Math, tax increases, and untruths

Opinion: Columns

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Michael Janowski

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Sen. Harmon, I was disappointed, to say the least, to see in two consecutive issues of Wednesday Journal that you've been promoting the idea that you and the rest of your legislative buddies passed a "2 percent" tax hike last year.

Now I assume you're a smart man or you wouldn't have accomplished the good things you have. But a good man doesn't depend on the gullibility of his constituency to deliver onerous news of tax hikes. He calls it what it is.

And what is this tax hike? Well, technically, you are truthful about this 2 percent nonsense, if you only look at raw numbers. Yes, 5 is 2 more than 3, and so our taxes in Illinois have indeed been raised by 2 percentage points.

However, Don, percentages aren't simple numbers, but relative ones. As I'm admittedly a bit weak on mathematical theory, this is most easily explained by a couple of examples using the IL-1040.

Say that I, a relatively prosperous, self-employed citizen of Oak Park, had a net income (after exemptions, etc.) of $100,000 in both 2011 and 2012.

In 2011, I would have multiplied that 100K by .03 (3 percent), and come out with a tax-owed figure of $3,000. In 2012, I would have multiplied that same figure by .05 (5 percent, a mere 2 percentage points more), and owed $5,000.

Irrespective of what I think about sending Springfield another $2,000 (in fact, I'm on the record as saying that paying taxes is a good thing), and irrespective of the way Michael Madigan and Emil Jones III want this particularly painful talking point handled, the simple math fact here is that in this example, my taxes increased from $3,000 to $5,000. Dividing 3K by 5K we get the percentage increase:

3,000/5,000 = 0.60 or 60 percent.

Now let's say my son, who's just starting out his own career, has a net income for both years of $5,000. In 2011, he would have paid $150. In 2012, he pays $250. Once again, let's do the math:

150/250 = 0.60

Once again, 60 percent. There's no way around it, Sen. Harmon, everyone in IL is paying 60% more dollars in 2012 than they did in 2011 and saying otherwise don't make it so. But heck, you could have figured this out without the above exercise. Just divide the old rate by the new rate to see the percentage increase (which in the end, is what a percentage is really used to indicate — a change). And dividing 3 by 5 gives you … 0.60, or 60 percent. Feel free to quote me here.

I perform this exercise because, as someone who's voted for you several times, it pains me to see you try to play your constituency like chumps. Maybe the "2 percent" argument plays with the math-challenged, but those of us out here in the trenches who use math in everyday tasks, like household budgeting, running a business, or helping our kids with homework, prefer a straight-shooter to represent us in the snakepit that is the legislature in Springfield.

You can distort the English language all you want; one of the beautiful things about English is that it's eminently malleable, able to be twisted and shaped into a million different meanings. A more rigorous language, like math, doesn't allow that luxury; it forces one to confront actual factual evidence, and does not allow for nuance or subtext where none is warranted.

So you see, when we're speaking of taxes in actual dollars, the "2 percent solution" just doesn't hold up.

I urge you to stop making yourself look foolish in the eyes of informed constituents throughout your district.

Michael Janowski is a resident of Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2013 10:42 PM

I had a typo at the end of that last comment. Here it is corrected...It's actually a 67% increase, just as the last two people mentioned in the last two WJ issues. Not 60%. The numerator is the increase (in your first example, $2,000), the denominator is the original amount (in your first example, $3,000). $2,000/$3,000= 2/3=66.67% For your son's example, the numbers you would use are $100 (increase) and $150 (original). 100/150=2/3=66.67%

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 16th, 2013 10:38 PM

It's actually a 67% increase, just as the last two people mentioned in the last two WJ issues. Not 60%. The numerator is the increase (in your first example, $2,000), the denominator is the original amount (in your first example, $3,000). $2,000/$3,000= 2/3=66.67% For your son's example, the numbers you would use are $100 (increase) and $250 (original). 100/150=2/3=66.67%

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