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January 29, 2005

Will Tax Rate Cut This Year be "Substantial" Enough?

The big question from now until April when the Arlington County Board sets the real estate tax rate is how much will the Board cut the rate to offset the average 24% increase in residential real estate assessments. According to this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette, the Board chairman "has promised that this year's cut . . . will be more substantial than those in recent years." Over the past few years, the Board has grudgingly cut that rate by a measly one or two pennies annually. In the article, the paper quotes Wayne Kubicki, arguably the premier 'cruncher' of county financial data, saying the Board can cut the rate between 8 and 9 cents "and still have five percent budget growth this year." Meanwhile, at their meeting this morning, the Sun-Gazette reports, "County Board members . . . unanimously lined up behind General Assembly legislation that would provide tax relief for homeowners, saying they would work to forge alliances throughout the commonwealth to support the proposal." This week's Sun-Gazette also reported on the "tax relief" legislation patroned by Delegate Bob Brink (D). To see a summary and status of Brink's "homestead exemption" legislation, click here. In our humble opinion, a cut of 8 to 9 cents is a good starting point. County and School government has been growing much faster than inflation for many years now, and it's time for the County Board to become fiscally responsible. [Updated 1/31/05]

January 27, 2005

Property taxes - "Gift that Keeps Giving to Politicians"

Earlier this week, we growled about property taxes, and included a link to a relevant USA Today article. A related article in USA Today on Tuesdday noted that moving to a small town offered no escape from property taxes. The paper featured the case of the founder of Virginians OverTaxed on Residences (VOTORS), and noted that the nation seemed poised last year to launch a nationwide revolt over property taxes. According to the expert cited in the article, "The revolution fizzled -- in almost every state." However, he added, "The beautiful thing from a political perspective is there's not a lot of incentive to do anything . . . The politicians aren't raising tax rates, but they're getting new property tax revenue (because of rising home values). This kind of system is the gift that keeps giving to politicians." Not happy with the amount of property taxes you're paying to Arlington County, join ACTA in the fight for limited government at the local level!

January 26, 2005

'Shake 'n Bake' -- Arlington Style

For as long as I have lived in Arlington County, when it comes to taxes, the mantra of the County Board has been "but we have the lowest tax rate in the region." Folks, it still hasn't changed! In last week's press release announcing the 24% increase for the average single-family residence in Arlington, the last bullet repeats the 'lowest tax rate in the region' mantra.

The spinmeisters do provide two useful pieces of information, however, which are the dates for appealing assessments. They are:

Departmental -- March 1
Board of Equalization -- April 15

January 25, 2005

Will higher property taxes lead to widespread tax revolts?

That was the basic question of a report in today's USA Today that said, Homeowners in many metropolitan areas are bracing for another round of higher tax bills as a hot real estate market and other factors push property taxes to new levels." Citing US Census numbers, the paper notes that property taxes were up 7.9% in the first nine months of 2004. They also noted that "property owners in at least eight states are urging legislators to limit increases in property taxes." One such state is New Jersey where legislators "are pushing for a constitutional convention to revise the tax system." Instead of revising the tax system, how about controlling the growth of government. Want to get your local politician go tongue-tied? Ask them to justify why Arlington government should grow faster than the inflation rate plus population growth! At the state level, Virginia Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R) has patroned SJ 408 that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

January 24, 2005

"Feeling Our Pain, and then Some"

It's not often the editorial staff of the Richmond Times-Dispatch sheds a tear for the follks here in Arlington County. One of their editorials on Saturday, however, took note of the 24% jump in Arlington's residential real estate assessments. By comparison, they note "the average city house (in Richmond) is assessed 23 percent higher than it was in 2001." After pointing out how much Arlington's assessments have increased, they end with "Wow. Perhaps it's not so bad here after all." The Arlington County Board, however, can reduce the pain by significantly cutting the real estate tax rate when they approve the FY2006 budget in April. By the way, "significantly" doesn't mean the Board's puny two or three cent cuts of prior years. We're talking a minimum two-digit cut in the real estate tax rate.

