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PoliGraph: The rich pay less - An accurate claim by Dayton

Accurate image.GIFBy Catharine Richert

"Tax the rich" is the mantra of Mark Dayton's campaign.

The former U.S. Senator promises to increase taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans if elected governor. To sell his plan, Dayton needs to convince voters that the richest aren't paying enough.

Here's a claim from his Web site:

"Minnesota's wealthiest citizens pay only two-thirds of their fair share of state and local taxes."

Dayton's claim is more or less correct; in terms of percentage of income, the richest Minnesotans pay less in taxes than most.

The Evidence

Dayton's campaign pointed to a 2009 study by the Minnesota Department of Revenue on how much residents pay in state and local taxes.

According to the report's 2011 projections, the top 1 percent of earners in the state - those making more than $480,000 a year - give between 7.7 and 8.8 percent of their income to the state. That's compared to an average 12.5 percent paid by the bottom 90 percent of households, or those making less than $136,954 annually.

After that, the math is simple: divide the average percent of income paid by the wealthiest by the average paid by everyone else, and it's exactly two-thirds.

The Dayton campaign compares the top 1 percent with the bottom 90 percent, which leaves out a swath of taxpayers, said Paul Wilson, Director of Tax Research for the revenue department. Comparing the top 10 percent - those making more than $136,955 -- with the bottom 90 percent would show that the wealthiest pay an average of three-fourths of what most pay.

Brian Klaas, Dayton's policy director, said that their comparison aims to show how the very richest fare under Minnesota's tax structure. Indeed, social scientists say that such a comparison is commonly used to measure income inequality.

The Verdict

Wilson agrees with Dayton's overall analysis.

"Wealthiest is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "The basic message of the statement is correct."

As a result, Dayton's passes his first PoliGraph test.


Markdayton.org, Taxes, accessed May 12, 2010

The Minnesota Department of Revenue, 2009 Minnesota Tax Incidence Study, accessed May 12, 2010

MPR, Fee - 'it's not a tax' - could hit smokers, by Laura McCallum, May 20, 2005

Phone interview with Paul Wilson, Director of Tax Research, Minnesota Department of Revenue, May 11, 2010

E-mail interview with Gregory Joseph, Communications Direct for Mark Dayton for a Better Minnesota, April 29, 2010

Phone interview with Brian Klaas, Policy Director for Mark Dayton for a Better Minnesota, May 10, 2010

Phone interview with Tim Taylor, Managing Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, May 13, 2010

Phone interview with Lane Kenworthy, Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona, May 13, 2010

PoliGraph is a regular series of reports that checks the veracity of politicians' claims. It is a collaboration between Minnesota Public Radio News and the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota.

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