FactCheck.org does it again. In their analysis of the Fair Tax proposal they pay close attention to the numbers and the spin placed on those numbers by Huckabee, Tancredo and Hunter. Some of what they have to say is reprinted below:
Americans for Fair Taxation offers the following plain-language interpretation of H.R. 25:
Americans for Fair Taxation: A 23-percent (of the tax-inclusive sales price) sales tax is imposed on all retail sales for personal consumption of new goods and services.
It is the parenthetical that is important, for it hides the real truth of the tax rate.
First consider the way in which sales tax is normally figured. A consumer good that carries a $100 price tag might be subject to a 5 percent sales tax. That means that the final bill for the item is $105. The 5 percent figure is the amount of tax that is charged on the original purchase price. But now suppose that instead of pricing the item at $100, the shop owner simply priced the item at $105, then sent $5 directly to the state. The $105 price would be a tax-inclusive sales price. But $5 is just 4.8 percent of $105. That 4.8 percent number, however, is relatively meaningless. You are still paying exactly the same 5 percent tax on the item.
The 23 percent number in H.R. 25 is the equivalent of the 4.8 percent in the previous example. To calculate the real rate of the sales tax, we have to determine the original purchase price of an item. We can begin with the same $100 item, keeping in mind that a price tag that reads $100 has sales tax already built in. If our tax rate is 23 percent of the tax-inclusive sales price, then of the $100 final price, $23 of those dollars will be for taxes, meaning that the original pre-tax price of the item is $77. To get $23 in taxes on a $77 item, one must impose a 30 percent tax. In other words, a 23 percent sales tax on the tax-inclusive sales price is equivalent to a 30 percent tax on the actual price of the item.
FairTax proponents object to the 30 percent number, claiming that critics use the larger number to frighten people. Americans for Fair Taxation claims that it uses the tax-inclusive number to make it easier to compare the FairTax to the income tax that it will replace (since most of us think of income tax rates on an inclusive basis). But we are not accustomed to thinking of sales taxes inclusively. The result is that many FairTax supporters (about 15 percent of those who wrote to us, for example) do not understand that the 23 percent figure is tax inclusive.
Our analysis of the FairTax used a figure of 34 percent as the basic exclusive tax rate. One e-mailer complained that our number was at least 10 percentage points “higher than [the FairTax] is” because we calculated it as an addition to retail prices. But our 34 percent number is not 10 percentage points higher than the legislation. A 34 percent exclusive number is equivalent to a 25 percent tax inclusive rate – only 2 percentage points higher than the FairTax bill. We think that, intentional or not, the use of the tax-inclusive 23 percent rate has misled a lot of FairTax proponents.