The Washington Post is again writing stories about taxes and quoting James Parmelee, who is identified as “president of a tax relief group in Fairfax County.” What he is, is president of the Northern Virginia Republican Political Action Committee.

He’s also a usual suspect for lazy reporters at The Post. A Lexis-Nexis search for his name over the past two years will turn up over 60 hits, meaning this guy is in The Post an average of every other week. Peter Whoriskey apparently can’t find anyone with anything more constructive to say that the predictable observations of Parmelee.

We all know why. Reporters call him not for any insight into the issue, but for a reliable “Our taxes are too high” quote. They know what he’ll say and he says it.

But what’s more appalling about this story is its slant of some issues and ignorance of others. One is the cyclical nature of real estate increases. At the very end of the article (by which time many readers have stopped reading), Whoriskey makes mention of the fact that before the spike in taxes the last few years, there was a long period of flat taxes.

The increases in recent years, however, are more than making up for lost time. Even taking into account the last 10 years of taxes and taking out the effects of inflation, average home tax bills in Fairfax County have risen about 70 percent.

That’s true, but there was another five years before that when taxes were flat. When accounting for the last 15 years, the average increase is a lot lower. In fact, after a decade of declining real estate taxes, Fairfax County reports that it wasn’t until 2002 that they climbed back to the level they were in 1991.

Since FY 2000, Real Estate Taxes have increased $2,173.82 or an average annual increase of 11.3 percent per year, not adjusting for inflation. Adjusted for inflation, Real Estate Taxes per “typical” household are $1,749.21 higher than FY 2000, an average annual increase of 8.3 percent. Since FY 1991, Real Estate Taxes have increased an average of 2.5 percent per year after adjusting for inflation. The Real Estate Tax rate is proposed to decrease from $1.13 per $100 of assessed value to $1.03 per $100 of assessed value in FY 2006. This tax decrease represents a savings of $444.77 per “typical” household as compared to the rate of $1.13 per $100 of assessed value.

The Post article also make no mention of the declining share of corporate taxes.

Supervisor Sharon S. Bulova (D-Braddock) called the budget “a sea change from years past” because sources of revenue other than residential real estate rose. Commercial real estate, for instance, rebounded after a three-year slump and gained 12.7 percent in value.

(Yes, Parmelee is quoted in this story, too.)

I don’t have the link, but here’s the article from last month that goes into more detail.

While Fairfax County residents are talking about a fifth straight year of double-digit increases in home values, there is a bit of good news for homeowners, who pay the biggest share of the county’s taxes: Commercial real estate assessments soared in 2004, reversing years of decline or almost no change.

If it continues, the suddenly hot real estate market for offices, stores, hotels and other commercial property eventually could help ease the tax burden on homeowners, county officials said.

Noting the 12.74 percent average increase in commercial assessments, County Executive Anthony H. Griffin said, “This is important, because it may represent the beginnings of a shift, albeit slight, in the burden shouldered predominantly by the residential taxpayer over the past few years.”

…Commercial real estate taxes contributed only 17.4 percent of the county’s tax base this year, the smallest percentage in at least 15 years.

Read that again: Smallest percentage in at least 15 years.

The worse offense in this article is that there is virtually no mention of the declining state share of expenditures or declining federal taxes. As I wrote two years ago in a column in The Post, then the federal tax cuts and the car tax cut more than made up for the increase in real estate taxes. I’d be surprised if the numbers weren’t still a true picture of tax burdens.

But every year at this time, The Post feels compelled to write a story about taxes being too high, even if it’s a small group, led by Parmelee and other paid GOP hacks, that complain.

But the allow The Post writers and editors to go on auto-pilot.