From The Washington Post -- October 26, 2011:
Reported by Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker “truth squads” statements by political figures regarding issues of great importance, be they national, international. As the 2012 campaign heats up, Glenn will increasingly focus on statements made by the candidates.
Rick Perry’s flat tax plan, built on misleading statistics
By Glenn Kessler
“Central to my plan is giving every American the option of throwing out that 3 million words of the current tax code and, I might, add, the cost of complying with all of that code in order to pay a 20 percent flat tax on their income. You know, the size of the current code is more than 72,000 pages. That's represented by this pallet right over here and the reams of paper. That's what the current tax code looks like.”
— Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Oct. 25, 2011
Rick Perry, trying to relaunch his sagging campaign, on Tuesday announced that he would push for an optional 20-percent flat tax. We will leave the merits of such a system to other analysts, but the key to his argument is that such a system would be so simple that taxpayers could file their return on a post card.
So we were struck by his use of two figures — 72,000 pages and the 3 million words of the tax code — as a way to illustrate the complexity of the current system. He even pointed to 72,000 pages of paper before holding up a post card he had stuffed in his jacket pocket.
We are always suspicious when politicians mention page numbers. Are these numbers correct?
Anyone with basic math skills would instantly notice there is a disconnect between those numbers. If you divide 3 million words by 72,000 pages, that would mean 42 words per page. That’s rather big type.
It turns out that Perry is talking about two different things — and one of them is wrong. The 72,000-page figure comes from the number of pages for something called the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter, a 25-volume set of binders with loose-leaf pages.
The Tax Reporter includes the tax code but also regulations, court rulings and analysis by CCH editors discussing the impact of those laws and regulations. Court rulings still in effect from 1913 would be there, as would any new case law. Every year, new pages are added as new court cases and statutes affect the current tax law.
“It is much more than the code,” said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst at CCH.
CCH, the company that publishes the Tax Reporter, does publish a chart showing that the “tax law keeps piling up.” But, again, that’s not the tax code.
The “tax code” is Title 26 of the United States Code, which is the codification of federal laws. There are various organizations, including CCH, that publish the code, often in small type with double columns. The CCH version is 5,280 pages, another version by RIA is 4,052 pages. The number of pages really depends on the size of the type and the pages.
According to an on-line version of Title 26, it totals about 3.4 million words.
We sought a comment from the Perry campaign but did not receive one.
The Pinocchio Test
We’re always suspicious when politicians start talking about how many pages are in a law. It’s really pretty meaningless, and dependent on so many factors. And, let’s face it, the United States is a big country and is likely to have a complex tax code. It certainly can be made simpler, but a word count and page count is not an indication of complexity.
In this case, Perry also managed to mix up his facts, taking a word count for the tax code and page count for something completely different. The overall effect is pretty misleading. Even a relaunched campaign needs better staff work than that.