April 24, 2015

A Thought About Freedom and Free People

"The irony is that free people usually create far more wealth than the coerced, which makes the lower echelons better off, a fact that reminds “equality” is usually about empowering progressive elites rather than materially helping the poor. Moreover, in a free society, there are all sorts of forces — religion, constantly improving and ever cheaper technology, family pressures, honor, shame, philanthropy — that redistribute wealth either naturally or through the consent of the giver, and far more effectively than creating a huge government equalocracy that seeks power to bully others and exempt itself.

~ Victor Davis Hanson

Source: from his January 14, 2014 column posted at National Review Online.

April 23, 2015

This is Income Inequality? Family Incomes Continue Falling.

In his column today at CNS News, Dan Mitchell writes that he doesn't "understand the left’s myopic fixation on income inequality. If they genuinely care about the less fortunate, they should be focused on policies that produce higher incomes . . . instead, they agitate for class warfare and redistribution, which leads me to believe that many of them hate the rich more than they love the poor."

Meanwhile, at Investor's Business Daily this evening, John Merline points out that not only did family income fall in March, but is "now 5% below pre-recession level." According to Merline:

". . . Real median family income fell in March, to $54,203, back to where it was in September 2009.

"Sentier Research — which uses Census data to compile monthly income statistics — found that family incomes plummeted more after the recession than during the recession itself, bottoming out in mid-2011.

"After that, family incomes started to make a painfully slow climb. But even now, nearly six years after the recession ended, they are still 5% below where they stood at the previous peak in early 2008, just as the recession was starting. At the current pace, it will take several more years for family incomes to reach that peak again.

"Another way to look at it. Under President George W. Bush, this income measure averaged $56,081 — despite his presiding over two recessions. That's 6% higher than the average under Obama and 3.5% above the latest March figure.

"If this constitutes a "breakthrough year" for this administration, that isn't saying much for how it measures success."

In concluding his column, Mitchell says "the goal should be to make the pie bigger," adding that his "main point (is) that the focus should be growth rather than inequality."

If members of Congress are not talking about economic growth, what are they talking about? We urge Growls readers to contact their members of Congress to ask what they are doing in support of economic growth. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers 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.

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

April 22, 2015

Arlington County Budget Includes 'Web' of State Money

When the Arlington County Board voted to adopt the $1.499 billion FY 2016 budget last night, total revenues included $72.3 million of state revenues. (agenda item 38.A. on the County Board's 4/21/15 agenda).

Although the $72.3 million in state revenues represents less than 5% of the FY 2016 Arlington County budget, a story in yesterday's Newport News Daily Press (be aware, there is a paywall), Travis Fain reminds us, "State money flows to localities through a complicated collection of funding streams." The story, by Travis Fain, certainly explains why state lawmakers are forever wrangling over the state budget.

Here's the beginning of Fain's report:

"Highway maintenance money comes from the state. So does pay for constitutional officers, such as commonwealth's attorneys and treasurers.

"The state pays part of the tab for E-911 services, which also get broken down into different streams. The state pays per diems for inmates in jails, though that doesn't always cover actual costs. It also picks up a percentage of new jail construction.

"It pays sheriff's deputies, and in this year's budget boosted starting salaries high enough that families of the lowest-paid deputies won't qualify for food-stamps anymore.

"There's 599 money for city police forces, named for the legislation that created this funding stream in 1979, as part of a package deal meant to slow down annexations.

"There's library aid, airport subsidies and transit money to buy new buses. Foster care and adoptive services funding comes through from the state, as does workforce training money.

"Lisa J. Cipriano, budget director for Newport News, figures that out of 260 or so revenue line items in her city's budget, probably 60 come from the state. And that doesn't include school funding.

"The same thing is happening in a different way to schools," Cipriano said."

Fain also writes, "Aside from the regular streams of funding, there are all sorts of small-time particulars to the state-and-local financial marriage. Hampton, for example, gets about $984,000 a year for Fort Monroe, the former Army post the state now owns and is redeveloping." The remainder of his interesting report is here.

The tangled web of state revenues suggest the need to reform the state budget process. But given the importance of state revenues to many of Virginia's town, cities, and counties, according to the Comparative Report of Virginia's local governments, prepared by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts, some of those local jurisdictions may be reluctant to reform the state budget process.

April 21, 2015

A Though About Tax Systems

"Tax systems can have multiple goals. For example, in addition to the common goal of raising revenue for the government, goals can also include redistributing income, stabilizing the economy, and achieving various other social and economic objectives through the use of preferences. Generally speaking, the greater the number of goals, the more complex is the tax system."

~ General Accounting Office

Source: page 68, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

April 20, 2015

VA Secretary is April's Porker of the Month

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.

