've gone through that nasty patch, we can go to our conclusion (above)--that a "stable rate" is a "good thing."

It's particularly good for politicians who enjoy spending a lot of Someone Else's Money. Too bad the JS reporter doesn't get that.

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