Learn BEFORE you vote. (Not an official website of American Fork City.)

Tag: lying with statistics

They Want You to Think American Fork Has the Highest Property Tax Rate

What Utah Football Has to Do with It

Suppose you’re a University of Utah football fan (as I am, when they aren’t playing BYU, and I’m sad about the USC thing last week). But your grandfather is a died-in-the wool Cougar. You know the type. In his mind, it is a holy war, and you don’t remember the last time he was willing to concede that the Utes made a good play or got a good win. When the Utes beat the Cougars, as often happens, he blames the referees. If he cannot find the slightest cause to blame them for enforcing the rules unevenly or ignoring the rules when it’s to Utah’s advantage, he complains that the rules themselves are stupid and skewed, and blames the refs for enforcing bad rules.

Suppose that in a small fit of hubris and wrath, he said to you, “If the Utes are ever ranked first in the polls, I’ll give you $25,000.”

Fortunately, his eyesight is failing. So when the Utes were ranked #4 the other week, you dropped by (as you often do, because you’re a good, devoted grandchild). This time, you said, “Grandpa, I’m going to read to you from the college football poll in order, as usual. By the way, BYU got a few votes, but didn’t make the top 25. As always, I’ll start with the last of the ten on my list and work up, because I know you like the suspense.”

Conveniently — and so you couldn’t accused of lying — you had typed up a list with ten teams in order, starting with Utah at #4. You left off the top three, but you were careful to get the next ten in the right order, because accuracy matters. You started reading at the bottom, as you said, and you didn’t give their numerical rankings. You left him thinking that Utah was ranked #1.

“I guess I’d better write you a check,” he said, because his eyes are failing, but his memory’s fine. “Better yet, you write the check, and I’ll sign it.”

Grand Larceny

You would never try to put the wrong amount on the check — say, $125,000 — even though he’ll never notice. After all, you balance his checkbook too, and there’s plenty of money in his accounts. You could probably get away with it — and if he caught you, you could say it was a mistake, and he’d likely believe you. But you would never do any of that. It would be immoral. It would be criminal.

Come to think of it, you would never deceive Grandpa with bad data, so he’d give you $25,000 on a false pretense. Not only would that also be a felony. It would be piling a sin on top of a sin. (The one on the bottom is loving money so much you’re willing to deceive people to get more of it.)

property tax ratesHere’s my question. If you wouldn’t do any of those things, why in the world would you publish a flier with a graphic showing that American Fork has the highest property tax rate among Utah County cities, when three cities have higher rates?

You could protest that all the numbers you put in the graph are true. And you could point out that the graph would be unreadably crowded if it showed all 25 Utah cities. So you had to leave them out. And you could protest that you never actually said that American Fork’s rate was the highest. And all of that would be true.

Do you really expect me to believe that you left out all the cities with higher tax rates just for the sake of readability? It looks like you’re trying to fool the voters, tricking them with partial truths so they’ll give you political power. (I’m sure it’s for their own good.)

You might argue, even if you did skew the visual results, the higher point you’re making is God’s Honest Truth: our taxes are too high. So that justifies taking some liberties with your graphics.

So I guess I have two more questions.

First, if it’s God’s Honest Truth, why do you have to deceive people so they’ll agree with you?

Second, would you ever trust someone like you with political power, control over tens of millions of dollars of tax revenues, and your freedom?

So You’re Not Really One of Those People

Gentle reader, I assume you’re not one them. So what can you do to help? Post the graphic below (or this one) on Facebook or somewhere, or e-mail it to your friends and neighbors. Talk to your friends, in person and on social media. Tell them what you know. Some of them will listen. And if you want the raw data, it’s here at Utah.gov: 2015 Utah Tax Areas with Tax Rates.

Learn before you vote.

Do American Forkers Really Have the 4th or 5th Highest City Taxes in Utah?

The short answer is no.

Yes, there’s a study that came out this summer, saying that the municipal tax burden on American Fork residents is the fourth or fifth highest in Utah. It used two different methodologies, which is why there are two different answers. Yes, AFCitizens and candidate Allen Simpson are passing out fliers around town touting that study.

But no, the study’s methodology is fatally flawed. And no, it’s not hard to explain.

American Fork tax burden deception

In this section of the AFCitizens flier Allen Simpson is distributing, the thought bubble cites the bad study.

The study calculated the tax burden on residents of various cities by adding the total property and sales tax revenues in the city, then dividing that amount by the number of residents in the city. See the problem? Among other things, it assumes that the bulk of sales tax revenue collected in American Fork is paid by residents of American Fork. A little common sense should be enough to make us reject those results. Why it wasn’t enough to make the folks who are quoting it in the current city council campaign reject the study is a fair question.

I’ve talked with American Fork City and Utah State officials, and none of them knows of a credible recent study of these things, but it is widely estimated that well more than half of the sales tax revenue collected in American Fork comes from shoppers who live elsewhere. The City’s largest single source of sales tax revenue, a large auto dealership — which collects customer addresses — has reported that about 90 percent of the sales tax it collects in American Fork comes from nonresidents.

This means at least two things: The study has grossly overreported American Fork residents’ tax burden. — unless, of course, you believe that American Forkers pay as much sales tax in other cities as nonresidents pay in ours. And the candidate who is passing out the flier, Allen Simpson, either doesn’t care about the facts (because the falsehood serves his political purposes) or is not disposed to dive deeply enough into them to understand them. Either way, we have here a temperament that may be poorly suited to service on the city council.

And this isn’t even one of the hard ones.

If you have a few minutes, read the study yourself, and decide for yourself. It’s a lot longer than this post, but it’s still not long.

There’s another problem with this part of the AFCitizens flier. It’s more technical. They’re mixing numbers from two studies — adding them together — and we have no way of knowing (did they check?) whether the two studies used compatible methodologies, similar definitions, the same time frame, etc. This is almost certain to lead to unreliable results.

I agree that some things are more costly in American Fork than they should be — water rates, for one thing. We’ll talk about those, and one faction’s misrepresentation of them, very soon.

Oh, and one more thing. If you’re so inclined, please post this graphic on Facebook or link to it on Twitter. Or e-mail it to your friends in American Fork. Or all of the above.

Help us spread the word. Because good people with bad data make bad decisions.

Learn before you vote.

Learn before you vote.