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April 29, 2003

One More Time: It's Not the Money That Improves the Public Schools

In a speech at Harvard University earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said that the poor performance of America's schools does not result from a lack of money. In his speech, which is posted at the U.S. Department of Education's website, he noted that "Between 1970 and 1995, per pupil spending shot up 75 percent. The number of students per teacher fell 25 percent. And the number of teachers with advanced degrees more than doubled." However, he added, "student achievement in the United States remained flat." He argued that in a world where corporations survive and prosper by providing their customers with more choices, we "prevent our schools from operating by this same formula for success." MassNews also reports on Secretary Paige's speech today.

April 28, 2003

Your taxes "lavishly" at work!

Yesterday's Richmond Times-Dispatch had a long, front-page report about the goings on at last November's annual get together of county poobahs at Virginia's "storied Homestead" resort that was sponsored by the Virginia Association of Counties, the lobbying arm of local county officials. The article, which printed out to seven printer-friendly pages, contained both the gory details and the justifications by county officials across the Commonwealth that the lavish weekend of spending of more than $300,000 was merely a "reasonable investment in good government." Six counties chose not to send anyone, but those who did were led by Prince William County, which sent 11 people, who spent a total of $8,208. That included "$262 for wine shared by the group on two evenings." At least two, and possibly more of Arlington's political elite attended the conference. According to information supplied by an Arlington County official last December, Board members Paul Ferguson and Barbara Favola attended the conference, and they were reimbursed $535.16 and $554.56, respectively. ElGrowlerGrande is awaiting cost information to learn whether two officials from the Manager's office also attended. Incidentally, Arlington County's annual dues for VACo membership are $34,434. Although Arlington is a county and not a city, Arlington pays $36,379 to belong to the Virginia Municipal League. The newspaper deserves credit for devoting the resources to develope the story.

April 23, 2003

Arlington - Home Of The SuperWage

Not satisfied with making you pay more of your money to Arlington County, the all-Democrat Arlington County Board has voted to decree a "Living Wage" scheme that would require companies who do business with the County to pay their workers at least $10.98 per hour - twice the Virginia and federal minimum wage.

Don't just tax you, don't just tax me - tax that employer behind the tree. That'll teach him not to hire entry-level workers.

Oh, I almost forgot. The Attorney General says such a scheme would be illegal. But when has the ACB ever let a little something like the law stand in its way?

County Board to Arlington Taxpayers: Eat Cake

At its last work session before formally adopting the Fiscal Year 2004 budget and setting the real estate tax rate on Saturday, April 26, that is essentially what Board members told Arlington's taxpayers. The Board "balanced" the needs of its special interests against the need of taxpayers for a significant reduction in the real estate tax rate, and the special interests won. Board member Barbara Favola (D) is quoted in today's Washington Post saying "We will not back away from funding the things this community sees as important." According to one citizen who attended the meeting, there was no discussion of what a 15.5% increase in taxes on the average $316,000 residence would do to Arlington's middle class. Rather, there was a great deal of self-congratulation about the chair's leadership on the budget process, the "fiscal benefits of (Arlington) being so well-managed," and listing out the spending for this and spending for that special interest.

April 21, 2003

Virginia Ranks 21st in Nation in Total Taxes Paid

When federal taxes are added to state and local taxes, the annual ranking by the Tax Foundation puts Virginia 21st in the nation. Virginians pay 8.9% of their total income in state and local taxes (national average is 9.7%) and 29.0% of their total income in federal taxes (national average is 30.0%. You can also download the complete 2003 Tax Freedom Day report at the above link.

April 19, 2003

The Baghdad Bobs of Local Government?

Arlington County Board members are set to approve the FY04 budget, and set the real estate tax rates, next Saturday, April 26. However, it is not clear whether Board members are reading local news. Early indications are the Board will only cut 1 1/2 cents from the current real estate tax rate of $0.993. Today's Washington Post, however, reports the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will cut 5 cents from their current rate of $1.21. Moreover, news reports in this week's Washington Post and the Arlington Sun-Gazette (HotNews, April 18, 2003) indicate that Arlington's population actually shrank in the year ending June 30, 2002. Nevertheless, the Manager's proposed budget will increase the cost of county government by 5.4%. Are the five members of the Arlington County Board becoming the Baghdad Bobs of local government?

April 18, 2003

Your Taxes At Work

A computer programming error by the technical types at the Virginia Employment Commission resulted in overpaying more than 6,000 Virginians more than $2.4 million says an editorial in the March 31 Charlotteville Daily Press. The technical types at VEC failed to include a benefit cap when they reprogrammed their computers when unemployment benefits were increased after September 11. The editoral wrings its hands because the money involved is federal rather than state money, and implies the overpayments should be forgiven if it was the later. The newspaper notes that VEC officials are asking the U.S. Department of Labor to forgive the error. Guess the editorial writers at the Daily Press think federal money comes from the Tooth Fairy.