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert McDonald its April Porker of the Month for his further bungling of a massively mismanaged agency, according to this press release from CAGW. Following is CAGW's justification for awarding this month's Porker of the Month:

"It is not easy to turn around a department in as much disarray as the VA.  However, that effort should start by adopting commonsense business practices that are used in every company.  Secretary McDonald appears to have run Proctor & Gamble (P&G) well enough that consumers can still brush their teeth with Crest rather than just Colgate and wash their dishes with Joy instead of just Palmolive.  But the secretary has so far done a poor job of managing the VA within the very limited confines of competency for a government agency, let alone a private-sector company.

"Secretary McDonald should be front and center with a response to every report of mismanagement at the VA.  He should present Congress, taxpayers, and most of all veterans, with a clear, concise, and comprehensive plan to cut the waste, fraud, and abuse and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the VA.  Instead, he has not exactly elicited the kind of empathy on Capitol Hill that would help him acquire the necessary tools to fix the agency’s problems.

"During a February 11, 2015 House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) charged Sec. McDonald with “glossing over the extraordinary problems confronted by your department.”  The secretary lashed back indignantly bragging, “I ran a company, sir, what have you done?”  He shifted blame from the VA to Congress by telling Rep. Coffman, “You’ve been here longer than I have… If there’s a problem in Denver, you own it more than I do.”  One would imagine that a response such as that to the P&G board when Mr. McDonald was CEO could have led to a vote on whether he should be fired for insubordination.

"The “Denver” reference was to the medical complex in suburban Aurora, which has been a black eye for the VA for the past decade.  The cost was originally slated to be $328 million in 2005. It ballooned to $621 million by 2006, and was estimated in March 2015 to cost $1.73 billion. The project was dubbed the “biggest construction failure” in the history of the VA.  Despite his apparent abdication of responsibility for the project, it was on Sec. McDonald’s watch that the VA begged Congress to lift the $880 million spending cap imposed on the project.  One rationale for the need to throw more good money after bad was to avoid another construction shutdown (the first of which happened on his watch in December).  Indeed, Sec. McDonald forced one top official to take the fall for the VA’s continued financial negligence.

"Sec. McDonald should also not escape blame for the failure to fix problems at the infamous Phoenix VA hospital, where the denial of benefits to veterans due to a combination of negligence and a flawed claims system has continued unabated.  An October 2014 investigation found that a VA facility in Shreveport, Louisiana lacked “toothbrushes, toothpaste, pajamas, sheets and blankets” for veterans as the facility bought solar panels, new televisions, and new furniture.  There so much mismanagement that the VA Committee could hold a hearing every week; indeed, there is another one on April 22, “Philadelphia and Oakland: Systemic Failures and Mismanagement.”  The toxic culture at the VA has even fostered a chilling effect on employees who blow the whistle on this waste, fraud, and abuse.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “After decades of mismanagement, abuse, and waste, Sec. McDonald should at least show a little contrition.  In his short time as secretary, he has failed to demonstrate sufficient willingness to reform the bureaucracy; instead, he has been arrogant.  It is time for the secretary to take charge and give veterans confidence that he will provide them with the services they need, without delay and without excuses.”

Kudos to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) for their continuing efforts to fight waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government.

April 19, 2015

A Thought About Freedom and the Statue of Liberty

"In 1982, when he was in his 85th year, (Frank) Capra was awarded the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. In his acceptance speech, he touched on the things that had been most important in his life. He spoke of celebrating his sixth birthday in steerage on a 13-day voyage across the Atlantic. He recalled the lack of privacy and ventilation, and the terrible smell. But he also remembered the ship’s arrival in New York Harbor, when his father brought him on deck and showed him the Statue of Liberty: “Cicco look!” his illiterate peasant father had said. “Look at that! That’s the greatest light since the star of Bethlehem! That’s the light of freedom! Remember that. Freedom.” Capra remembered. In his speech to the Hollywood elite so many years later, he revealed his formula for moviemaking. He said: “The art of Frank Capra is very, very simple. It’s the love of people. Add two simple ideals to this love of people—the freedom of each individual and the equal importance of each individual—and you have the principle upon which I based all my films.”

~ John Marini, Professor of Political Science, University of Nevada

Source: From a speech at Hillsdale College, March 3, 2015, during a conference on the films of Frank Capra, posted at Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.

April 18, 2015

Green Energy and its Rich Subsidies

There is so much low-hanging fruit on the federal government's tree of waste. Within the past 1 1/2 months, we've growled about $125 billion of "improper payments on March 8. Then this month, on April 11, we growled about 601 ways to cut $639 billion in wasteful spending, and then yesterday, we growled about the massive waste in our massive federal government.