January 23, 2005

Will Planned Conference Center become Arlington's White Elephant?

In his New Year's Day 2005 speech, County Board chairman Jay Fisette said that Arlington must 'grow smart' and specifically identified the proposed conference center in Pentagon City as the first of three 'strategic investments' that the Board 'must target.' Two questions come to mind. Does a taxpayer-subsidized conference center make economic sense? And, if a conference center makes economic sense, then why isn't the private sector building it? A new study from the Brookings Institution suggests the County Board should take a very long look at the economic numbers supporting the planned center. Their conclusion said, "This analysis should give local leaders pause as they consider calls for ever more public investment into the convention business, while weighing simultaneously where else scarce public funds could be spent to boost the urban economy. The Brookings study found that not only is "(t)he overall convention marketplace . . . declining" but "(f)aced with increased competition, many cities spend more money on additional convention amenities, like publicly-financed hotels." The January 2004 issue of Virginia Business featured an article noting that "(m)any Virginia cities are building convention centers" and went on to ask whether they are worth it. For this we pay taxes?

January 22, 2005

Virginia's Politicians: Doing What They Do Best

Earlier this week, we 'growled' about a report in Tuesday's Richmond Times-Dispatch because one pol was forgetting that Virginia's taxpayers have been overcharged, and we weren't getting back any change. Thursday's Times-Dispatch reported, "A surprise waterfall of tax collections has left lawmakers thirstier to spend the extra dollars in an election year." The paper noted the budget-writing committees want revised revenue projections before revealing their spending plans. The paper then noted that "More money available means more appropriations for some of their pet projects, a prospect even more appealing and pressing in an election year for all 100 seats in the House of Delegates." As California's Governor Schwarzenegger was recented quoted, "We don't want to feed the monster. We don't want to feed the state -- the public sector -- and starve the private sector. We want to feed the private sector and starve the public sector." Take heed Virginia politicians!

January 21, 2005

You Want to do What with Our Taxes?

Politicians want us to think of them as leaders, but they do nothing more than serve special interests. We now have what must be the most blatant example to come down the pike in many a year. Virginia Senator Russell Potts (R-Winchester) is the sponsor of Senate Bill 952, which requires Virginia's public schools to teach the humane treatment of animals. According to the bill's summary, it passed the Senate's Education and Health Committee 7-5 with one abstention, and the full Senate dispensed the "Constituional reading" today 38-0. Today's Newport News Daily Press carried the AP story while the Washington Times included the story in their General Assembly coverage. According to the Daily Press account, Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) "said some people who grow up abusing animals ultimately wind up in trouble with the law for violence toward other people," and quoted him directly saying, "There definitely is a correlation there." The paper also reports comments by lobbyists representing animal welfare groups. Senator Harry Blevins (R-Chesapeake), a retired public school principal, opposed the measure, and correctly noted, "I am concerned about what we keep piling on and forcing public schools to do." How about passing legislation dealing with the core functions of government, Senators?

January 20, 2005

Some of It, Delegate? How about all of it?

Tuesdays Richmond Times-Dispatch brought the news that state tax collections are producing a "bumper crop of revenues" for the state with collections for December running 19% ahead of last year. The paper noted that while some legislators "cheered" that news, "some Republicans used the occasion to renew their argument that last year's record $1.4 billion in tax increases were unnecessary." Delegate Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) "fought" those increases, but the paper quoted him saying, "I hope we will consider returning some of the record surplus to the people of the commonwealth." Some of it? How about all of it? That would be the right thing to do!

