Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Family Economic Security > Per capita, Vermonters have a lot of fun

Per capita, Vermonters have a lot of fun

According to the latest report from the Vermont Ski Areas Association, everybody in Vermont spent nearly a week on the slopes last winter. Or at least that’s how the information would have been cast if the subject had been taxes instead of skier visits.

The report released last week was the annual tally of the number of people who visited Vermont’s 19 ski areas. The total for the 2009-10 ski season was 4,125,082 visits. According to the Vermont Ski Areas Association, that was an increase of 1.4 percent over the previous season.

If you divide those 4.1 million skier visits by the population of Vermont, you get 6.6 visits per capita. From there, we might speculate on the cost of all this skiing by Vermonters and whether they could really afford it.

But we know that would be a silly analysis because a lot of the skier visits were made by enthusiasts from New York, Quebec, Massachusetts, New Jersey and elsewhere.

When it comes to taxes, though, that is exactly how the calculation is frequently made. People take the total revenue collected by the state of Vermont and divide it by the population. This so-called “per capita tax burden” is presented as though it’s the amount paid by every man, woman and child in Vermont to support public services. It’s the figure the governor cites when he asserts that Vermont’s taxes are either the highest, among the highest, or just plain too high. But it’s a figure that paints a distorted picture, just as it would be a distortion to say that every Vermonter skied nearly seven days last winter.

Total revenue collected by Vermont includes sales taxes and rooms and meals taxes paid by those same people who are making the skier visits. It includes property taxes paid by businesses, like IBM and General Dynamics, and fuel taxes paid by drivers who are just passing through. In other words, total revenue includes money that is not paid by Vermont residents.

We don’t have good information on the amount of taxes paid just by Vermont residents. There is a study done by the District of Columbia that calculates taxes paid by various hypothetical taxpayers in the largest city in each state. According to that report, Burlington comes out in the middle of most rankings—not near the top. But we need more data. The governor and others typically point to Vermont’s top marginal income tax rate when they complain about taxes. That top marginal rate, which applies to very few filers, tells us nothing about the taxes paid by most Vermonters—just as skier visits tell us nothing about Vermonters’ skiing habits.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on June 15, 2010 at 3:51 pm

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