February 25, 2017

County Board Votes to Advertise 2-cent RE Tax Increase

Here's the bad news, according to today's county press release: "The Arlington County Board today voted 3 to 2 to advertise a property tax rate for Calendar Year (CY) 2017 of $0.998 per $100 assessed value, not including the $0.013 stormwater tax rate. The advertised rate is two cents higher than the current property tax rate."

The press release also said:

"The County Manager had recommended a two-cent increase in the property tax rate specifically to address the “extraordinary” funding needs of Metro and enrollment growth in the Arlington Public Schools. The County Board accepted that recommendation in choosing a maximum tax rate to advertise. In addition, the Board directed the County Manager to prepare and distribute a package of potential budget reductions prior to the public budget hearing.

“Today we received the Manager’s proposed budget, and we set the maximum tax rates and fees that we can consider. Now the responsibility shifts to us. This is the start of the Board’s conversation with the public about priorities for FY 2018,” said Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette. “For the next nearly two months, we will be scrubbing the Manager’s proposed budget and listening to the community.”

As a result of the Board's action today, the Board cannot adopt an FY 2018 budget requiring a larger real estate tax increase. As noted in the press release, "Rate adopted in April will be at or below advertised rate."

Arlington County taxpayers can review the Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget on the FY 2018 Budget Information Page. The page includes links to the following information:

  • FY 2018 Proposed Budget
  • FY 2018 Budget Planning
  • County Board Budget Work Sessions
  • Non-Profit Summary
  • Helpful Resources (especially helpful is the spreadsheet of revenue sources)
  • Related Documents
  • Budget Feedback Form

For other news reporting on the Manager's FY 2018 proposed budget, see our updated February 23, 2017 Growls.

February 24, 2017

300+ Scientists Urge Exit from U.N. Climate Agreement

In today's Washington Times, Valerie Richardson writes, "More than 300 scientists have urged President Trump to withdraw from the U.N.’s climate change agency, warning that its push to curtail carbon dioxide threatens to exacerbate poverty without improving the environment."

She continues by explaining:

"In a Thursday letter to the president, MIT professor emeritus Richard Lindzen called on the United States and other nations to “change course on an outdated international agreement that targets minor greenhouse gases,” starting with carbon dioxide.

“Since 2009, the US and other governments have undertaken actions with respect to global climate that are not scientifically justified and that already have, and will continue to cause serious social and economic harm — with no environmental benefits,” said Mr. Lindzen, a prominent atmospheric physicist.

"Signers of the attached petition include the U.S. and international atmospheric scientists, meteorologists, physicists, professors and others taking issue with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC], which was formed in 1992 to combat “dangerous” climate change.

"The 2016 Paris climate accord, which sets nonbinding emissions goals for nations, was drawn up under the auspices of the UNFCCC.

“Observations since the UNFCCC was written 25 years ago show that warming from increased atmospheric CO2 will be benign — much less than initial model predictions,” says the petition."

She concludes, writing:

"Challenging the catastrophic climate change narrative, Mr. Lindzen describes carbon dioxide as “plant food, not poison.”

“Restricting access to fossil fuels has very negative effects upon the wellbeing of people around the world,” he says in his letter.

“It condemns over 4 billion people in still underdeveloped countries to continued poverty.”

The Washington Examiner's John Siciliano also reported on the 300 scientists' letter, noting:

"The scientists offered their expertise to the administration on evaluating climate change facts. "It is especially important for members of your administrative team to hear from people like the signers of this letter, with the training needed to evaluate climate facts, and to offer sound advice," the letter read. "Climate discussions have long been political debates — not scientific discussions — over whether citizens or bureaucrats should control energy, natural resources and other assets."

"The letter and petition were also distributed to offices on Capitol Hill."

Finally, at Climate Depot, Marc Morano links to a story in The Hill that reports on the scientists' letter.

Growls readers are urged to provide your views on global warming to your member of Congress. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

February 23, 2017

Arlington County Manager Proposes 2 Cents Tax Increase

ARLnow.com has an updated version of their report of the Arlington County Manager's presentation today of his proposed FY 2018 budget to the Arlington County Board. Their lede said, "A new $1.2 billion budget proposed by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz would boost core services — road paving, streetlight maintenance, public safety, schools and Metro — while raising property taxes to the highest rate since 2001."

Here's the essence of ARLnow.com's report:

"Spending under Schwartz’s proposal — drafted with guidance from the County Board — would increase 4.3 percent, while the tax rate would increase by two cents, from $0.991 to $1.011 for every $100 in assessed. That would be Arlington’s highest property tax rate since 2001, when it was $1.023.

"The rate increase would come on top of rising property assessments — up 2.9 percent this year. The total tax and fee burden on the average Arlington homeowner would rise by $308 to $8,613 under Schwartz’s proposal, which will now be considered by the County Board after a series of work sessions and public hearings. That’s up from $7,745 three years ago, in 2014.

