January 30, 2015

Public Land for Publc Good (PL4PG) Gets Official Ax

On December 4, 2014, we growled after a near-unanimous vote by the Arlington County Civic Federation, and urged the Arlington County Board to start over with the so-called Public Land for Public Good (PL4PG), saying the County Board should incorporate a community process from the outset. In growling, we said:

"Civic Federation committees provided especially valuable work that enabled the Civic Federation to push back against the Arlington County Board's efforts to steamroll PL4PG through the bureaucratic labyrinth. Especially noteworthy was the work of Suzanne Sundburg and the Revenues & Expenditures (R&E) Committee (full disclosure: I am a member of the R&E Committee).

"You can read her 8-page report here. Of special interest is the report's acknowledgement the County's PL4PG effort "was in direct response to Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) and affordable housing activists' collection of 10,000 petition signatures asking for more affordable housing to be constructed on Arlington's public lands." (emphasis in the original)"

A month later, on January 8, 2015, we growled again after "Arlington County Manager Barbara Donellan told delegates of the Arlington County Civic Federation that she "aims to put ‘Public Land’ mess in rear-view mirror," or at least that was the headline of Scott McCaffrey's online story today in the Arlington Sun Gazette."

That brings us to this morning. The headline in the Arlington Sun Gazette reports the "Arlington board officially axes Public Land for Public Good effort." Here's the core of the Sun Gazette report:

"Board members opted to “set aside” – as a statement tactfully put it – the draft Public Land Site-Evaluation Guidelines, which were adopted in 2014 but immediately provoked a community backlash.

"Supporters of open space saw the document as an invitation to start building affordable housing and other facilities on parkland, and community groups ranging from the Planning Commission to the Arlington County Civic Federation voiced concern about a top-down heavy-handedness that went against the community-based process best known as the Arlington Way.

"On Jan. 1, County Board Chairman Mary Hynes unveiled her plan for a community-facilities study, designed to take the place of the Public Land for Public Good process, and on Jan. 23 the County Board and School Board agreed on the panel’s framework and composition.

"Hynes said the process would result in “a full, thoughtful and very public discussion this year, aimed at building consensus around how best to address our facilities needs.”

The county's press release, issued on Wednesday,that put the fork into the PL4PG initiative is here, and includes three bullets:

  • Community Facilities Study public planning effort to replace draft guidelines
  • No stand-alone affordable housing on officially designated parks
  • Lubber Run Community Center, Jennie Dean Park/Shirlington Crescent, Salt Dome planning to move forward

For information about the community facilities study, and links to its 24 committee members, see the following press release.

Kudos to the County Board for choosing to listen to the residents and taxpayers of Arlington County.

January 28, 2015

Migration and Taxation, An Update

Terry Jeffrey, CNS News' editor-in-chief, discusses new migration data released by the U.S. Census Bureau today, noting:

"New York State and the Northeast region led the nation in domestic net “outmigration” in the period from July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, according to newly released data from the Census Bureau. During the same period, Texas and the South led the nation in domestic net 'inmigration.'"

Jeffrey goes on to provide the following details:

"From July 1, 2013 to July 1, 2014, 30 states had a domestic net outmigration and 20 states plus the District of Columbia had a domestic net inmigration.

"New York State led in outmigration as a net of 153,921 people moved from the state to elsewhere in the country. Texas led in inmigration as a net of 154,467 moved into the state from elsehwere in the country.

"Illinois had the second highest domestic outmigration, with a net of 94,956 leaving the state for other parts of the country and Florida had the second highest domestic inmigration with 138,546 moving to the state from other parts of the country.

"The Northeast region (which includes Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania) saw a net domestic outmigration of 286,696 from July 1, 2013 to 2104."

Virginia was one of the 30 states with a net outmigration, ranking 8th with a net 20,400 people leaving the Commonwealth.

We growled on May 18, 2014 about this same topic based upon a 5-part series of blog posts by the Tax Foundation's Lyman Stone that responded to a report claiming that taxation has only a negligible impact on migration. We provided extensive context as well as a Tax Foundation map of 10-years of migration data. We also included a link to our 2003 study of migration for Arlington County. Unfortunately, we have not yet fulfilled the promise to update the 2003 study.

