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February 29, 2004

Psychosocial Dancing in Arlington

There are "core government functions" for which few taxpayers question the need to spend taxpayer money. For example, the police and fire departments immediately come to mind, but you know that Arlington taxpayers provide county government with far too much money when the County Manager proposes spending $9,483 for "dance and movement workshops" for county residents "with mobility and sensory-based disabilities to increase their physical and psychosocial health and recreational opportunities." This is a new program to suck-up taxpayers hard-earned money. You can find the complete details in "Tab M" of the Manager's proposed budget for FY2005.

February 25, 2004

Newspeak by Some of Virginia's State Senators

George Orwell's 1984 is now ensconced in the Virginia Senate in Richmond. According to the Waynesboro News Virginian on February 23, Senator Emmett Hanger believes, "the largest tax hike in Virginia history is not really a tax increase and might even help the (Shenandoah) Valley." And about the $6 million in corporate welfare for the Phillips Morris tobacco company, the newspaper writes that Hanger believes it "would benefit the state in terms of jobs." If you haven't told your legislators in Richmond, yet, what you think about their plans to increase state taxes, you can reach General Assembly members through the Legislative Information System. Better yet, tell both your delegate and senator.

February 24, 2004

Bread and Circuses, Arlington Style

At its February 21 meeting, the County Board approved two actions, but only one made it into the press. The Washington Post reported on the Board's approval of "a $94.5 million park and swim complex" at the North Tract location, describing it as an "elaborate park plan." It may have helped that the county's spin machine produced a press release, which provided the details. However, there was no press release advising Arlington taxpayers the Board approved advertising an effective real estate tax rate increase of 10.2% (computation is in Attachment V of Board agenda item 15A--Adobe Reader required). In our opinion, that was the more important decision. Although the Board cannot approve a higher rate, they are likely to approve the highest rate they think they can get away with unless owners of Arlington real estate convince the five Board members otherwise. Consequently, the County Board needs to hear from you. Contact information is provided under "links" at the right. The Board also approved a higher water/sewer rate on Saturday (details in agenda item 16.B--Adobe Reader required.).

February 19, 2004

Longing for the Good ol' Days?

Last week, we happily Growled about the historical perspective on real estate tax rates provided in a letter to the editor of the Arlington Sun-Gazette by anti-tax activist Wayne Kubicki where he showed the large tax rate cuts previous Boards made when assessments were skyrocketing. This week's edition of the Arlington Connection interviewed two Arlington County Board members from those by-gone years when Board members were actually responsive to skyrocketing real estate assessments. Unfortunately, their comments do not hold out hope for similar reductions by the current County Board. For example, Ellen Bozman said, "There have been so many changes in the community now. Expectations are much higher." Sounds like cover for the current crop of five tax-and-spenders on the County Board. If you haven't told them how they should vote on the real estate tax rate later this year, please do so (see link to the right) . You can also tell them at the March 25 tax rate hearing; for more information, contact ACTA's president. Tell them ACTA sent you. And then sign up for ACTA membership.

Arlington Public Schools -- Harvard on the Potomac

How else to describe a school system with an average per-pupil cost of $15,397? In an article about the schools budget in this week's Arlington Connectionan, one budget watcher quipped, "Life is good." The budget projects that 175 fewer kids will be enrolled, but it also shows that 50 more adults will be employed by the school system. And, in a period when inflation runs about 2%, "most teachers will realize a salary increase of approximately 7%" plus some other other added benefits, says the Schools press release on the budget. Perhaps the budget watcher should have quiped, "Life is sooooooooooooooo good!" You can read the Superintendent's proposed Fiscal Year 2005 budget online (you will need an Adobe Reader to access the budget document).

February 17, 2004

Bond Ratings and Reasons to Raise State Taxes

One of the reasons Virginia Governor Mark Warner (D) gives for increasing Virginia's taxes is that Virginia risks losing its AAA bond rating. Today's editorial in the Northern Virginia Journal notes that while Virginia total debt is lower than most states with AAA bond ratings, Moody's placed the state on it's "watch list" last September. The editorial cites a paper written for the Virginia Institute of Public Policy by University of Georgia professor William Kittredge who identified a problem associated with the Virginia Localities Intercept Program. The problem is that Virgnia is responsible not only for its own debt, but also for payment on the defaulted debt of its local jurisdictions. Kittredge notes that Moody's did not place Virginia on it's "watch list" solely for its own debt, but "in conjunction with" the intercept program. For example, Virginia is responsible for the defaulted debt of the city of Bristol and counties such as Lunenberg, Prince George, and Warren. The Journal editorial's conclusion has Kittredge pointing out that Moody's is "not insisting on a $1 billion tax hike. In fact, (Kittredge) calls Gov. Warner's claim that an historic increase is needed to protect the commonwealth's credit rating 'absurd on its face.'"

