The Los Angeles Times ran columnist Michael Hiltzik’s story on the Legislative Analyst’s Office new report on Proposition 13 Monday but someone glancing at the print headline as opposed to the online headline would come away with a different impression.

The print headline read: Prop 13’s effects remain unclear.

The digital headline read: Four decades later, California experts find that Proposition 13 is a boon to the rich.

Hiltzik, no fan of Prop 13, discussed the many questions the Legislative Analyst Office attempted to answer about Proposition 13. His conclusion was that the “impact of Proposition 13 remains unknown.” That conclusion is consistent with the print headline.

The columnist did use the phrase that the measure had been a “boon to wealthier Californians.” But he added the common sense explanation offered by the report’s authors: “Because higher-income households own more, higher-value homes and Proposition 13 tax relief is proportionate to home wealth, the majority of Proposition 13 tax relief goes to higher-income households.”

Why the different headlines that carry quite different messages? One might think that there was an agenda behind the digital headline.

Headlines were not the only points that left a misimpression.

Left unsaid by either Hiltzik or the LAO report is that the higher-income households also pay higher income taxes under California’s steeply progressive tax structure.

Hiltzik, an advocate for a split-roll property tax that would tax commercial property differently from residential property, (as he pushed in this 2009 column) did bring up the issue Monday. But, he was more defensive this time around since the LAO said that the share of overall property taxes burden rose slightly for homeowners from 32% to 37%. The report added that the increase could possibly be explained by growth in the number of homes built over the years. This explanation contradicts the charge made by split roll advocates that the overall property tax burden has increased greatly on residential property taxpayers.

The columnist wrote there was not enough information to determine the tax burden percentages, especially, he wrote, because business can hide ownership changes by dividing ownership between different partners. He pulled out the go-to example for advocates of the split roll, Michael Dell’s purchase of a Santa Monica luxury hotel dividing ownership between his wife and other partners. Hiltzik noted that legislators tried to close the Dell loophole, “but as often happens with efforts to trim provisions of Proposition 13, their bill failed.”

Good as far as it goes but the columnist left out the rest of the story. First, the bill would deal with post-Proposition 13 statutes that defined change of ownership, not Prop 13 itself. Second, supporters of Proposition 13 generally supported the bill. Third, it was killed because unions and those who want to achieve a split roll so as to see big tax increases sought to kill the bill so the Dell example could be kept alive.

Leaving out facts or altering headlines can change the meaning of a story.