"Final adoption of the new budget is scheduled for April 22, while the Arlington Public Schools budget — Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy is presenting his proposed budget tonight — is scheduled to be adopted on May 4."

The local news portal added:

"The two-cent rate increase itself is expected to bring in an additional $14.8 million in on-going revenue. Much of that is earmarked by Schwartz for an overall $21.2 million increase in funding for Arlington Public Schools, which is experiencing a prolonged period of enrollment growth, and additional funding for Metro, which is also set to receive $22 million in bond funds from Arlington for capital projects.

“It is never easy to recommend an increase in property tax rates, but Metro and our public schools are both vitally important to our County’s continued prosperity, and both are in urgent need of additional funding,” Schwartz said in a press release.

"Other areas of spending increases, as outlined in the press release and in a press briefing Thursday morning, include streetlight maintenance, road paving, facilities maintenance, land acquisition, public safety and economic development.

"Schwartz said streetlight maintenance and road maintenance, in particular, were identified as top priorities in resident satisfaction surveys."

The county's press release about the Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget included five bullet points:

  • Two-cent property tax rate increase recommended to fund Metro, APS “extraordinary needs”
  • Up to $22 million increase in proposed Schools funding
  • $7.4 million increase in Metro funding
  • County operations kept at current level of services
  • More funding for streetlight maintenance, street paving, public safety

The press release points to the FY 2018 budget information page for much, much more information. At the moment, the two most important links are:

There are 58 reader comments at the moment, but collette's comment seems the  most appropriate, i.e., "County Residents Propose Firing County Manager." Also, tburger asks, "Why are county employees getting a 3.25% increase in salary...that easily doubles the current inflation rate?" In addition, ARLnow.com reader JK points us to an April 9, 2015 Washington Business Journal story that highlights the fact that "Arlington households have the second-highest tax burden in the nation, according to NerdWallet."

Finally, mark your calendars for some important dates, as noted in the county press release, "The budget and tax/ fee hearings will be held on March 28 and March 30 and the Board will adopt the FY 2018 Budget on April 22."

Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers are encouraged to follow the Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget as it wends its way to becoming the Arlington County Board's adopted FY 2018 budget on April 22. If you wish further information about the Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget, or wish to comment on the budget, just click-on the following link to send the Board a message:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (2/25/17) The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan reported on the County Manager's proposed FY 2018, which included a proposal to increase the real estate tax rate by up to two cents, writing in part:

"County Manager Mark Schwartz said the 3 percent rise in property assessments this year will generate enough tax revenue to cover the county’s existing obligations and allow officials to shift money to pay for smaller initiatives without a tax hike.

"But paying for the “clearly extraordinary needs” of Metro and the Arlington public school system will require more money. “I never like advocating for tax increases or tax-rate increases, but both of these are critical priorities,” Schwartz said in a briefing before meeting with the county board."

UPDATE (2/25/17) The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey also reports on the County Manager's proposed "2-cent increase in the tax rate."

February 22, 2017

A Thought about Tax Complexity

"(T)axpayers appear to tolerate significant complexity in order to eliminate marginal horizontal inequity. More importantly, taxpayers generally are unwilling to sacrifice tax benefits to achieve simplicity."

~ Deborah H. Schenk

Source: page 123, "As Certain as Death: Quotations about Taxes," 2010 Edition, compiled by Jeffrey Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.


February 21, 2017

Household Debt at $12.58 Trillion, Near 2008 Peak

At the Washington Free Beacon on Sunday, Ali Meyer writes that "largely due to credit card and student loan debt," household debt now stands at $12.58 trillion, which is "just shy of its 2008 peak." She links to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Here's how she begins her reporting:

"Total household debt climbed by $226 billion in the fourth quarter of 2016, rising to $12.58 trillion, according to a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

"The $12.58 trillion in household debt today is only 0.8 percent shy of its 2008 peak at $12.68 trillion, when the United States was in a recession. The increase in debt in the fourth quarter of 2016 is the largest quarterly increase since the last quarter of 2013.

"Most of the increase was due to credit card debt, followed by student loans. According to the report, credit card balances increased by 4.3 percent since the previous quarter, and student loan balances increased by 2.4 percent.

"In the last quarter, credit card balances increased to $779 billion overall, while student loan debt balances rose to $1.31 trillion. The report also finds that 11.2 percent of student loan debt was 90 or more days delinquent or in default.

"The other contributors to household debt were auto loan balances and mortgage debt. While auto loan balances increased by 1.9 percent to $1.16 billion, mortgage debt increased by 1.6 percent to $8.48 trillion."

On January 13, 2017, we growled that the federal deficit  for the 4th calendar quarter of 2016 was $208 billion, leaving the national debt at just under $20 trillion on December 30, 2016.

