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Selective information

Jim Risch

Jim Risch

The trick in evaluating statements – from print ads and TV spots to brochures – from political campaigns isn’t in searching out the lies. Candidates, at least the smarter ones, don’t do a lot of that: Lies are too easily uncovered. What happens a lot more often (and you hear it daily in the political radio talk shows) is selective release of information, telling you just part of the story.

So Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco isn’t right in saying, as he does of probable Republican nominee Jim Risch‘s new tax-focused video spot, that “It’s a lie.” But it isn’t entirely honest, either.

In 2006 Risch served as governor and called a special legislative session to address taxes, especially rising property taxes. Against some odds, and with considerable skill, he persuaded legislators to pass a bill addressing that. His video spot says that “As governor, I delivered the largest tax cut in the state’s history,” on property taxes, and this year supported a grocery tax cut as well. (Check out the spot; it’s neatly made.)

This is accurate, even if the largest-in-state-history part is debatable, depending on what sort of metric you use.

What he doesn’t say, and what you have to know to evaluate this properly, is that the tax cut was effectively paid for with a sales tax increase – the reason Idahoans now pay six cents on the dollar instead of five.

Even that doesn’t perfectly explain the situation, because after accounting for both tax changes, a cut of somewhere around $30 million probably resulted. (The chief state economist, Mike Ferguson, was quoted in the Idaho Statesman: “In general, looking at overarching policy, [tax shift] is probably closer to the truth.”) Except – here’s round four – that some tax deductions for property taxes probably were lost in the shift, so the actual number is probably less than that. And – round five – that the tax change hit different people very differently: Some people wind up paying more taxes, and some less, depending on their income, spending and the value of the property they own.

We have no idea how you properly incorporate all that into a 30-second spot. One more reason not to settle for what you learn from the spots spun out by a candidate, any candidate.

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