January 19, 2005

Rembember that It Takes Two to Tango

For most Arlington property owners, the sticker shock most received when they opened their 2005 assessments from the county may be starting to wear off. Remember, though, that assessments only become onerous when the Arlington County Board approves the budget in April and sets the tax rates for the next year. Put another way, increasing assessments may benefit the property owner, but the tax rate virtually always benefits the government. The County Board can, if they choose, reduce the real estate tax rate sufficiently so that your tax payment for 2005 is no higher that 2004. The headline in today's Washington Post, "Arlington Property Values Up 24 Percent," highlights the burden that Arlington taxpayers may have to bear this year, though it also notes that county "Republicans are already calling for a substantial cut in the county's tax rate of 95.8 cents." The Post article also noted that the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission had "warned recently that Arlington needs to stop spending money at the same rate based on its growing property tax revenue." Contact the County Board (see link at right).

January 18, 2005

2005 Assessments: Can Arlington Home Values Go Any Higher?

Most Arlington taxpayers are probably stil recovering from sticker shock this evening after getting their 2005 real estate assessment notice in the mail today. According to the County, the average single-family residence increased an average of 24%. This year, renters will likely be feeling the pinch as well since the value of multi-family residential property increased by 15.5%. The value of all other commercial property increased by 7%. For more information such as the assessment process or how to appeal your assessment, visit the County's Office of Real Estate Assessment. You can check the value of neighboring properties here. The Arlington County Board will not set the tax rates that will apply to the 2005 assessments until April. However, more than ever, it is important that each and every property owner contact the County Board to emphasize to them how important it is that they make meaningful cuts in the real estate tax rate this year, and not the puny one or two cent cuts they have made over the past several years (see links to the right).

January 16, 2005

Message to Virginia's Pols: You're Shortchanging Us!

With a $900 million surplus staring them in the face, the big question for Virginia's 2005 General Assembly is whether they will return it to its rightful owners, Virginia's taxpayers. Melanie Scarborough's op-ed in today's Washington Post puts the issue so clear that even the tax-and-spend members of the General Assembly and the Governor's office can understand: "If you hand over $10 to pay for an item that costs $8.50, you expect to get change back. If a clerk pocketed the difference instead, most Virginians would be outraged. Yet some state lawmakers would see nothing wrong with such a practice." She then identifies programs that are "redundant or obsolete." She closes with "No one sent taxes to the state treasury with instructions to keep the change." It seems clear enough to me!

January 14, 2005

"Tyranny of Judicial Taxation"

According to the January 3 Journal-World of Lawrence, Kansas, "The Kansas Supreme Court today said the $2.7 billion state school finance system is unconstitutional and gave the Legislature until April 12 to fix it." The paper also noted that a lower court "said the finance system shortchanged all students by nearly $1 billion." NewsChannel8 posted an ABC story that included this: "'It is clear increased funding will be required; however, increased funding may not in and of itself make the financing formula constitutionally suitable,' the court said in an unanimous, unsigned opinion," and added, "the state's school finance formula is based not on what it actually costs to educate students, 'but rather on political and other factors not relevant to education.'" But who gave the judiciary the right of taxation? Bob Barr, UPI columnist and former member of the U.S. House of Representative from Georgia, responds to that exact question in a column in today's Washington Times where he notes, "recent developments in America's very heartland -- in Kansas -- suggests the gathering glow of a disturbing trend in the states: taxation by judicial fiat." Barr also writes, "Perhaps the scariest part of this story, however, is that it may not be an isolated case. According to the Access Project, a liberal group in New York that supports higher education funding, 24 states . . . have pending lawsuits challenging levels of education funding." In May 2003, I referred to this Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute (Adobe Acrobat needed to read entire study) that focused on the Kansas City, Missouri school district there a federal judge ordered what amounted to a 'cost-is-no-object education plan.' Not unsurprisingly, the paper's executive summary noted, "The results were dismal." It's just my opinion, but every American taxpayer should send a copy of Barr's column to their favorite activist judge!