As we growled on September 27, 2016, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget believes "the United States is more poorly equipped to handle the next recession than it was to handle the most recent one."

February 20, 2017

A Thought about George Washington

"[H]is was the singular destiny and merit, of leading the armies of his country successfully through an arduous war, for the establishment of its independence; of conducting its councils through the birth of a government, new in its forms and principles, until it had settled down into a quiet and orderly train; and of scrupulously obeying the laws through the whole of his career, civil and military, of which the history of the world furnishes no other example."

~ Thomas Jefferson on George Washington (1814)

Source: Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

                                             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The editors of The Patriot Post write today:

"In some circles, today is observed as “Presidents' Day,” jointly honoring Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln (some even extend the commemoration to all presidents), but it is still officially recognized as the anniversary of Washington’s birth. That is how we mark the date in our humble shop. (Washington’s actual birthday is Feb. 22.)"

February 19, 2017

How Big is America's "Big Government?"

Brookings Institution senior fellow John Dilullio introduced a paper last week that provides "10 questions and answers about America's Big Government" writing:

"The ongoing debate over the Trump administration’s plan to freeze federal hiring has thus far involved arguments and “alternative facts” from those on both sides of the question. This obscures certain hard truths about America’s “Big Government” and its real federal bureaucracy.  What follows is an (I hope brief and user-friendly but duly detailed) attempt to mediate that debate and spotlight certain deeply inconvenient truths about the character and quality of present-day American government and “we the people” to whom it is accountable."

To the first question, "What is "Big Government?", he says it "refers to three features of the national or federal government headquartered in Washington, D.C.," specifically:

  • How much it spends
  • How much it does, and
  • How many people it employs

He then proceeds by asking such questions as how much has federal government spending grown; has Washington been doing more or just spending more; what about growth in the federal government workforce and in the ranks of federal bureaucrats; and, how did post-1960 United States have a five-fold increase in national government spending, establish seven new cabinet agencies, effect a steady expansion in programs and regulations, and yet experience zero growth in the workforce responsible for stewarding trillions of tax dollars and translating 80,000-plus pages of words into action?

That's where things get interesting since the federal government has "had roughly the same number of federal workers, not counting uniformed military personnel and postal workers, for the past 57 years." The growth in government since 1960 has come about by using "three species of administrative proxies," specifically:

  • state and local governments
  • for-profit businesses
  • nonprofit organizations

While the federal workforce "hovered around two million full-time bureaucrats" since 1960, "the total number of state and local government employees tripled to more than 18 million workers." Adjusting for inflation, Dilullio points out that "federal grants-in-aid for the states increased more than 10-fold. "For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has its approximately 20,000 employees spread across its Washington, D.C. headquarters and 10 regions. However, he says "90 percent of EPA programs are administered A-to-Z by state government agencies that employ thousands of environmental protection workers."

He also says there are "thorny data issues" involved in obtaining exact numbers of contractor employees, but says, "the best available estimates indicate that the total number of federal contract employees increased from about five million in 1990 to about 7.5 million in 2013." The bottom line? Dilulio says, "let’s call it 14 million in all today versus four million back when Ike was saying farewell (in 1960)."

For the seventh Q&A, he discusses the "one must-know fact" about Big Government. The answer:

"It is that “Big Government” in America today is both debt-financed and proxy-administered.

"The first half of that essential fact is well known, much discussed, and much debated.  For all but five post-1960 years, the federal government has run deficits, and the national debt is now bordering on $20 trillion.  But the latter half of that essential fact—rampant proxy administration—is little known, poorly understood, and, except in certain moments of crisis, ignored."

Questions 8 (why both deft-financed and proxy-administered), 9 (how does the real federal bureaucracy and bureaucracy-by-proxy perform), and 10 (spending on defense contractors vs. spending on entire federal civilian workforce) are worth reading in the original with one exception. He notes that according to a study by Professor Donald Kettl, "28 of the 32 programs on that GAO high-risk list were among the very federal programs with the highest proxy-administration quotients."

In conclusion, Dilulio writes:

"But “we the people” are a half-century into the errors and delusions behind our debt-financed, proxy-administered “Big Government” and the real federal bureaucracy.

"In Federalist Paper No. 68, Alexander Hamilton, who remains the most finance savvy leader in American history, and who was by no means allergic to stronger national government, lectured that “the true test of good government is its aptitude and tendency to produce a good administration.”

"For all the partisan and ideological fights, and across all the usual demographic and regional lines, Americans and their leaders are today ever more strongly united, not badly divided—united, that is, in failing Hamilton’s good government test."

John Dilulio's paper is a fairly fast read -- here's the link again, and be sure to bookmark it so you can send it to your friends. He uses a lot of charts and tables to drive home his short answers. After reading questions 8, 9, and 10, you will be ready to write your member of Congress about America's "Big Government" problem. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

February 2017
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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister