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December 24, 2004

Merry Christmas

We wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I will not be growling until late next week. Until then, peace and goodwill.

December 23, 2004

A Lump of Coal for Virginia's Governor

Today's Washington Times includes an interview with Virginia Govenor Mark Warner (D) in which he talks about his legacy, and the paper reports, "The Democratic governor said he is proud of the 17 maverick Republicans who broke with their caucus and joined Democrats to pass the ($1.38 billion) tax-reform package." The paper quoted him saying, "The thing I'm proudest of this year is that there was that re-emergence of what I call the sensible center." For his part in the largest tax increase in Virginia's history, we ask Santa to leave a lump of coal in his Christmas stocking.

December 22, 2004

Federal Agriculture Department's Plan to Further Soak Taxpayers

In a letter yesterday to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) asked OMB to look into planned fee increases by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). NTU was concerned both about the size and manner of the increase -- 61% effective January 1, 2005 even though the public comment period for the increase doesn't close until February 7, 2005. NTU also asked what options USDA/APHIS looked at, e.g., greater efficiencies, etc. According to NTU, "This fee increase will cost taxpayers $680 million over the next six years -- all without a single vote of Congress." For more info at USDA, contact here or here. NTU advised their members that opposition to the increase can be sent to: regulations@aphis.usda.gov.

December 21, 2004

Is a Tax Revolt Possible in 'Berkeley on the Potomac' (aka Arlington)?

Yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle included an op-ed by one of the paper's editorial writers bemoaning the tax revolt brewing in Berkeley, which he described as "one of the nation's most left-leaning strongholds." (vying with Arlington, we presume) Seems even the voters of Berkeley will refuse to approve tax increases when they are afforded the opportunity to voice their opinions. According to the Chronicle story, "Berkeley's tax revolt is an unexpected fallout from Proposition 13, which ignited the conservative tax movement a quarter century ago . . . Behind the votes, there's anger. Stratospheric home prices have resulted in homeowners paying absurdly unequal property taxes . . . A new generation of homeowners may end paying $10,000 and upwards on a modest Berkeley bungalow they'd be lucky to buy for $700,000." Even the writer, a long-time resident of Berkeley, admitted, "If you're one of those who bought your house recently, you're going to think twice about voting for a measure that is going to raise your tax bill." Seems the question for the Arlington County Board, then, is how high can they raise real estate taxes before setting off a tax revolt in Arlington. Click here for more on California's Proposition 13. Click here for more information about VOTORS (Virginians Overtaxed on Residences, which is urging Virginia's current market value system be changed. A hat tip to Michelle Malkin for the Berkeley tax revolt story.

December 20, 2004

Arlington County Board Approves Half-Million Dollar Dog Park

On September 8, Arlington County Manager issued his extraordinary memorandum on budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2006, which begins July 1, 2005. The Manager explained, "The challenge we face is the long-term economic sustainability of the community." (emphasis in the original) He went on to write, "I have noted many times how fortunate we are in Arlington. We are in a position to provide literally any public services the public wants. We cannot, however, provide every public service . . . Ultimately, it will fall to our elected leaders to make the really hard decisions that balance all of the competing needs." In approving a dog park next to the Madison Community Center on North Stafford Street on December 11, the County Board proved how prescient the Manager was, not to mention the Board's inability to make the hard decisions. More details are in last Thursday's Arlington Sun-Gazette. For complete details about the dog park, see the Manager's report to the County Board (requires Adobe Reader) on agenda item 32.

December 17, 2004

Santa Claus Visits County Board

The Arlington County Board had a special visitor on Saturday, December 11, its last meeting of 2004. Santa Claus came in the form of U.S. Representive Jim Moran who was bringing goodies from American taxpayers. According to the county's press release Moran presented more than $7 million in pork-barrel spending that was included in the recently passed appropriations bill. Santa's goodies included $1.25 million for streetscape improvements on Columnbia Pike, $800,000 for a transit-way through the new Potomac Yard, and, $97,000 for something called the Shirlington Incubation Center for New Media, Film and Video. We have previously "growled" about pork-barrel spending, which are officially referred to on Capitol Hill as earmarks. For an additional view on "the anatomy of an earmark" see this 'Web Memo' from the Heritage Foundation where it appears that earmarks are now for sale by lobbying firms. A 'hat tip' to Virginia News Source for Web Memo item.

