THE RACE: Pennsylvania governor.
THE CANDIDATES: Incumbent Republican Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolf.
THE AD: "More and Less," a 30-second Corbett television commercial in which an actress accuses Wolf of threatening to raise the income tax while he, as a millionaire, pays less than his share of personal and business taxes.
VOICE-OVER: "Millionaire Tom Wolf says as governor he'll raise the state income tax on many middle class Pennsylvania families. Wolf thinks these hard-working Pennsylvania just aren't paying their fair share. The same Tom Wolf made over a million dollars some years, but paid a tax rate half of what the average Pennsylvanian paid. And [he] moved his company to Delaware to keep from paying his fair share of Pennsylvania taxes. Tom Wolf, higher taxes for you, less taxes for him."
VISUALS: Black-and-white video footage of Wolf testifying at a budget hearing as state Revenue secretary and celebrating his primary win in May. The black-and-white videos are juxtaposed with color videos of families fretting over bills. The primary election footage runs in slow motion while viewers see text that claims the "average Pennsylvanian" paid 18.1 percent in taxes [and] "mufti-millionaire Tom Wolf" paid 8 percent.
The Corbett camp takes a page from the Democratic Party's 2012 presidential campaign playbook. That year supporters of President Barack Obama criticized Republican candidate Mitt Romney as a rich man who uses tax loopholes to reduce his tax burden compared to the vast majority of Americans.
The Corbett ad does not indicate which tax year it is referring to by claiming Wolf pays far less than the national average. But in interviews, Corbett campaign spokesman Chris Pack said the ad refers to 2010, the last year the Congressional Budget Office published national tax data in its "Distribution of Household Income and Federal Taxes, 2010" report.
The ad, however, is misrepresenting the CBO data and painting a distorted picture of Wolf's personal income tax level.
The CBO report calculated the "average federal tax rate" for all household income brackets by dividing federal tax liabilities by before-tax income. The report does not break down the national average to state levels.
The CBO estimated the average household income brackets at 18.1 percent in 2010. That overall average is a total of: 7.7 percent personal income taxes for households, 7.7 percent for business payroll taxes, 2.1 percent in corporate income taxes and 0.6 percent in excise taxes on specific goods such as gasoline, alcohol, and tobacco.
Individuals and couples, no matter their income bracket, only report personal income on annual Internal Revenue Service statements. They do not report corporate, payroll and excise taxes.
CBO factored them into its overall household average using statistical models. CBO estimates how much the various income brackets may have earned in corporate taxes and how payroll taxes lower workers' take-home pay. CBO also estimates how much the various income brackets of households consume in goods that carry excise taxes.
Although CBO uses four taxes to come up with its overall average, it would be incorrect and misleading to compare that overall tax to a person's personal income tax statements, said Kyle Pomerleau, an economist at the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit in Washington, D.C.
That's what the Corbett ad does to accuse Wolf of not paying his fair share of personal taxes.
A more accurate apples-to-apples comparison would be to compare Wolf's tax rate to the 7.7 percent personal income tax average paid by all earners, said Pomerleau, who reviewed Wolf's previously released 2010 IRS statement for The Morning Call.
In 2010, Wolf and his wife, Frances, reported gross adjustable income of about $1.4 million and paid $107,824 in taxes. That equates to a 7.6 percent tax rate, which is near equal to the national average.
By comparison, the lowest income earners [$24,100], paid an average effective federal income tax of negative 9.2 percent; middle income earners [$65,400] paid 1.6 percent; and top earners like Wolf and his wife, 20.1 percent, according to CBO.
The ad would have been accurate if it said Wolf paid a far lower tax rate than other rich people who make up the top 1 percent of earners by having income of at least $1.4 million.
The ad's claim that Wolf wants to raise income taxes is accurate for some, not all, workers. Part of Wolf's tax plan calls for exempting a portion of workers' pay from state income taxes, which would create a higher income tax for wealthier workers and a tax break for those who earn less. Wolf has not released specific details about his plan.
The ad's last claim about Wolf moving his company to Delaware is hard to pin down. The company is physically located in York but does have subsidiaries in Delaware, which has more business friendly laws and tax rules. Wolf and his partners are not releasing corporate tax information, so it is unknown whether the company is trying to reduce its Pennsylvania tax burden to Delaware.
VERDICT: Mixed. The personal income claim is misleading; the income tax hike for workers claim is accurate based on available information; and the Delaware claim cannot be proven accurate or false.
— Steve Esack, Morning Call Harrisburg BureauCopyright © 2015, CT Now