January 27, 2015

Deficits May Be Declining, but the Debt is Unsustainable

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its Budget and Economic Outlook for 2015-2015, according to a report in the New York Times entitled, "Budget Forecast Sees End to Sharp Deficit Declines." Here's the lede of the story written by Jonathan Weisman:

"The federal budget deficit will continue to inch downward through next year, but even with the economy on an upward trajectory, the government’s red ink will begin to rise in 2017 and expand with an aging population, the Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

"The new budget projections effectively signal the end of the steep decline in deficits as the economy climbed out of the recession. Lawmakers now face a familiar and politically vexing problem: What to do about increases in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security spending that reflect the nation’s demographics, not its economic health?" (emphasis added)

What? Spending on the three largest entitlement programs aren't part of the federal budget or the nation's economic health? Eventually Weisman acknowledges the annual deficit will rise to over $1 trillion by 2025, and the remainder of his reporting is worth reading.

Today, the CBO testified before the House's Budget Committee. Breitbart News' reporting today was much more sober with a headline that read, "CBO Director Predicts Unsustainable Debt, 'Heightening the Risk of Fiscal Crisis." According to Ian Hanchett, who reported the story for Breitbart:

"CBO Director Douglas Elmdorf testified that debt will exceed 100% of GDP within 25 years and continue to rise, a “trend that could not be sustained” and would eventually heighten “the risk of a fiscal crisis” before the House Budget Committee on Tuesday.

< . . . >

"According to a copy of his prepared remarks released by the CBO, the revised economic projections “do not materially change” predictions that debt will exceed 100% of GDP in 25 years and “CBO’s current projection of debt as a percentage of GDP in 2024 is quite close to that used as the starting point for the projections in The 2014 Long-Term Budget Outlook [where the CBO also predicted that debt will be 100% of GDP in 25 years.]”

You can find the CBO's report, "The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2015 to 2025." here. The following chart is from the CBO report:


The testimony of CBO director Douglas Elmendorf before the House of Representatives's Committee on the Budget today is here. Finally, click here to see the Economic Outlook for 2015 to 2025 in 17 slides.

Weisman does note, however, that some on the left may not take seriously the unsustainability of the federal debt. He writes that "Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, who caucuses with Democrats and is the new ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, anticipated the change in direction (of Congress' budget committees) with a new report focused on wage stagnation and the shriveling middle class."

Readers are urged to  contact their members of Congress to tell them the federal debt is indeed unsustainable., and that you expect them to begin immediately to bring federal spending under control. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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.

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

January 25, 2015

A Thought on the Damages Done by Socialism

"Socialism is damaging in many ways. It wrecks economies and batters the quality of life. It corrupts, dehumanizes and makes people worse.

"This isn't partisan rhetoric but a fact confirmed recently by a study that compared people from a communist regime to those from a more capitalist system.

"We find," says a group of international researchers, "that individuals with an East German family background cheat significantly more on an abstract task than those with a West German family background.

"The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task."

~ Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, August 5, 2014

Source: Editorial, " Socialism Of Progressives Brings Out Worst In People," Investor's Business Daily.

January 24, 2015

VDoT Ignores Auditor's Recommendation to Collect $3 Million

"The Virginia Department of Transportation will not fine a contractor, despite an audit revealing that the state agency could have recovered $3 million." That's the lede of a story posted yesterday (HT Townhall.com) by Kenric Ward, Virginia Bureau Chief of Watchdog.org. Here's further details from Ward's reporting:

“We received legal counsel about past practices limit(ing) an agency’s ability to collect liquidated damages without defining a direct impact to motorists, which did not apply,” said VDOT spokeswoman Marshall Herman.

"She added that the contractor, Serco, “made very clear their strong disagreement about collecting liquidated damages.”

"The Inspector General’s audit, as reported by Watchdog this month, determined the VDOT could have levied $3 million in fines against Serco for failure to perform. The company provides roadside assistance, electronic signage and logistical support for VDOT as part of a $335 million contract."

