If there is one topic on which the candidates for U.S. Senate in Connecticut have most consistently confused voters, it is the issue of federal income taxes. And Republican Linda McMahon continues that trend with a television ad revisiting familiar ground on taxes as well as job creation.
“On key issues, compare the candidates,” the narrator instructs. “On cutting middle-class taxes, Linda McMahon’s plan saves the average Connecticut family $500 a month. But Congressman Chris Murphy voted to raise middle-class taxes three times.”
We’ve evaluated — and challenged — the first part of that assertion multiple times, but the campaign continues to make the claim, albeit with slight modifications. For the record, under no scenario does McMahon’s plan save the average Connecticut family $500 a month, and there are two flaws with the campaign’s calculation.
First, to reach that savings figure, the campaign selected a family income of $125,000 to represent the average family in the state. But that income amount is far higher than the actual average family income, and using an artificially high income figure significantly overstates the savings.
Moreover, the purported savings do not represent a cut from a family’s current tax liability, but rather a reduction compared to what a family would pay next year if the Bush-era tax cuts are allowed to expire at the end of 2012, leading to an across-the-board jump in taxes.
In this television spot, the McMahon campaign has attempted to mitigate that problem by adding a disclaimer in small type, noting that the savings are “Beginning in 2013.” But in the absence of a clear disclosure that the savings are based on a possible future jump in tax rates, it is misleading to tout that savings calculation.
McMahon’s plan does provide a cut in taxes for families earning between roughly $70,000 and $140,000. But the average Connecticut family would see a savings of no more than about $82 a month — not $500. And the “typical” Connecticut family — earning the median family income in the state — would see little or no change under her tax plan.
The McMahon campaign has vigorously defended its methodology, saying that because the Bush tax cuts are set to automatically expire at the end of this year unless Congress acts, it would be illegitimate to compare her plan to anything other than the post-expiration tax rates.
But that insistence has not extended to the campaign’s analysis of Murphy’s votes on taxes. The McMahon ad cites three Congressional votes to support its assertion that Murphy voted to raise middle-class taxes three times. One of those was the vote approving the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — which Murphy supported and which includes what has since been defined as a tax penalty for those who do not obtain insurance.
The other two votes were more traditional taxation votes: considering bills to extend the Bush tax rates beyond the end of the year. Republicans had been unified in favoring the extension, while many Democrats favored extending the lower rates only for families earning less than $250,000 a year.
Murphy was among those who opposed extending the cuts for wealthy taxpayers, and he voted in August, as well as in December 2010, against bills that extended the tax cuts for all. Both bills passed.
It is not a fair claim to assert that Murphy’s ‘no’ vote last August amounted to a vote to raise taxes on middle-class Americans, as the vote on that bill was not Congress’ only opportunity to consider extending the rates before the session ended.
The McMahon camp is on more solid ground with the December 2010 vote. That vote came right before Congress was recessing for the year, and had the bill been rejected, rates would have jumped the following January for all taxpayers, including the middle class, even if only temporarily until Congress worked out a compromise.
But is a vote to allow the Bush tax cuts to expire a vote to “raise” taxes? We deem that the most reasonable description, given how long the lower rates have been in effect. But it’s the opposite of the approach the McMahon campaign took in calculating the savings from her tax plan.
In short, the McMahon campaign is attempting to have it both ways. When evaluating the impact of her plan, the campaign set the baseline as the rates that would be in effect if the Bush tax cuts expire, thereby boosting the apparent savings. But when evaluating the impact of Murphy’s votes, the campaign set the baseline as the rates currently in effect, allowing them to say he voted to raise taxes.
Which is it? As noted above, in the absence of a clear disclaimer to the contrary, most voters will define tax increases and tax cuts as changes to what they are currently paying. As such, McMahon’s figures for her own tax plan are insupportable, and only the December 2010 vote can fairly be described as a vote to raise taxes on the middle class. (The Obamacare vote is more complicated, as most middle-class families will not pay a tax penalty under the law, and the penalty was not a “tax” at the time Congress passed the law.)
The ad also takes up the issue of job creation, with the narrator proclaiming: “Linda created 600 good Connecticut jobs, and has a detailed jobs plan. Murphy is a career politician and his jobs plan is still a ‘work in progress.’ “
Those 600 jobs, of course, are a reference to McMahon’s former role as CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, based in Stamford. As noted before in this space, public records indicate that WWE’s Connecticut employment during McMahon’s tenure likely peaked at close to — but not quite — 600 jobs.
As for the rest of the claim, McMahon does have a jobs plan at www.lindasplan.com, and her campaign is free to describe it as “detailed.” That’s a matter of opinion not subject to fact-checking.
And Murphy was quoted last June as saying his jobs plan was a “work in progress.” Murphy’s campaign has insisted that line means only that his plan is, by design, in a state of perpetual revision and improvement. But the quote is accurate, and it is not out-of-bounds for the McMahon campaign to use it to advance the claim that her jobs plan is more polished that her opponent’s. That, too, is a subjective judgment beyond the scope of Claim Check.
But the key assertions in this spot relate to taxes, and on that topic, the McMahon campaign continues to make claims that fail under scrutiny. As such, we rate this ad “Significantly Misleading.”
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