May 23, 2016

A Thought about "Settled Science"

"Masking opinions in a white smock is a brilliant, albeit infuriating and shabby, rhetorical tactic. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Science is the language of facts, and when people pretend to be speaking it, they’re not only claiming that their preferences are more than mere opinions, they’re also insinuating that anyone who disagrees is a fool or a zealot for objecting to “settled science.”

"Put aside the fact that there is no such thing as settled science. Scientists are constantly questioning their understanding of things; that is what science does. All the great scientists of history are justly famous for overturning the assumptions of their fields. The real problem is that in politics, invocations of science are very often marketing techniques masquerading as appeals to irrefutable authority. In an increasingly secular society, having science on your side is better than having God on your side – at least in an argument.

"I’m not saying that you can’t have science in your corner, or that lawmakers shouldn’t look to science when making policy. (Legislation that rejects the existence of gravity makes for very silly laws indeed.) But the real intent behind so many claims to “settled science” is to avoid having to make your case. It’s an undemocratic technique for delegitimizing opposing views and saying “shut up” to dissenters.

"For example, even if the existence of global warming is “settled,” the policies for how to best respond to it are not. But in the political debates about climate change, activists say that their climatological claims are irrefutable and so are their preferred remedies."

~ Jonah Goldberg

Source: his 5/20/16 National Review Online essay, "Who are the real deniers of science?" also posted at American Enterprise Institute.

HT Red Eye Radio.

May 22, 2016

Federal Government Waste: What does the Data Show?

It's not a pretty picture. According to an editorial posted Friday evening by Investor's Business Daily (IBD), "The federal government wasted more than $100 billion on overpayments last year. It knows this, even tracks it, but somehow can’t seem to stop it. Is there a better indication that government is too big?"

The federal government even has an official website -- PaymentAccuracy.gov -- that is replete with charts and data.

The term most often used with this government waste is improper payment.  Improper payments occur when either (from the frequently asked questions (FAQ) webpage):

  • federal funds go to the wrong recipient,
  • the recipient receives the incorrect amount of funds (either an underpayment or overpayment),
  • documentation is not available to support a payment, or
  • the recipient uses federal funds in an improper manner.

IBD writes in their editorial:

"Last year, the government made $126 billion in overpayments, nearly double the amount of made in President Bush’s last year.

"Improper payments in Medicare, for example, went from $10 billion in 2008 to $43 billion last year; and for Medicaid, the figured jumped from $19 billion to $29 billion.

"The Payment Accuracy site notes that the government also underpaid by $11 billion last year. Still, at $115 billion, the net overpayment just in 2015 is massive.

"It is, for example, equal to the combined budgets of the Departments of Justice, Energy, Interior, State and the EPA for 2015.

"It’s twice as much all the income taxes paid by everyone making less than $50,000.

"It’s roughly equal to the combined 2015 profits of Apple, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Google, Pfizer and Comcast."

Let me repeat those last paragraphs since they are truly mind-boggling (emphasis added):

"It’s twice as much all the income taxes paid by everyone making less than $50,000.

"It’s roughly equal to the combined 2015 profits of Apple, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Google, Pfizer and Comcast."

Another way to look at the total amount of improper payments, consider the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) threshold in 2013 for the top 25% of taxpayers was $74,955 while the AGI threshold to be in the top 50% was $36,841, according to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) analysis of who pays federal income taxes.

The editorial reminds us that some improper payments can be for the correct amount, but lack documentation. However, they point out:

" . . . But Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University who has studied these data, says the figures on waste are probably too low. She notes that Harvard University’s Malcolm Sparrow says that 20% of federal spending on health care programs could result from fraud.

“The government has become so big that no one is accountable, oversight is impossible, and no one seems to care at all,” she writes.

"And, indeed, if you bother to read audits from agency inspectors general or the Government Accountability Office, you’ll be treated to an endless stream of depressing examples of rampant mismanagement of taxpayer funds."

Take a few minutes to browse the data and charts at the PaymentAccuracy.gov website, and then write to a member of Congress to express your views about this form of federal government waste. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). 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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (5/23/16): Title rewritten into a question.