Mr. Ward's reporting includes the following response offered by your humble scribe:

"Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, said, “If VDOT is unable to collect the liquidated damages from Serco, it seems VDOT needs to learn how to write tighter contract specifications, or VDOT and the governor’s office need to ask the General Assembly to provide state agencies with better tools for contract administration.

“Otherwise, Virginia’s taxpayers and motorists are being taken to the woodshed.”

You can read Kenric Ward's entire story here.

Readers of Growls are urged to contact Governor Terry McAuliffe and/or Senators and Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly who represent Arlington County to express their outrage at how their tax dollars are being handled by the Virginia Department of Transportation bureaucrats.

  • Contact information for members of the General Assembly can be found here (use one of the "quick links").

And tell them ACTA sent you.

January 23, 2015

17.2% Higher USF E-Rate Fee Raised Your Phone Bill

"Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers."

On December 17, 2014, "Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler its December Porker of the Month for taking the FCC on a high-tech holiday spending spree by increasing funding for the Universal Service Fund’s (USF) E-Rate program," according to this CAGW press release.

Here's CAGW's justification for naming FCC Chairman Wheeler its December 2014 Porker of the Month:

"On December 11, 2014, the FCC voted 3-2 to approve the chairman’s proposal to raise the spending cap on the E-Rate program by $1.5 billion annually, resulting in a 17.2 percent increase in the USF fees charged to Americans on their telephone and wireless bills.  The E-Rate program, which provides schools and libraries with discounts on telecommunications and Internet access, is one of four programs funded through the USF.  While it may have a laudable objective, the E-Rate program duplicates private sector efforts to increase broadband access for educational institutions and has become riddled with wasteful spending.  It should be reformed, not expanded. (emphasis added)

"The FCC has complete control over the amount of USF fees and can raise the rates and spending caps at any time. The fees are passed along to consumers in the form of a hidden tax on their telephone and wireless bills. In a December 11, 2014 statement trivializing the economic impact of the higher E-Rate spending cap, Chairman Wheeler said that “…what Americans contribute to the E-Rate fund means that over time, the support paid by consumers could grow by approximately 16 cents a month for a telephone line…over the course of the year that represents one cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts or one large soda at McDonald’s – per year.”

“Chairman Wheeler’s analysis shows that he is disconnected from reality,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.  “The approved increase in the E-Rate spending caps does not include any reforms of the program’s burdensome administrative procedures and lengthy application process, nor does it reduce wasteful spending.”

"Some of these reforms were included in CAGW’s book, Telecom Unplugged:  Ushering in a New Digital Era.  FCC Commissioners Michael O’Reilly, Ajit Pai, and Jessica Rosenworcel have all advocated for additional E-Rate program auditing to root out wasteful spending, simplifying the application process, increasing flexibility for schools to choose speeds that best meet their needs, and streamlining the sclerotic administration process.  None of these proposals would cost consumers any more money; yet none have captured the attention of the Chairman.

“Chairman Wheeler has resorted to the usual, hackneyed political rhetoric to justify more hidden taxes and more wasteful spending, using students as convenient props.  On top of his misguided idea that the FCC should subvert state laws that prohibit or restrict taxpayer-funded local municipal broadband systems, Chairman Wheeler is putting a big lump of coal in taxpayers’ Christmas stockings,” added Schatz."

In their conclusion, CAGW wrote, "For imposing higher hidden taxes on consumers; expanding a bloated, mismanaged program; and ignoring commonsense solutions for modernizing and reforming the E-Rate program, CAGW names FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler its December Porker of the Month."

CAGW is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization "dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government." Make Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) a regular source of information about government spending.

In 2004, Taxpayers for Common Sense provided some history on the USF as well as program waste. For a legal definition of the USF tax law, see here. Rosslyn Smith writes about the use and abuse, including ObamaPhones, of the USF in this 2012 American Thinker article.

Readers of Growls are urged to  contact their members of Congress to express their shock at the 17.2% increase in the Universal Service Fee. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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.

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (1/24/15): Education Week provides a "spotlight on E-Rate" feature that includes an analysis of "the winners and losers in E-rate modernization."

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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