February 16, 2004

Arlington County Budget: Growing and Growing

Over the next few weeks, Growls will update you on each area of the county and schools budget. Where it grows a little and where it grows a lot. In the mean time, you may want to review our thoughts on the budget from February 9, immediately after the Manager proposed his budget. The Washington Post provided only a brief review that weekend. On the other hand, both the Arlington Sun-Gazette and the Arlington Connection provided rather detailed reviews in their coverage last week. The least hopeful comment on the budget seems to be that of the Board's chairman, Barbara Favola, who indicated to the Connection, "The best hope for a tax cut lies in getting more revenue from Richmond." So stay tuned to Growls, and in the meantime, contact the Arlington County Board, and tell them to cut the real estate tax rate in a very significant way.

February 15, 2004

Arlington County Board Decision on Sewage Plant Will Flush Taxpayer Dollars for Sake of Public Art

According to a January 10, 2004 county press release, the Arlington County Board approved spending between $2.0 and $3.0 million in taxpayer dollars for "aesthetic improvements and educational components." According to Board chairman Barbara Favola, this will "convey the important environmental stewardship role that the plant plays in our community . . . Improving the aesthetics is also an important goal for this Arlington gateway." These "aesthetic improvements" (i.e., public art) " are estimated to cost between $2.0 and $3.0 million," according to the Manager's report to the Board (Adobe Reader required); total cost of the plant, including the public art portion, is estimated to be $250 million +/- 40%. The Manager reports that feedback from residents living near the plant indicated their concern about the plant's appearance. Growls first reported on this in August 2003 after the Washington Post reported it. We understand the need to provide the plant with an appropriate appearance, but we question the need for "rooftop gardens" and "interpretive kiosks." In our opinion, it's nothing more than "gvernment for the government by the government paid for by 'guess who.'"

A "thump" on the head to the Manager, too, for saying in his report to the Board that the $2.0 million to $3.0 million cost for public art is "beyond a basic utilitarian approach." Since the estimated cost is between $150 million to $350 million (i.e., $250 million +/- 40%), how does the Manager know the cost of a purely 'utilitarian' approach?

February 12, 2004

Your taxes are going up!

Residential assessments for 2004 increased an average of 17.0%. Taxes on the average residence will increase by that same percentage unless the County Board significantly reduces the tax rate later this year. The tax rate is currently $0.978 per $100 of assessed value. Single-family residential property accounts for 56% of the total real estate tax base. In comparison, it comprised 54% of the tax base in 2003 and 52% in 2002.

Last year, assessments increased 17.3%, and after much public agonizing and soul searching, the County Board reduced the tax rate just 1.5 cents, which still increased tax collections by 15.5%. We’re sure they’ll be planning the same stunt again this year.

Tired of this shell game? Then call, write, or email the County Board. Tell them to reduce the tax rate just enough to cover inflation, (at least 10 cents). Encourage your friends and neighbors to do likewise, and tell them ACTA sent you.

Arlington County Board
2100 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 300
(Courthouse Metro) Arlington, VA 22201
703-228-3130 703-228-7430 (FAX)
Email: countyboard@co.arlington.va.us

February 11, 2004

How did previous Arlington County Boards respond to skyrocketing real estate assessments?

A letter to the editor in this week's issue of the Arlington Sun-Gazette (February 12) provides Arlingtonians an historical perspective of how responsive previous County Boards were in reducing the real estate tax rate when confronted with skyrocketing real estate assessments. The letter is written by Wayne Kubicki, a member of the county's Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, and an anti-tax activist. For example, Kubicki's research showed that during the three years, 1979-1981, assessments increased 14%, 23%, and 21%, respectively. In response, those Boards produced double-digit rate relief in all three years: 16 cents (11% cut), 17 cents (13%), and 16 cents (14%). Since ACTA's ad currently running in the Sun-Gazette has the Kiljoy character saying, "assessments don't tax people, politicians tax people," one really has to wonder what kind of pretenders are currently sitting in the leather chairs reserved for County Board members.

February 09, 2004

County's Proposed Budget is Irresponsible, and Not Fiscally Sustainable

While Arlington homeoners are still reeling from the right-cross delivered when they opened the 2004 real estate assessment notices sent out by the County Assessor last month, the County Manager hit them with a left upper-cut on Saturday with his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2005. That's on top of last year's assessments, which were 17% more than the 2002 assessments. Not only does the County Manager's proposed budget keep the current real estate tax rates the same, says yesterday's Washington Post, the paper points out the budget would increase the E-911 monthly telephone charge from $1.75 to $3.00, and his budget would add $72 to the average residential water and sewer bill. According to the county's Saturday press release about the Manager's proposal, the budget is a 7.1% increase over last year's budget at a time when the latest data from the federal government shows inflation increased by 1.9% in 2003. Such increases of two and three times the inflation rate have been common over the past several years. How fiscally sustainable and responsible is that? And, what about the schools budget? Today's Northern Virginia Journal points out that because of the School Board's revenue sharing agreement with the County Board, the schools will be getting a 9.6% increase even though enrollment has leveled out. Citizens interested in digging into the budget, and learning how their tax dollars are spent can access the budget online by using the link near the bottom of the press release. Remember, though: as Kiljoy says in ACTA's ad in last week's Arlington Sun-Gazette, "assessments don't tax people, politicians tax people!" Look for it in the next several weekly issues; give it to your neighbor if you are already an ACTA member.