May 21, 2016

A Thought about Over-Taxation

"Over-taxation cost England her colonies of North America."

~ Edmund Burke

Source: page 44, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

May 20, 2016

New CIP "Seeks No Additional Funds for Aquatics Center"

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey continues flushing out details of the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) today. According to McCaffrey:

"Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz fulfilled a pledge on the Long Bridge Park aquatics center, saying the project can be completed without going to voters for a third round of funding.

“We’re not requesting any additional resources” and should be able to move the project forward with funds already approved in referendums, Schwartz told County Board members on May 17, opting not to include a request for additional cash in his 10-year capital-improvement plan.

"Schwartz in April proposed a 73,000-square-foot aquatics complex – down from 116,000 square feet – that would cost $40 million to $44 million to build (not including design, project-management and contingency fees). He was following up on a March 2015 County Board directive, calling for staff to revisit the aquatics-center concept after it had been put on hold by then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

"In 2004, county voters approved bond funding for the entire Long Bridge Park complex in Crystal City, but higher-than-anticipated costs, and a more grandiose concept of what the facility should be, led government leaders to put more funding for the facility on a 2012 park bond.

"Voters approved the 2012 bond, but sent a warning shot over the bow: Its margin of victory – 63 percent – was about 20 percentage points lower than for several other bonds on the 2012 ballot, including those for schools and Metro.

"From there, things got worse for the effort to build the facility. Estimated costs both for construction and operation ballooned, and the aquatics center joined Artisphere, the Columbia Pike streetcar system and “million-dollar” bus stops as symbols of the Arlington government’s capital-spending overreach."

Scroll down to yesterday's Growls where we embedded links to make it easier to access such source documents as the county's press release; the CIP, and the Manager's PowerPoint presentation of the CIP to the Arlington County Board.

Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice concerns about the proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

May 19, 2016

Flushing Out Details of Metro Bond Referenda

Beginning Sunday, May 15, we started growling about the amount that Arlington County taxpayers subsidize Metro -- see our May 15 and May 16 Growls; yesterday, we growled about the FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which the County Manager proposed Tuesday evening.

Today, Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette reported the Arlington County Manager is seeking $30 million for Metro in this fall's bond referenda. According to McCaffrey:

"The Arlington County government’s subsidy to operate the Metro system will amount to about $130 for every county resident over the next two years, based on the county manager’s bond-referendum proposal detailed May 17.

"Mark Schwartz is seeking $30 million for Metro funding, up 31 percent, as part of a $59 million transportation referendum likely to go to voters on Nov. 8. The proposal also calls for $24 million for paving and road maintenance, up 27 percent from what was included in the 2014 transportation bond passed by voters.

"Rising costs for Metro come even as Arlington is looking to lighten its load by moving more transit service to the less-costly ART bus service. The $30 million spending proposal doesn’t count interest costs that will accrue during the life of the bonds."

The $30 million for Metro is almost half of the $59 million the Manager is proposing in the Metro and Transportation bond referenda. Over the next 10 years, though, the Manager proposes spending $1.3 billion, or just over 46% of the total 10-year, CIP, for transportation programs.

According to the press release explaining the CIP, the fall bond referenda for Metro and transportation would spend:

  • Metro – fulfilling our ongoing commitment – $30 million, a 31 percent increase from the 2014 referenda ($23 million).
  • Paving – maintaining our roads – $24 million a 27 percent increase over the last CIP

Additional information is available beginning at the Capital Improvement Plan webpage. From there, you can access the FY 2017 -- 2026 CIP; the Manager's PowerPoint presentation of the CIP to the County Board; and, the seven chapters of the FY 2017 -- 2026 CIP.

Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice concerns about the proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

May 18, 2016

Arlington County Manager Annouces $2.8 Billion Capital Plan

At the Arlington County Board's recessed meeting yesterday evening, the County Manager proposed a $2.8 billion, 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). See recessed agenda here.

One item in the CIP will be the design of a new fire station #8 -- on Lee Highway -- according to Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette this morning. He writes the design funds would be "part of a package of projects totaling $177 million in a series of bond referendums," adding:

"The package first goes to the County Board, which is likely to vote on it in July. It then is forwarded to the Circuit Court, which has the final say on ballot placement.

