I t's a hoot. Really it is.
One day we're told the state of Pennsylvania has been ranked one of the top states in the nation -- in the top five -- for, of all things, open government.
Then the next day, more news about the state.
This time it's not nearly so complimentary, not nearly so rosy.
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center released the information last Wednesday, but it was based on a study done by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
And actually, it's a lot more believable to me, and probably to most people living, working and trying to make ends meet in this state, than the "transparency" news.
According to ITEP, working families in Pennsylvania pay a far higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the state's wealthiest earners.
I doubt that's going to shock many people.
Here's the kicker: The ITEP report finds Pennsylvania has one of the 10 worst state tax systems in the country.
That's not going to surprise too many of us, either. Not if we've lived here for any length of time.
"Pennsylvania's tax system scored so poorly that it made the list of the "Terrible 10" most regressive tax states in the nation," the budget and policy center report noted.
"No one would deliberately design a tax system where low-income working families pay the greatest share of their income in taxes, but that is exactly the type of upside-down tax system we have in Pennsylvania," said Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.
The study was an examination of state and local taxes across the United States. Pennsylvania's tax system was ranked the eighth-worst in the nation.
What does it mean when a tax system is "regressive," which is what the study says Pennsylvania's system is? It means taxes in this state hit the poor and middle-class disproportionately harder than they hit those with higher incomes.
Working and poor families get hit hardest. The advantage goes to the wealthiest taxpayers.
How so? you might ask. Well, the ITEP study reveals that middle-income families in Pennsylvania "pay more than double the share of their income in taxes than the very wealthiest Pennsylvanians, while low-income families pay nearly three times as much."
You want to hear more about this study? Try this on for size:
Pennsylvania taxpayers earning less than $19,000 a year -- the poorest fifth of taxpayers -- "pay 12 percent of their income in state and local taxes."
And those of us in the middle of the pack? "Middle-income taxpayers -- those earning between $36,000 and $58,000 -- pay 10.1 percent of their income in state and local taxes."
And the richest among us? Those with average income of around $1 million -- the richest 1 percent of taxpayers -- "pay only 4.4 percent of their income in state and local taxes."
Those states that are even worse than Pennsylvania are: Washington, Florida, South Dakota, Illinois, Texas, Tennessee and Arizona.
Interestingly enough, two of those five -- Washington and Illinois -- are ranked in the top-5 best states for transparency along with Pennsylvania. And Texas is sixth on that list.
I'm not sure what that means, if anything.
Perhaps that it's OK to tax the daylights out of people as long as you're willing to show them the books.
I'm not buying that, mind you.
And just in case you were wondering which state has the least regressive tax system in the country -- it's Vermont, which is also one of the worst states when it comes to transparency.
Maybe it means you can't have it both ways -- a decent, progressive tax system and open government.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.