In his classic book “How to Lie with Statistics,” author Darrell Huff provides the example of a restaurateur offering his special “50% Rabbitburger.” The recipe? Take one horse and one rabbit, grind them up, mix them together, and Voila! A 50% Rabbitburger.
It seems that the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy has taken that recipe to heart and fried one up for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In a P-G chart published on February 23 entitled “Enough Said,” the article states that 9.3 percent of the income from Cranberry households making $60,000 to $95,000 a year goes to state and local taxes. I won’t dispute those figures. But that tax bite has all the ingredients of a perfect rabbitburger.
When the rabbit of local government is casually mixed together with the horse of state government, it leaves the distinct impression that the two are equally responsible for the resulting bite of taxpayer money. But they’re not. And frankly, that rubs me and my counterparts in municipal governance the wrong way.
If you look closely at the numbers, 9.3 percent of Cranberry’s average $94,000 household income is $8,742. But of that amount, just $713 goes to Cranberry Township; more than $8,000 goes to other units of government. Then it gets more interesting. When you look at the income tax levied by the state, its 3.07% rate applies to all forms of income – dividends, interest, retirement income, royalties, etc. Cranberry, on the other hand, levies a tax on just earned income – a much narrower band of household income – and even then, it’s only 0.5%.
That $713 goes a long, long way in Cranberry and its use is much more transparent. For example, it provides first-class, professional public safety services – police, fire and the guaranteed timely response of EMS. It covers the maintenance of around 82% of the public roads in the Township; the other 18% are state owned. It pays for high quality recreational and park facilities and a first-class library – the only one in Butler County open seven days a week. It includes professional land use management which has resulted in one of the most desirable communities in the state. And it finances a responsive, professionally run local government – all for about half of what the average household pays a year for cable and internet service.
Beyond that, Cranberry has one of the highest possible financial ratings for local government – significantly better than the State’s own financial rating by those same agencies. That’s why we get irritated when we’re mixed in with the state and served up as a common Rabbitburger.
If we were to show that in graphic form, it would look more like this:
So, to the editors of the Post-Gazette, I say Bon Appetite! Your rabbitburger is waiting. Enough said.