January 13, 2005

Another $100 Million of Your Federal Taxes Down the Rathole

According to this Los Angeles Times report, posted at Yahoo News, "A new FBI computer program designed to help agents share information to ward off terrorists attacks may have to be scrapped, the agency has concluded, forcing a further delay in a four-year, half-billion-dollar overhaul of its antiquated computer system." The LA Times says that any decision to proceed with new software would "render worthless" about $100 million of the $170 million that has been paid to the contractor. The newspaper identifies a major cause for the financial fiasco, noting, "A Government Accountability Office report last year noted that the FBI had gone through five chief information officers in the preceeding 24 months." But, hey, it's not their money! Hat tip to the Virginia News Source.

January 12, 2005

Another Cupcake, Please

The Washington Times began their Wednesday, January 12 report on a press conference sponsored by anti-tax activisits in Richmond with, "Anti-tax groups today will urge the General Assembly to finally eliminate the unpopular car tax this year as they give "No Car Tax" cupcakes to each legislator arriving for the session's opening day. The groups' members said they will demand that lawmakers use a projected $919 million budget surplus to eliminate the car tax or give Virginians other tax relief." Both the Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on bills their sponsors hope to get passed in the 2005 session. Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R) from Fairfax "said he will push for limits on state spending that would restrict increases to population growth and inflation" while Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R) from Prince William "is sponsoring a bill to jump-start repeal of the local tax on personal motor vehicles" (i.e., the car tax). Not surprisingly, news about the press conference got buried deep into the Washington Post's coverage of General Assembly politics. The Virginian Pilot chose to focus on the appearance at the press conference of Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and wrote, "Norquist said Republican lawmakers who supported the (2004 $1.4 billion) tax increases are 'foolish people' who were misled by (Governor Mark) Warner (D) into thinking the state faced a financial crisis." You can see an Adobe copy of ATR's "Least Wanted" poster of those Republican lawmakers who voted for the $1.4 billion tax increase.

January 11, 2005

Congress Fumbles Opportunity to Assert Limited Government

Buried at the end of a January 4 story in the Washington Times on ethics rule changes was an effort by conservatives in the House to adopt new rules to rein in spending. According to Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas, "We think its absolutely critical that people understand the Republican Party is still committed to limited government." The article noted that Hensarling and members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) "offered several proposals to make it more difficult for the House to boost spending. All were defeated." In December, the National Taxpayers Union urged adoption of '10 Simple Rules,' and wrote in an open letter (requires Adobe Reader) to the House of Representatives, "Fiscal conservatives who are concerned about the overall size and growth of government should be supportive, but those who are concerned with preserving adequate funding levels for effective government programs also have incentives." The NTU letter lists the 10 proposed rule changes. A 'Web Memo' yesterday from the Heritage Foundation opined that it was 'A Bad Week for Limited Government,' and concluded, "Americans concerned about controlling the size of government can only hope the (RSC) members who sponsored the rejected rule changes will continue to press the stronger budget controls and will eventually prevail." A 'hat tip' to the Club for Growth's blogsite for the pointer to Heritage's Web Memo.

January 10, 2005

Metro Needs Directors Who are Not Artists or Social Engineers

NewsChannel8 reported today an AP story that "Metro plans to install 30 stylish canopies by the end of the winter to protect escalators from rain and snow." The original plan was to install 50 canopies at a cost of $27 million (unit cost increasing from $450,000 to $761,000) "but a nearly 70 percent increase in material and design costs forced the agency to slash the number." One Metro manager actually defended the design change by saying, "The system must be befitting of the nation's capital." (emphasis added). Last Friday's Northern Virginia Journal (page 7, January 7; Adobe required) reported that some Metro directors were pushing for a so-called 'living wage.' According to the Journal, the item was discussed at the "behest" of Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who chairs the Metro board's Planning, Development and Administration Committee. The Journal article noted the proposal could cost $5 million, but noted that "Zimmerman disputed that figure." The paper also said there is the possibility the proposal could jeopardize funds from the federal government "since it makes the agency seem cash flush." Metro directors should be ensuring that Metro operates efficiently and economical rather than playing art director or pushing social engineering experiments. If they did their jobs, there wouldn't be a need for 'dedicated funding sources,' i.e., a regional sales tax!

