YDR Insider

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How and why we created our interactive tax calculator for Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed big changes to Pennsylvania’s taxes.

We wanted to help people understand them. So we created an interactive calculator for York County residents.

Here’s a look at how we did it and some other things we could do in the future.

The team >> Joel Shannon, innovation editor; Brad Jennings, assistant managing editor for presentation and digital innovation; Scott Blanchard, Sunday editor; and me.

The taxes >> We focused on four big proposed tax changes: cutting school property taxes; raising the personal income tax rate from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent; raising the state sales and use tax rate from 6 percent to 6.6 percent; and expanding what is covered by the state sales and use tax.

The challenges >> Figuring out what people would pay because of the state sales and use tax rate increase and expansion was the trickiest piece. As we noted in our methodology, we decided to let you put in a number for what you expect to spend on daycare, candy, baseball tickets and other things that would become subject to the state sales tax under Wolf’s plan.

The math for the property tax and personal income tax took a lot of steps, but it was relatively straightforward.

Other challenges? Joel handled the tech side. One key thing he did was to make sure the calculator would be easy to read and use on a mobile phone.

The launch >> We posted it online early Friday evening. We started promoting it heavily over the weekend and on Monday.

The result >> So far, the tax calculator seems pretty popular.

It has more views than many other Wolf-related stories this year, and it’s approaching the same number of views as our Wolf Tracker site. One reason for that may be because people are using the tool multiple times.

What’s next in the short term >> We are working on expanding the tax calculator, including to cover more counties.

What’s next in the long term >> This kind of interactive would be handy when looking at school property tax votes by school boards or property tax votes by county commissioners. And the math would be simpler, which means we could having charts pop up after you enter the results.

Lessons >> Demos, not memos.

We gave ourselves some time to let other staff members test out the site and see if any problems popped up.

People seem to like interactive sites, which is good, because I think they are both entertaining and informative.