Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Elementary, you ink-stained wretch

Do newspaper reporters and editors have to flunk an elementary arithmetic test as a condition precedent to entering their particular lines of work?

Notice how this article in the Kitsap Sun approaches their favorite cause, i.e., higher taxes:

Libraries Seeking More Bang for Their Book Buck
On May 15, voters will be asked to increase the property tax rate by 18 cents, to maintain Kitsap Regional libraries.

By Andrew Binion
February 24, 2007


Facing increasing demand for services and decreasing dollars, the board that oversees the library system serving most of Kitsap County voted Thursday to ask taxpayers for more money.

Notice that the headline claims the Kitsap Regional Library seeks "more bang for their book buck," but this phrase is not being used in the ordinary sense. The library isn't seeking to become more efficient, and thereby get "more bang for its buck." Instead, the library is simply seeking more bucks from the taxpayers.

Notice also that the lead paragraph claims the library is "facing...decreasing dollars."

Now, read what the ninth paragraph in this article has to say about the library's revenue:

During the years from 2001 to 2006, total revenues rose by about 3.1 percent a year while expenditures increased by 8.77 percent a year. To cover increasing costs, the district has used reserve dollars.

The significance of 2001 is that it was the last year in which the library could increase its property tax levy by roughly 8 to 9 percent a year. In 2001, the voters approved Initiative 747, which lowered the limit on annual increases in regular levies. Since 2001, the average annual increase in the library's tax revenue has been about 3.5 percent. (The "total revenue" increase of about 3.1 percent resulted from a reduction in non-tax revenue. When the library spent its reserve funds, it no longer received the interest income. Other sources of non-tax income have not increased, so there has been a slight decline in this part of total revenue.)

So, the library's tax revenues have been increasing since 2001, but not as much as they had before Initiative 747 was approved by the voters. And, although non-tax revenue has not grown since then, total revenues have increased by an annual average of 3.1 percent.

But wait, didn't the lead paragraph claim that the library was faced with "decreasing dollars"?

How can this be? They have been getting more dollars, but the reporter claims they have been getting fewer dollars.

The answer seems to be one of two things. Either the Kitsap Sun is attempting to mislead, or neither the reporter nor the editors can do elementary arithmetic -- even as elementary as recognizing that an increase is not a decrease.

Soon, the editorial opinion piece urging voters to approve the increase will appear in the Kitsap Sun. Will it, too, misstate the situation by claiming that the library has suffered a decline in its total revenue?

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