December 14, 2004

Arlington County Board's "Left-of-Center" Agenda Overruled

Yesterday's Washington Post reported that a Circuit Court ruled on Friday that Arlington's so-called affordable housing guidelines "were in fact requirements, and that as a result, the county had exceeded its legal authority under state law." According to the Post, the property owner is Kansas-Lincoln LC and the case involves property near the Virginia Square Metro station. The Post noted that a representative of the property owner said the "voluntary guidelines" would have cost the owner $6.5 million. According to this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette, the decision "is a stinging rebuke of the county government's handling of affordable housing, and a major victory for the development community." The decision is another victory for those who believe the Dillon Rule protects them from overzealous local legislators; as the Sun-Gazette reports the judge's ruling "hinges largely on Virginia's adherence to the Dillon Rule." Last week's Arlington Connection cited one knowledgeable spokesman who thought a ruling against the county would mean that "it's pretty much back to the drawing board." A press release issued by the county's spinmeisters said, in part, "According to County Board Chairman Barbara Favola, "Our policies have created a world-class, inclusive community resulting in dramatically increased valueds for developers and landowners, low taxes, and cosmopolitan amenities for residents and businesses." We assume the part about 'low taxes' was said in jest.

December 13, 2004

Arlington County Manager Plays Santa Clause for County Employees

The headline of last Thursday's (December 9) Arlington Sun-Gazette said it all -- "Holidays Come Early for County Staff." According to the newspaper, "County Manager Ron Carlee and the County Board presented county employees with an early Christmas present last week, giving employees two unexpected days off -- one on December 23, the second a personal day for each employee at a date of their choosing in 2005." Why? County officials "were pleased enough with the results of a county-commissioned customer satisfaction survey." County Board Chairman Barbara Favola told the paper, "I loved the idea -- it's a way to do something meaningful for our employees without breaking the budget," and then added, "We're just trying to be good and compassionate employers." ACTA's president Tim Wise asked, "If the results of the satisfaction survey had been unfavorable, would the board and manager have proposed that employees work on two or three of their vacation days?" It's doubtful!

December 12, 2004

A Laurel for General Assembly and Governor

Growler fans know there are few kudos or laurels for politicians. An except, though, comes to mind today in a news item in today's Roanoke Times, which reported, "When confronted with record revenue shortfalls in 2002 and 2003, Virginia's General Assembly could have resorted to a strategy that several other states employed to plug budget holes during a nationwide economic downturn." Governor Warner (D) added, "The rainy-day fund was set up to take care of downturns . . . The tobacco funds were not." The newspaper cited an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures that eight states "traded future tobacco settlement payments for immediate cash" from 2000 to 2003. "Several other states diverted all or part of their annual settlement payments from designated programs to help cover shortfalls." Virginia has misused its funds just once -- in 2001.

December 10, 2004

Likelihood of Rolling Rack Virginia's Largest Tax Increase? Nah!

Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that House Speaker William Howell (R) said yesterda, "he'll oppose efforts that fellow Republicans might mount to repeal the tax increase approved by the General Assembly (earlier) this year." According to the report, "Howell said that while he strongly opposed the $1.4 billion tax increase championed by Governor Mark R. Warner, the chances of repealing it next year are remote." He then added that any effort to rollback this spring's tax increase would be likely be "stymied in the Senate or killed by the governor's veto." He did offer hope of "some tax relief," specifically citing phase-out of the state sales tax on groceries, and he "ruled out any increase in the state's gasoline tax."

December 09, 2004

Is Richmond Getting Set to Raise Your Taxes, Again?

Thanks to the help of Virginia Senator John Chichester (R-Stafford), Virginians saw the largest tax increase in its history in 2004. Governor Warner (D) and the Republican-controlled General Assembly used it to provide more money, they said, for K-12 education. Some wanted to raise taxes even more to spend on transportation, but they left that for the 2005 General Assembly. A story in today's Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star detailed some of the debate in Richmond about financing transportation. The big question, according to the paper is "where that money will come from remains unclear." An AP story posted at the same website today said Governor Warner proposed an $824 million package "that will be part of the budget he offers the General Assembly next week . . . (that will include) more than $256 million to retire debt for highway projects completed years ago and add $$147 million to finance projects already in the state's six-year master transportation plan." This press release from the governor's office provides more details on his transportation plan. In a panel discussion last night before the Arlington Committee of 100, Delegate Dave Albo (R) spoke of a bond package to use in paying for transportation projects, but Senator Mary Margaret Whipple (D) responded to that by saying, "if you think that's going to pass, you have another thought coming."

December 08, 2004

Liberal Like Arlington, but More Serious About Its Budget

Being home to the University of Virginia, it's likely that local government in Charlottesville is as liberal as Arlington's. However, a report in Tuesday's The Daily Press of Charlottsveille discusses the budget guidance that the City Council provided to their city manager in preparing the Fiscal Year 2006 budget. The council told the manager to prepare two budgets -- one keeping the tax rate at $1.09 per $100 of assessed value and a second budget based upon lowering the real estate tax rate to $1.07. In addition, the manager was told to investigate the possibility of raising the personal property tax (i.e., the car tax) to make up any shortfall. The Arlington County Board ignored a very similar recommendation made to it by its own Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC). Rather, in a 5-0 vote taken at about 1:00 am, November 17, the Board approved the chairman's "2nd revision" of the Board's budget guidance (Adobe .pdf required) where the most concrete portion is there can be no increase in the number of personnel in the General Fund programs in the proposed budget. The remaining portions of the Board's guidance is filled with words like "to the extent possible" or "consider establishment." Consequently, the outlook of the Manager's proposed budget for taxpayers cannot be good, and taxpayers cannot be happy about the prospect for a fiscally sustanable budget come February 2005.