"Voters are likely to go along with whatever is placed in front of them; in recent years, most Arlington bond referendums have passed with support of 75 to 80 percent of voters, and even controversial ballot measures (such as the 2012 parks bond that included more funds for a Long Bridge Park aquatics center) collected more than 60 percent of the vote.

"Under Schwartz’s proposal, construction funds for a new fire station would be included in a future referendum, likely in 2018. Total cost estimates range from about $14 million to $19 million, depending on whether the station is moved to Old Dominion Drive or razed and rebuilt on its current location on Lee Highway."

Read the remainder of McCaffrey's article here since he writes more about the fire station #8 task force.

The press release about the County Manager's $2.8 billion CIP includes five bullet points:

  • Fulfilling commitments to Lubber Run, Long Bridge Park projects
  • Planning for Columbia Pike premium transit
  • Maintaining existing infrastructure
  • Remaining within debt, financial policies
  • Continuing support for APS

As noted by Mr. McCaffrey above, the Manager is proposing a 2016 bond referenda totaling $177 million, divided as follows (see press for detailed breakdown):

  • Metro and Transportation – $59 million
  • Parks and Recreation – $19 million
  • Government Facilities – $70 million
  • Community Conservation – $17 million
  • Joint County Schools – $12 million

More details about the FY 2017 -- 2026 proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) are in this 22-slide PPT presentation here. The Superintendent's proposed CIP is available at the Arlington Public Schools website here.

Arlington County citizens are encouraged to attend the County Board's budget work sessions. On May 24 -- a Joint County Board /School Board work session. Then on May 31, June 16, 28, and July 12 -- County Board work sessions on proposed CIP. On June 22 -- a public hearing beginning at 7:00 p.m in the County Board Room, 2100 Clarendon Blvd., 3rd floor. Finally, on July 19, the County Board will adopt the CIP and set the bond referenda language.

Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice concerns about the proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

May 17, 2016

A Thought about Ideas and Classical Liberalism

" . . . In the two centuries after 1800, the goods and services made and consumed by the average person in Sweden or Taiwan rose by a factor of 30 to 100—that is, a rise of 2,900 to 9,900 percent. The Great Enrichment of the past two centuries has dwarfed any of the previous and temporary enrichments. It was caused by massively better ideas in technology and institutions. And the betterments were released for the first time by a new liberty and dignity for commoners—expressed as the ideology of European liberalism. Not "liberalism" as it's come to be understood in the United States, as ever-increasing government, but its old and still European sense, what Adam Smith advocated in 1776: "allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice."

"Why did such ideas shift so dramatically in northwestern Europe, and for a while only there? Why did Leonardo da Vinci in 1519 conceal his engineering dreams in secret writing, yet in 1825 James Watt of steam-engine fame was to have a statue set up in Westminster Abbey? In 1400 or even in 1600, a canny observer would have bet on an Industrial Revolution and a Great Enrichment—if she could have imagined such freakish events—in technologically advanced China or the vigorous Ottoman Empire. Not in backward, quarrelsome Europe.

"The answer does not lie in some 1,000-year-old superiority, such as English common law, or in the deep genetic ancestry of Europeans. The liberalism that led to ordinary people being allowed to have a go, and then bettering their lives and ours with a wave of gadgets, lies rather in the black-swan luck of northwestern Europe's reaction to the turmoil of the Early Modern—the coincidence in northwestern Europe of successful reading, reformation, revolt, and revolution. The dice were rolled by Gutenberg, Luther, Willem van Oranje, and Oliver Cromwell. By a lucky chance for England their payoffs were deposited in that formerly not-so-consequential nation in a pile late in the late 17th century. A result of those four Rs was a fifth R, a crucial revaluation of the bourgeoisie, an egalitarian reappraisal of ordinary people."

~ Deirdre McCloskey

Source: her May 12, 2016 essay, "Bourgeois Equality," posted at Reason.com. The essay appears in the June 2016 issue of Reason magazine. She teaches economics, history, and English at the University of Illinois, and economics, philosophy, and art and cultural studies at Erasmus University, Rotterdam. Her latest book is "Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World."

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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