April 17, 2003

While the Tax Preparation Nightmare is Still Fresh

The headaches from preparing your latest tax return for the IRS may now be subsiding, but a new study by the National Taxpayers Union predicts that tax complexity is "likely to get worse before it gets better." The cause for this is AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax), a parallel system aimed at "ensuring the wealthy paid a substantial tax bill." However, "(b)y 2010, as many as 1 in 3 taxpayers would be forced to complete a second tax return for (and pay) the AMT." Perhaps the answer is to buy the stock of H&R Block since the study says, "The average fee for tax preparation at H&R Block was $112.42 through March 15 of this year, up by 9.4% over last year." The link takes you to NTU's press release about the study, where you can access the complete report.

April 14, 2003

For Virginia's Tax-and-Spenders, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.

For all the talk about raising taxes in Virginia, even from the Governor's Mansion where the Governor has suggested that taxes should be restructured to provide additional money for education, almost no one is ponying up any additional money into Virginia's Tax Me More Fund, says an article in today's Virginian-Pilot. According to the story, all of $400 has been collected since the fund was established by the 2002 General Assembly. Contributors can even have their name listed on the on Virginia's Department of Taxation website, but as of a few minutes ago when I checked, there were no names listed. Is it possible the educrat suuporters of sales tax advocate Delegate Jim Dillard (R), who the newspaper quotes in the story, are not willing to pony up their own money? Guess they prefer having guvmint redistribute the income of the rest of us.

Start Working for Yourself This Week

Whether you already filed your federal tax return, or if you are waiting until the deadline tomorrow night, you have a few more days of working for guvmint this year. "According to Tax Foundation calculations using the latest government data on income and taxes, Tax Freedom DayŽ in 2003 will be celebrated on April 19th. That is the same date that Tax Freedom Day fell on during 2002, but 8 days earlier than in 2001, and 11 days earlier than in 2000." Their calculations for 2003 show the overall tax burden is 30.0%, and includes the federal burden (74 days of work to pay taxes at an effective tax rate of 20.3%) and the state/local burden ((35 days to pay the taxes at a rate of 9.7%). Visit their website by clicking-on the link above, and download the entire report.

April 12, 2003

Renting from the County

For many elderly people who finished paying off the mortgage years ago, the tax bills many senior citizens now receive from the county must make it feel as though they no longer own their homes, but rather are merely renting from the county. Today's New York Times (requires registration, but there is no cost) cites several examples where the elderly are literally being driven from their homes because of the large increases in assessments. If the increased assessments were matched by equally large cuts in tax rates, there would be little outcry and even less demand for measures like California's Proposition 13 of the 1970's. However, politicians and bureaucrats love the wildly escalating assessments because it allows them to deflect the blame for the large increases in taxes. For those unfamiliar with California's Prop 13, Stephen Moore, director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute, writes that "Proposition 13 was a political earthquake whose jolt was felt not just in Sacramento but all across the nation, including Washington, D.C. (Taxpayer advocate Howard) Jarvis's initiative to cut California's notoriously high property taxes by 30 percent and then cap the rate of increase in the future was the prelude to the Reagan income tax cuts in 1981."

April 11, 2003

Do you know how much taxes you really pay?

Neal Boortz, author and libertarian talk-show host, forcefully argues in a recent column posted at WorldNetDaily, that most people have no idea how much they pay, especially in Federal income taxes. That's especially true, he agues, for those who get refunds, but even many who have to write a check to the IRS on April 15 have no idea how much they really pay the Federal guvmint; some will even answer the amount of the check. Boortz says it's by design, arguing that "Politicians know that if those who pay federal income taxes knew what they were really paying, there would be an instantaneous tax revolt." According to Boortz, withholding was sold to Americans during World War II as a temporary measure, but the war has been over for 58 years, and withholding is still with us. And the liberals wonder why so many people don't trust goverment?

The Bite of State and Local Taxes

Find out the size of the bite that state and local taxes take out of your paycheck. Using numbers that are required by Congress, and put together by the D.C. finance office, a CNN list shows the tax bite for the largest city in each state plus the District, using only income, property, sales and auto taxes for a family of four with household income of $75,000. By this measure, the District ranks 14th, down from New York City, which ranked 6th. Arlington can't be far behind.

