An Important Line Separates Analysis, Opinion

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Byline: Jim Slusher

Is there a difference between analysis and opinion?

Yes, there is, and it's an important distinction for news consumers to think about. A good place to start the reflection this week would be with Suburban Tax Watchdog Jake Griffin's examination Wednesday of the workings of the Local Government Distributive Fund in Illinois.

The LGDF is our state's process for returning to municipalities some of the income taxes collected by the state. Many municipal leaders trace its roots to the debate over property tax relief, assigning its origins to lawmakers' desires to help local communities resist the pressure to increase property taxes by returning to them some of the income taxes their citizens pay.

As Griffin showed, that is not an entirely egalitarian process. True, money is returned to municipalities as a fixed amount per resident. But it is collected in the first place based on the wealth of individual taxpayers. Thus, towns with higher-wage earners like Oak Brook, Barrington, Libertyville or Arlington Heights receive less than 5 percent of what their citizens paid in while less-affluent communities like parts of Aurora, Bensenville, Carpentersville or Waukegan receive returns in the double figures -- as much as 25 percent in rare instances.

Is this practice good or bad? The answer to that question is an opinion, and yours may depend on how you read the numbers, how you define the purpose of taxation, how you evaluate fairness as it applies to taxation and many other factors. But the analysis -- the simple collection and presentation of the facts -- stops short of that point. You would be hard pressed to determine Griffin's personal opinion about the value or merits of the LGDF process from Wednesday's story. …