January 09, 2005

The Greed of the Political Elite

Mondays' Washington Post reports that "Montgomery County leaders are preparing for a olitical battle this spring over whether to cut the property tax rate or use the additional revenues to support an increasingly strained network of government services." Some politiccal leaders, however, recognize it is possible to kill the golden goose. The paper quotes Council member Nancy Floreen (D) saying, "Our challenge is to recognize the fact that disposable incomes are not increasing at the same rate as assessments." And even though Monthgomery County's budget has increased $1 billion over the past seven years (by comparison, Arlington's current FY2005 budget is $871 million), the paper notes "officials and community leaders say the dollars are not keeping pace with needs." One Council member, George Leventhal (D) who is reportedly planning to run for county executive says, "The list of needs is endless." Interestingly, the story's headline notes that Montgomery County home values are "surging," and the paper notes that one third of homeowners "saw an average 69 percent increase in their assessments" last week. Arlington taxpayers need to brace themselves for very large assessment increases as well since the County Manager has said that average increase will be 20%. A 1990 charter amendment in Montgomery County requires budget increases be limited essentially to the increases in the inflation unless 7 of 9 Council members vote to override the cap, but Arlington has no such cap.

January 08, 2005

For Some Enough is Never Enough

Yesterday's Virginian Pilot reports that Governor Warner's (D) 3% pay raise for state teachers will not satisfy the Virginia Education Association (VEA), the teachers' union, which "is pushing for a 5% increase." According to the paper, Delegate John Welch (R-Virginia Beach) "criticized the VEA's 5 percent request. It's never enough for them,' he said. 'They're never satisfied. Their priority is not the children of Virginia. Their priority is money.'" While some may be critical of that view, as the paper points out, "Last year, the General Assembly doled out $1.5 billion in new money for education. Although there was no state-mandated pay raise, many local cities used the extra money for raises." As if to prove the view of Delegate Welch, the paper also notes, "But even if the 5 percent raise was approved, teacher groups say they would press school boards and city councils to do more." The education unionist are also pressing their greed throughout the Commonwealth as evidenced by this article in today's Winchester Star, which notes similar demands of the teachers' unions in Winchester and Clarke and Frederick counties. Unfortunately, leaders of the government schools seem to buy into those increases. For example, the superintendent of the Winchester schools, where teachers got 4.5% raises last year and are now seeking 5% raises, was quoted saying, "It's a reasonable request, but whether we can meet that or not is the issue.

January 07, 2005

If an 18% increase in Assessments is Alarming, What is One of 20%?

The Virginian Pilot reports today that Norfolk's City Council may cut the city's real estate tax rate after a 10.5% increase last year and an anticipated increase of 18% this year. In fact, the paper reports that some Council members have called the anticipated 18% increase 'alarming.' If 18% is an alarming increase in real estate assessments, then what is 20% since that is what the Arlington County Manager (see his September 8, 2004 memo) has predicted as the increase for residential property owners in Arlington County? The Virginian Pilot story is worth reading because it is evident that government bureaucrats are more concerned about the welfare of government than they are of their jurisdiction's taxpayers. For example, one Council member told the paper, "The people crying for real estate tax relief already have a loaf of bread under each arm." Does this legislator deserve to be reelected? Real estate assessments continue to rise all across the Commonwealth. The Central Virginian (only the general homepage 'link' is available) reports that assessments in Louisa County are up 35% over a two-year period, an increase which the paper's editorial described as "skyrocketing." Arlington County taxpayers need to be careful when opening your mailboxes in the next few weeks -- there may be a fire burning inside from the county's mailing of their 2005 assessments.

