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February 28, 2005

That's What Politicians Do -- Spend our Taxes

Nearly every large newspaper across Virginia carried news this morning about the General Assembly's wrap-up of the budget deal that ended the 2005 General Assembly, but the headline in the Newport News Daily Press caught our eye. The headline read "Va. legislators reinvest $1.2 (billion) budget surplus." Remember, that surplus resulted from the tax increase engineered by Governor Mark Warner (D) and State Senator John Chichester (R) in the extended session of the 2004 General Assembly. So, did the General Assembly's legislators actually "invest" that $1.2 billion surplus? Don't count on it! As the article's lead paragraph noted, the surplus was "good news for state workers, the Chesapeake Bay, college students, and Medicaid recipients." Sure doesn't sound like our understanding of the meaning of investment. Even worse, while they earmarked $848 million for transportation, the Daily Press reports, "The single biggest chunk of money won't build a single road -- $256.4 million is set aside to pay off project deficits. Some investment! No, just more government spending by the political elite.

February 27, 2005

Fighting The Tax-Eaters to Promote Creation of Wealth

By proposing to increase real estate taxes on the average residence by 17.5%, the Arlington County Manager admits to being an income redistributor and not a wealth promoter (reference earlier 2/15/05 blog entry). What are the consequences of the redistribution of income, though? Robert Higgs, political economist, senior fellow and editor at The Independent Institute provided 19 "neglected consequences of income redistribution" in an article for the December 5, 1994 issue of The Freeman. We recommend you read Higgs' entire article, but the following consequence seems appropriate to emphasize at the website of a taxpayers association:

"Taxpayers do not simply cough up money to fund the transfers without resistance. Many of them devote time, effort, and money to minimizing their legal tax liability or evading taxes. They buy books and computer software. They employ financial advisers, lawyers, and accountants. From time to time they organize political movements to campaign for tax relief ā la California’s Proposition 13. All the labor and capital employed in connection with tax resistance are unavailable to produce goods and services valued by consumers. Society is poorer, and will remain poorer as long as people continue to devote resources to tax resistance. (However, to the extent that tax resistance succeeds in making tax rates lower than they otherwise would have been, it promotes greater wealth creation in the longer run.)"

Over the next six weeks, Arlington taxpayers need to contact the elected leaders on the Arlington County Board to advise our elected leaders that it is time to start reducing big government in Arlington. Use the link to the right to find the Board members' e-mail address. Tell them you want greater wealth creation, and not growth of local government! Growing local government does nothing eat taxes.

February 15, 2005

Manager Announces Budget That Raises Real Estate Taxes 17.5%

The County Manager released his Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 budget this afternoon, and even though he says spending will increase only 3.7%, the bottom line is that if the County Board agrees with the Manager's proposed budget, the average homeowner will see property taxes increase 17.5%. It will take awhile to clearly identify where all the increased real estate taxes have been stuffed since revenue from real estate taxes is up 18.1%, total tax revenue is up 12.5%, but general fund spending is up only 3.7%. Some of the stuffing is clearly showing, e.g., a new reserve account stuffed with the equivalent of 2.25 cents from the real estate tax or $2.2 million for a new grant program to provide additional tax relief. From only a brief look, it is evident that it is imperative that each and every Arlington homeowner write, call, or e-mail the County Board as well as testifying at the tax rate hearing on March 31. Visit Growls often from now until the Board sets the final FY2006 budget in April since we will be providing Arlington taxpayers with frequent updates. Additional information about the Manager's budget is available in this press release.

February 14, 2005

"As usual, it depends on whom you ask."