December 06, 2004

On Taxes, Trust Voters and Not Politicians

An article in Human Events Online reminds that whenever the decision to raise taxes is put in the hands of the citizens, there is a high probability a majority of those citizens will oppose higher taxes. The latest evidence comes from the state of Washington where voter "crushed" I-884 by a margin of 60-40. Revenues of about $1 billion from this tax measure would have been "dedicated to education, perhaps the most popular function of government in a state that prides itself on its pubblic schools and technical prowess. In fact, seventy percent of Washington pollsters in March that education was their top priority." Even though the tax measure was defeated by the 60-40 margin, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry "handily won (the state) 53-46." The article makes clear that when tax increases are put in the hands of the voters, higher taxes are invariably defeated. "The latest win in Washington makes it clear that across the nation, taxpayers are consistently refusing to foot the bill for government waste and excessive spending. Alabama and Oregon have already streamlined government in response to this reality."

December 05, 2004

Property Taxes Rising, but Paper Reports Wrong Reasons

The headline in last Friday's Christian Science Monitor reported that "property taxes are rising nationwide." Unfortunately, after the headline, not much else seemed correct. For example, the second paragraph blamed "the local tax assessor (who) is dipping deeper into homeowners' pockets as real estate prices rise and states share less of their tax revenue with local government." Rising property tax are not the fault of the assessors but are the fault of the politicians who refuse to reduce tax rates sufficiently to offset the increased assessments. The paper also cites a university "property tax expert" who claims there is a "property tax crisis." If there is a crisis, the cause is the greed of local politicians for more tax dollars irregardless of the source. The paper also blames "changing demographics" and because "many governors are still grappling with ways to close budget gaps. One way for them to cut expenses: reduce funding to local governments." Happily, the paper does report that citizens are fighting back, e.g., "in New Jersey, a grass-roots group, Citizens for Property Tax Reform, says it has 500,000 participants after 15 months of existence." In Virginia, by the way, there is VOTORS -- Virginians Overtaxed on Residences -- working to establish limits on increases in property taxes.

December 03, 2004

'Happy Talk' Among the Tax Increasers

Yesterday's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on a "fund-raising lunch" held by the Foundation for Virginia, "the lobbying group formed to help the Warner administration push through state tax increases this year." The headline said it all, "Lobbying group lauds tax increase," but the article added, "The group's efforts are credited with helping to persuade the 2004 General Assembly to increase state taxes by about $1.4 billion." Despite the 'happy talk,' the paper notes, "legislators have appeared reluctant to endorse a second round of tax increases for transportation, or other purposes." About 400 people are reported to have attended the lunch festivities so we expect to see their names among contributors to Virginia's Tax Me More Fund (as of 12/3/04, there are only three names). Also here for an earlier 'growling' about the fund.

December 02, 2004

"Triumph of the Political Class"

Jim Bacon publishes the Internet newsletter Bacon's Rebellion, which covers "Virginia's new economy." In the lead article, titled as above, for the November 29 edition, Bacon writes, "Despite gushing state revenues from economic growth and tax hikes, the special interests still want more. Don't believe their spin on the budget." He adds, "Under the guise of 'tax reform, Virginia's political class stitched together a Frankenstein of a tax increase expected to raise about $750 million a year. No sooner had the taxes gone into effect than it became evident that a rebounding economy was generating a surplus, which had reached $248 million by October, the fourth month of the fiscal year." He urges the 2005 General Assembly to either repeal the 2004 tax hikes or "pass a comparable sum back to taxpayers in the form of other tax cuts." Great advice, it seems! While you're reading the entire article, take a minute, and subscribe to Bacon's Rebellion.

December 01, 2004

Semantic Games of the Political Elite

What a surprise it was to read Sunday's editorial in the liberal Virginian-Pilot telling local governments in the area that "only extraordinary circumstances" would enable them to keep the "back door tax hikes" that are coming their way from rocketing increases in property tax assessments. More interesting, however, is that the editors are fully aware of the games played by the local government poohbahs, noting, for example, that "city councils will drop their tax rates by a penny or two so they can say they've cut taxes." Will the political elites get the message? It's doubtful since Arlington County's political elite have remained unscathed from such "back door tax increases" for the past five or six years.