April 10, 2003

Take me out to the Cleaners Ball Game

An article in yesterday's WaPo on the proposed baseball stadium is full of fiscal fantasies:

  • annual revenue from the stadium itself suddenly increased from $10.5 million to $19 million
  • the team will draw 3.2 million fans the first year, even though only 4 of 30 major leagues teams drew that many fans last year
  • the average ticket price will be $26, while the average for all of Major League Baseball was just $18.69

But the identity of who is really on the hook for this boondoggle for millionaires was revealed in the final two paragraphs:

Major League Baseball cares little about the reliability of financial projections in stadium financing packages, said an official speaking on the condition of anonymity. Any shortfall would be the responsibility of the taxpayers who are paying the bill.

"It may make a difference for whoever's got to pay the bond eventually, but it doesn't make any difference to us," the baseball official said. "How they choose to believe . . . they can raise the revenues to service the debt and the bonds is really their problem, not ours."

Baseball - is the game already fixed?

An article in today's WaPo about the proposed baseball stadium in Arlington says that it "would likely connect to a planned county conference center". The County Board seems curiously undecided on the issue of a new stadium -- this from the group that helped run a proposed Home Depot out of Clarendon.

Anybody want to bet that a new stadium would include a substantial "contribution" to the planned county conference center as well as box seats for the County Board? There has to be some reason why these NIMBYs are so agnostic.

April 08, 2003

City Assessor in Richmond Indicted by Grand Jury

On March 10, 2003, the chief of Richmond's real estate assessment office sent an e-mail message to one of his subordinates asking him to "please check my assessment," according to a report in today's Richmond Times-Dispatch, and added, "Please get this straightened out before the land book closes" on March 31. His assessment was subsequently dropped from $364,200 to $320,500, which at their real estate tax rate of $1.389 per $100 of assessed valuation would reduce his tax bill by $607.

House Speaker: Tax Restructuring Will Not Raise Taxes

According to today's Washington Post, "Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) said yesterday that his Republican legislative majority will not raise taxes as part of any state tax code restructuring, setting up a likely confrontation with Gov. Mark Warner and other Democrats seeking new sources of education funding." Sounding as if he had just got an earful from some overburdened Virginians, Howell was quoted as saying, "I don't think Virginians feel they're under-taxed." While Governor Warner may not get it, even Arlington's own Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D) does. At the March 4 meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation annual get-together with Arlington's General Assembly delegation, Senator Whipple responded to a question from ACTA's president that tax restructuring should indeed be "revenue neutral" because the "entire issue is too complex," adding that tax restructuring is a big issue, a very complicated issue." However, Senator Whipple added that he believes the Commonwealth needs additional revenue sources, but tax restructuring "should stand on its own." Whipple noted that given the reduction in the number of Senators and Delegates on the tax panel, she may not get reappointed but that she would attend on her own.

Are the Political Tides High Enough to Wash Over Arlington?

An article in the Monday, April 7, Richmond Times-Dispatch says "Across Northern Virginia, the political tides are turning as the state's most populous region heads into an election season marked so far by anger over skyrocketing real estate tax bills." The paper quotes Mary Washington College political science professor Steven Farnsworth as saying, " The question is really becoming to what extent will the more morederate elements of the (GOP) be able to stay in power. . . The Republican Party is in control, but which Republican Party?" The article notes that the competition from anti-taxers is even "extending behond races for state Senate and House of Delegates to races for city councils and county boards of supervisors." Can Arlington County be far behind? On March 15, 2003, the the County Board voted to keep the real estate tax rate at $0.993, which is an effective real estate tax rate increase of 14%. Despite the possible 14% increase, though, few Arlington taxpayers turned out for a public hearing on tax rates on March 27 to protest skyrocketing taxes in the liberal enclave.

April 06, 2003

Governor Gives No Timetable for Tax Restructuring

Recent entries by Growls bloggers have discussed the interest of Governor Mark Warner (D) in tax restructuring, including his denial that it's a Trojan Horse for state tax increases. An Associated Press article in today's Washington Times says Governor Warner "has committed himself to reforming the state's antiquated tax code since he mustered enough votes from Democratic senators to block Republican plans to end the estate tax." The story highlights remarks to the Virginia Education Association, which contributed $10,000 to Governor Warner's 2001 election campaign. Apparently refuting the Governor's denial that his primary interest in tax restructuring is to raise additional tax revenues, the AP story says, "Providing more revenue for public education figures heavily into any discussion of tax reform from Mr. Warner, as it did Friday in a speech to hundreds of VEA members in Richmond for a weekend convention. "This is going to be one of the most important years for public education in a decade," Mr. Warner told the teachers."

April 01, 2003

Tax Cuts at Last!

Governor Mark Warner announced today that he will propose cutting state income tax rates by 40% next year. "We must remain competitive in this new economy" said the governor.

Iraq, Virginia, and the death tax

An excellent article in today's WSJ points out that Virginia will soon be alone among the surrounding states in having a death tax unless the legislature overrides Mark Warner's veto. Warner used the war on Iraq as an excuse for his veto!