Consequently, it was depressing to read John Merline's report in the weekend Investor's Business Daily (IBD) that "even with subsidies, green energy's future is dim." Here's how Merline begins his reporting:

"It's a lot easier to throw money at wind and solar projects than it is to get energy out of them. That, at least, is the conclusion one could draw from the Energy Information Administration's latest Annual Energy Outlook, released this week.

"President Obama has made it his mission to push the country toward renewable "green" energy. He's certainly put the taxpayers' money where his mouth is.

"The EIA — part of the Energy Department — reported last month that the federal government spent roughly $45 billion just from 2010 to 2013 on renewable energy subsidies, mostly for wind and solar. Obama's budget calls for a 13% hike in current subsidy levels.

"In a speech this year, Obama said this "investment" has paid off, claiming that "we've doubled the production of clean energy."

"What he didn't say is that even with that doubling, solar and wind still account for less than 3% of the total energy supply, according to the new Outlook report.

"Nor did Obama mention that, even with billions upon billions in subsidies, solar and wind will still account for a mere 4% of the nation's energy supply by 2040 — a quarter-century from now."

Read Merline's entire report for IBD here. Note especially the graphic showing "renewables' dim future.

Was the $45 billion, mentioned above, that was flushed down the proverbial rathole from 2010 to 2013 part of GAO's already reported wasteful spending? A question worth asking members of Congress, it seems. Growls readers are urged to contact their members of Congress to ask this, or another question about government waste. Only when they see a sufficient number of their pitchfork-carrying constituents will they act to reduce waste and duplication in the federal government. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers 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.

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

April 17, 2015

Massive Federal Government = Massive Waste?

One of our friends at the National Taxpayers Union, Brandon Arnold, reminds us at NTU's blog, Government Bytes yesterday, of the General Accountability Office's (GAO) latest annual report on duplication and waste in the federal government.

According to Arnold, NTU's executive VP:

"The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is once again focusing its attention on waste in the federal government. In a hearing earlier this week, the Committee welcomed Gene Dodaro, Comptroller General of the United States. He discussed the findings of the annual report on duplication and overlap in the federal government issued by his agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

"As taxpayers know all too well, the government is rife with waste. Since it began releasing its report in 2011, the GAO has identified approximately 440 specific steps that Congress and the executive branch could take to address overlap and duplication. The good news is that 348 of these actions have been addressed fully or in part, with a total projected savings of $100 billion through 2023. The bad news is that a tremendous amount of work remains to be done. In addition to the unaddressed actions from previous reports, the 2015 iteration found 66 new actions that should be taken.

"Needless to say, as long as we have a massive federal government, a great deal of waste will exist. The Oversight and Government Reform Committee should be commended for repeatedly shining a spotlight on this problem. It held a hearing on the subject last year, at which I was fortunate enough to serve as a witness."

Here are the key links to the important information items referenced by Arnold:

  • GAO's 2015 Annual Report on federal government fragmentation, overlap and duplication (GAO-15-404SP) -- summary and complete 240-page report.
  • House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform website where you can view the witness list, their testimony, and links to parts 1 and 2 of the committee hearing. A link to Arnold's testimony is available here.

Here's a short summary of what GAO found:

"In its 2015 report, GAO presents 66 actions that the executive branch or Congress could take to improve efficiency and effectiveness across 24 areas that span a broad range of government missions and functions.

  • GAO suggests 20 actions to address evidence of fragmentation, overlap, or duplication in 12 new areas across the government missions of defense, health, income security, information technology, and international affairs.
  • GAO also presents 46 opportunities for executive branch agencies or Congress to take actions to reduce the cost of government operations or enhance revenue collections for the Treasury across 12 areas of government."

Congratulations to NTU, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), and the Cato Institute for having representatives testify on behalf of American taxpayers, and congratulations to the House Committee on Oversight, and its chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for holding the hearing.

A small quibble on one point made by Brandon Arnold. In his testimony, he writes, "Needless to say, as long as we have a massive federal government, a great deal of waste will exist." As we growled on March 8, 2015, the GAO already identified $125 billion of federal government waste in 2014. Now all this fragmentation, overlap and duplication. Until mankind reaches perfection, there will always be some waste and duplication. But, how much more must be plundered from the paychecks of American taxpayers? And what are our representatives in Congress doing to whittle down waste and duplication to no more than what occurs in the private sector? Isn't oversight part of their responsibility?

Consequently, we call on Growls readers to contact their members of Congress. Only when they see a sufficient number of their pitchfork-carrying constituents will they act to reduce waste and duplication in the federal government. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers 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.

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

Kudos to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), Citizens Against Government Waste, and the Cato Institute, and especially their project on Downsizing the Federal Government for their continued efforts to communicate the massive size of the federal government to the American people.

April 2015
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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