That seemed to be the conclusion this past Saturday when ACTA's president questioned whether a new quarterly video series (in WMV format) featuring the chairman of the Arlington County Board means he is "running for reelection on the taxpayers' dime," as reported in this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette. The Sun-Gazette noted the Board chairman "defended his once-every-three-months appearance" in the video and that he "said he planned to continue the practice even though he is likely to be seeking reelection this year." ACTA's president made a special effort to say that his comments weren't specific to this year's chairman, saying, "Each of you, if you were this year's chairman, would have done the very same thing." In the context of the county's overall annual budget that is quickly approaching $1 billion, the production of this video may not cost more than the proverbial 'blip,' nevertheless, it shows the county can always find something new on which to spend taxpayers money.

February 13, 2005

First Your Money, and now Your Property Rights

At their meeting yesterday, the Arlington County Board voted to advertise amendments to the zoning ordinance that are likely to result in significant reductions in the property rights of many if not most Arlington residential property owners. The details are in the County Manager's report (requires Adobe Reader) to the Board to advertise a meeting for May 7, 2005 when the Board will consider the degree to which they will effectively downzone Arlington property. The Manager recommended a more limited application that would apply to only some properties in each of the county's five zoning districts (R-5, R-6, R-8, R-10 or R-20), but the County Board chose to advertise a proposal from its Zoning Ordinance Review Committee (ZORC) that would affect every property in Arlington. The Board also chose to ignore a resolution from the Arlington County Civic Federation, which voted 44-21 at their monthly meeting on February 1 in favor of a resolution telling the Board that the Civic Federation would not support any proposal that was broader than the Manager's proposal. While reviewing the Civic Federation's resolution, be sure to review the two documents identified at the bottom of that page, which provide greater details of the so-called 'conforming requirements' of the County's Zoning Ordinance. It seems especially ironic that in a year when Arlington taxpayers could see the largest increase in real estate property taxes, they could also see the County Board devalue their property by reducing their property rights. Sheesh! We urge you to read the Manager's report to the Board, the Civic Federation's resolution, and then contact the County Board (see link to the right).

February 11, 2005

Comparing Arlington Schools, Part III

Earlier in the week, we showed how Arlington's schools compared in year to year spending to other school districts in the region. In addition, we also compared 'per-pupil' spending to Scholastic Aptitude Test scores to judge whether Arlington taxpayers are getting their money's worth for having the highest per-pupil-spending in the region for K-12 education. Today we look at 'cost-per-pupil' spending in comparison to teacher salaries, both average and maximum. These salary numbers are taken from page 36 of the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) guide for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005, which are maintained by the Fairfax County Public Schools.

School District/Cost per Pupil/Avg Teacher Salary/Max. Teacher Salary

Arlington County/$15,298/$61,827/$87,061
Falls Church/$14,106/$56,343/$84,673
Montgomery Cty/$12,108/$63,131/$86,169
Fairfax County/$11,022/$57,258/$83,276
Loudoun County/$10,266/$55,805/$83,099
Manassas City/$10,137/$54,788/$76,788
Prince William Cty/$8,939/$50,215/$76,754
Prince George's Cty/$8,612/$51,087/$77,645

It seems quite clear that school teachers are the primary beneficiaries of the transfer of wealth from Arlington's taxpayers to Arlington's public schools. Arlington taxpayers have to ask themselves whether those higher teacher salaries translate into more educated students.

February 09, 2005

Arlington County Schools: Overpaid or Underperforming

On Monday, we growled about the price tag of the Arlington Public Schools, on a on a cost per pupil basis. Today we'll look at what Arlington taxpayers are getting, in terms of Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, for having the costliest schools in the Washington, DC area. The following data is compiled by the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), and is maintained by the Fairfax County Public Schools (Adobe required to read individual files).

School District/Cost per Pupil, FY2005/Total Math+Verbal SAT Scores, 2002-2003

Arlington County/$15,298/1,086
Falls Church/$14,106/1,165
Montgomery Cty/$12,108/1,102
Fairfax County/$11,022/1,105
Loudoun County/$10,266/1,054
Manassas City/$10,137/1,040
Prince William Cty/$8,939/1,016
Prince George's Cty/$8,612/881

It's probably not fair to judge a school district on just one dimension, but given the information above, it's our humble opinion that Arlington taxpayers need to more forcefully demand accountability from the School Board.