February 08, 2004

Unable to Control Federal Spending, U.S. Senator Opines on Virginia's Taxes

Apparently, it's not enough to aid in the bankrupting of federal taxpayers, for Virginia's U.S. Senator John Warner (R). He now weighs in on the side of Virginia's tax-and-spend liberals. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Warner told reporters while meeting with them at the state Capitol in Richmond on Friday, "Politics be damned! Let's consider what's best for the men and women of this great state and their families and children." It's nice to know that Senator Warner believes that bigger government, and the greater its plundering, mean that Virginia's families will be better off although Growls finds it hard to understand the Senator's logic.

February 06, 2004

House Finance Committee Was the 'First Dance'

On Wednesday, February 4, the Finance Committee of the House of Delegates, voted to kill virtually every tax bill that came before it. The only tax bill approved "was a measure to eliminate the extate tax, which passed the legislature last year but was vetoed by (Governor Mark) Warner (D)," said the Washington Post [registration may be required]. According to Delegate Franklin Hall (D), in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "House Republicans won yesterday, he said, but 'the war will go on for the rest of the session.'" House Speaker William Howell (R-Stafford) is quoted in the Post article saying, "This is only the first dance." The Virginian-Pilot points out the tax fight now "shifts to the House Appropriations Committee as it drafts its budget proposal" and its chairman, Vince Callahan (R-McLean). Delegate Tim Hugo (R-Centreville) said, according to the Northern Virginia Journal, "I think we said we don't want new taxes, point blank."

February 05, 2004

Arlington Taxpayers Being Set-up by County Board for Repeat of Prior Years?

This coming Saturday the County Manager will present his proposed budget to the County Board and to the community. It marks the start of the budget season in Arlington. Based upon an article in the February 4-10, 2004 Arlington Conncection, however, it appears that the County Board is set to give taxpayers a sop by cutting the real estate tax rate by 'a cent or two.' In the article, Board member Paul Ferguson first tells the Arlington Connection, "I can tell you, the tax rate will be cut." However, three paragraphs later, Ferguson says, "It's always the case that you have people saying Arlington is not doing enough," but in the same breath he continues, "There a very small number of people saying we should do less and cut the tax rate." Anticipating this, ACTA's president is quoted in the article saying, "What they've done in the past couple years, they've been almost cynical, they only cut the rate one or two cents."

February 04, 2004

Will Oregon vote get attention of Virginia's General Assembly?

In a referendum titled Measure 30, Oregon voters have told their governor and legislators enough is enough. An AP story says, "In convincing fashion, Oregon voters turned aside warnings about damaging state budget cuts as they resoundingly rejected a proposed $800 million tax hike" yesterday. According to the latest numbers, with 80% of the voted counted, the measure was being defeated by a margin of 60% NO to 40% YES. According to a related story in the Oregonian, opponents of the measure were seeking "to put a leash on legislators spending." Even without the additional jack, "the state will boost overall spending by about $1.6 billion, or 4 percent in the next two years." As former state Senator Gene Derfler (R) noted, "Legislators will look and scrounge around to find another pot of money to provide more programs."

February 03, 2004

Cavuto Talks Common Sense About Class Warfare

A lot of the primary candidates this year spend a lot of time bashing the rich. In an op-ed in today's Washington Times, Neil Cavuto says, "There's nothing classy about pitting one group of people against another . . . Because truth be told, this isn't about us and what we're paying. It's about the government and what it's keeping." He ends by saying, "You make more in this country. You pay more in this country. It was that way before the president's tax cuts. It's been that way since the president's tax cuts. It's amazing to me that bureaucrats who live off the system are bashing the guys who give 'em the sustenance."

For evidence of how much the rich really do pay, look at the table on the National Taxpayers Union's website of who pays income taxes, and who pays what. For example, in 2001, taxpasyers with adjusted gross incomes above $292,913 pay 34% of personal income taxes while those with AGI's above $127,904 pay 53%.

February 02, 2004

Debate over Increasing Virginia's Taxes Heats Up

Today's Washington Post identifies the advertising campaigns that have been launched by both sides in the tax debate currently going on in the General Assembly. The slickest seems to be the group supporting the tax increase plan supported by Governor Mark Warner (D), which involved sending out 670,000 glossy mailers. The anti-tax effort takes a different tack, however. The prime example in this campaign, according to the Post article, are ads "criticizing Republican lawmakers who are on the fence or who support the major tax plans." If the 2002 sales tax referendum is any indication, the pro-tax forces will outspend the anti-tax forces by several factors.

Opposed to raising Virginia's taxes (sales, income, cigarette, gas, among others)? If so, sign the NoTaxHike petition.