January 06, 2005

Arlington County Board Chairman Kicks Off Reelection Campaign

The Arlington Sun-Gazette this week described the Arlington County Board's traditional New Year's Day meeting as an "opportunity for the incoming board chairman to lay out goals for the new year." We would put it somewhat differently -- saying it's the chairman's chance to use the taxpayers' dime to run for reelection. The lede paragraph in the Sun-Gazette summed up the chairman's goals as, "Conginuing 'smart' growth policies, a harder push for affordable housing, and an emphasis on fiscal responsibility are among the goals for the new Chairman." Unfortunately, the chairman's prepared text is not required to identify costs for his proposals, but they are not free. For example, one of his initiatives is to "promote health," and includes more walking, where he notes, "Our WalkArlington effort is substantial, and will be expanded to further encourage Arlingtonians to walk instead of ride." The Washington Post's report on the meeting also notes two issues facing the Board. The paper notes, "the county is reeling from a major blow that an Arlington Circuit Court judge dealt to its affordable housing program" and later adds, "Residents in Cherrydale are so upset about the board's decision to put the new fire station near a busy intersection . . . that some have been loudly calling for an overhaul of the county board system." Consequently, 2005 looks to be be most interesting political year in Arlington.

January 04, 2005

Arlington County: Still Leading on Real Estate Assessments

Two news items today show that at least one Virginia community may top Arlington County real estate assessments when Arlington property owners receive their 2005 assessments later this month. Today's Potomac News notes that assessments in the city of Manassas will be up 20% with the city manager telling the city council of plans to lower the property tax rate from $1.15 per $100 of assessed value to $1.05. That didn't satisfy some in attendance who correctly noted that even with a 10 cent reduction in the tax rate, an assessment increase of 20% still means a substantial increase in one's tax bill, especially when one's income increases only two or three percent. The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record also reports that property values there increased 14% over the past two years. Will this be the year Arlington taxpayers convince the County Board to make substantial cuts in the real estate tax rate? A strong response by thousands of you can make it happen.

January 03, 2005

More on Shock 'n Awe in Arlington County: Devil of the Detail

On New Year's Day, we cited a Washington Times story discussing the sharp rise (15/5%) in Maryland assessments as well as an internal memo of Arlington's County Manager, who appeared to predict about a 20% increase in residential real estate assessments. Today, we take a closer look at Arlington residential home sales using the November 2004 residential housing report of the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors (requires Adobe Reader for the actual report). According to the report, the average home has increased 18.52% from 2003 to 2004 -- going from an average of $512,799 to $607,764. The trend for condominiums and co-ops is even greater, increasing by 24.4%. The report also provides information on listings, contracts, and settlements by price ranges. For example, in the first 11 months of 2003, 114 properties priced between $750,000 and $999,999 went to settlement, but for the comparable period of 2004, the number doubles to 230. For homes priced above $1 million, the number increases from 36 to 97. Since real estate assessments mirror, except for timing differences, the price of home sales, Arlington property owners can expect generally shocking news when they receive their assessments later this month. Needless to say, the Arlington County Board could minimize the effect of the skyrocketing assessments by making major reductions in the real estate tax rate, which they are not likely to do since for them, growing government is more important than individual freedom and liberty.

January 01, 2005

Shock 'n Awe in Arlington: New Real Estate Assessments Due This Month

Today's Washington Times included a story "Property tax bills increase sharply" about the average 15.5% increase for 692,000 properties in Maryland. Average assessments in Arlington are most likely to be even higher, about a 20% increase according to the County Manager's internal September 8, 2004, memorandum. To avoid any increase in average residential property tax bills, the Arlington County Board would have to cut the current tax rate by a very large amount, not the piddly two or three cents which they have taken pride in doing the past few years. Arlington property owners need to begin immediately contacting the County Board demanding significant cuts in the real estate tax rate (following the link in the column to the right).