February 07, 2005

The Cost of Public Schooling in Arlington: A Comparison

One way of making the cost of the public schools transparent to taxpayers is to compare the cost per pupil of several school districts. School boards in the Washington region collaborate together as the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) to produce a range of financial and statistical data. This data is maintained by the Fairfax County Public Schools. Over the next week or so, we will compare various aspects of the schools. Below we provide the cost per pupil for FY2004, FY2005, and the % increase for each school district, which is based upon data from the FY2005 WABE Guide (Adobe required to read the actual files). For that kind of spending, you'd think Arlington's SAT scores would be significantly higher, wouldn't you? Stay tuned.

School District/FY2004/FY2005/% Increase

Arlington County/$13,950/$15,298/9.7%
Falls Church/$13,377/$14,106/5.4%
Montgomery Cty/$10,644/$12,108/13.8%
Fairfax County/$10,113/$11,022/9.0%
Loudoun County/$ 9,604/$10,266/6.9%
Manassas City/$ 9,038/$10,137/12.2%
Prince William Cty/$ 8,205/$ 8,939/9.0%
Prince George's Cty/$ 8,014/$ 8,612/7.5%

The January 6, 2005 edition of the Arlington Sun-Gazette featured information from the WABE guide for FY2005.

February 04, 2005

Efficiency Audit of Arlington's Public Schools is Overdue

The average cost per pupil to Arlington taxpayers is $15,298, according to page 49 of the Fiscal Year 2005 adopted budget of the Arlington Public Schools. On that basis, alone, it's high time for an efficiency review of the Arlington Public Schools. In a press release today, Governor Warner announced that an efficiency review of the Portsmouth Public Schools identified $2.1 million in potential savings. Last year, the governor's office announced that efficiency reviews of the Stafford County and City of Richmond public schools had identified $1.7 million and $2.1 million, respectively, in potential efficiencies. These reviews are conducted "to verify that tax dollars are spent wisely" and "to ensure that families and communities are receiving maximum benefit for their investment in public education." The reviews are conducted under the governor's so-called Education for a Lifetime Initiative. You can access the entire reports of these reviews at this Virginia Department of Education page (access to individual reports requires Adobe Reader, and can be rather long). Since Arlington's cost per pupil is the highest in the commonwealth, an efficiency review of the Arlington Public Schools is overdue! Afterall, removing $2 million or so from the APS budget would translate to a reduction of about 1/2-cent in the real estate tax rate.

February 03, 2005

Repeal of the Car Tax & the Surplus

With the projected state revenues now expected to exceed expenditures by some $1.2 billion, some members of Virginia's House of Delegates have proposed completing the phase-out of the car tax. Today's Richmond Times-Dispatch reports "A plan to grant full car-tax relief over six years sailed through the GOP-dominated House Appropriations Committee (Wednesday) night on a 12-7 vote. The vote was generally along party lines." However, the paper reported that Governor Mark Warner (D) and the Senate "have cast a cold eye on the plan." The paper quoted the sponsor of HB 1654, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R) saying, "Essentially it takes the car-tax relief program and puts it back on track." [Note that the summary of HB 1654 shows the vote total as 12-8, and the Washington Post's story on this is here.]

February 02, 2005

Not Happy with Your Property Assessment?

A few days ago, we noted that taxpayers who believe the county assessor's office has improperly assessed their residences have until March 1 to file a 'departmental' appeal, and until April 15 to file an appeal to the Board of Equalization of Real Estate Assessments (usually referred to simply as the Board of Equalization or BoE). Should you also be looking for help in filing your appeal, one place to turn to for help is a short booklet from the National Taxpayers Union, which provides "step-by-step" help in fighting unfair assessments. In addition, one group in Virginia is interested in changing Virginia's system of property tax assessments -- Votors Over-Taxed on Residences (VOTORs).