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September 30, 2005

Government Waste and Inefficiency: This Time at NASA

A report by the U.S. General Accountability Office (Adobe required) on the operation of a fleet of passenger aircraft (distinct from its research and program support operations) at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the latest example that government employees do not use taxpayer money as economically as if it was their own. GAO's analysis "showed NASA passenger aircraft services were about $20 million more costly than comparable commercial coach ticket costs . . . in the order of $25 million, while commercial coach ticket for the same number of travelers would have been approximately $5 million." In fact, GAO added that "NASA's cost reporting did not take into account all costs." GAO also noted that NASA failed to comply with governmentwide direction that agencies "acquire and retain only the number and size aircraft needed to meet direct mission requirements," and their use did not meet that definition. While GAO takes NASA to the proverbial woodshed, where was Congressional oversight over NASA's operation? GAO noted they have been reporting on this issue since at least 1977.

September 29, 2005

Schools Need More Money and Other Education Myths

Jay Greene, head of the Department of Educaton Reform at the University of Arkansas, is author of the new book, Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools and Why It Isn't So. He talked about the book this week in an interview for FrontPageMag.com. While he talked about numerous myths existing in public education, the one taxpayers should be most interested in concerns the Money Myth, which says "that schools are currently horribly under-funded and would perform significantly better if only we gave them more money. When people repeat this myth they usually have little idea of how much we already spend on schools nor do they have a clear understanding of how much we have increased spending over the last several decades with virtually no improvement in school quality to show for it. We are now spending almost $10,000 per pupil in public K-12 schools each year. That is almost $500 billion, which is more than we spend on national defense – even more than the entire GDP of Russia converted into US dollars. And the amount we spend per student has doubled over the last three decades, adjusted for inflation. So, we are spending a great deal of money each year on public education, we’ve been increasing that spending for several decades, and yet student achievement has been stagnant." Enough said!

September 28, 2005

Small Business Interests Pretty Much the Same as Taxpayers in General

This week's Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that "(t)ransportation and tax rates top the issues of concern to Arlington Chamber of Commerce members, according to a new survey, with affordable housing issues trailing." Transportation was a top concern of 66% of respondents followed by the taxes levied on businesses rated the top issue by 64%. Affordable housing was ranked a top concern by 43% of the respondents. We say small businesses because 70% of those who responded to the survey employed fewer than 25 employees with the largest majority employing five or fewer. Responses were received from 161 Chamber members.

September 27, 2005

Earth to Arlington County Board: That's How a Free Market Works

If you don't believe Arlington County is a leader of America's so-called "Nanny State," check-out two stories in this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette. In one story, Ryan Self reports on "the decision of School Board members, who last week voted to eliminate soda in county high school vending machines, along with most chocolate bars and candy." According to the Board's chairman, "We shouldn't have soda and sports drinks available in the schools." Under "Political Notes," the paper reports that Arlington "County Board member Paul Ferguson wants to know if the public thinks there should be fewer junk-food choices in vending machines positioned at county community and recreation centers," noting that Ferguson specifically said, "We need a little more input on what type of products people want" at the September 20 Board meeting. It's not clear whether the Board member understands how a free market works since the paper also notes, "(w)hile Ferguson said he personally is eager to phase out junk food and move toward more healthy options, he acknowledged that candy seemed to be a big seller in the vending machines." Proof-positive that our political elite knows more than the vendor trying to make a profit from vending machine sales?

September 26, 2005

The Brouhaha Over AP Exam Results in the Arlington Public Schools

One of the most repeated questions we answered when we had a booth at the Arlington County Fair concerned the assertion on the ACTA comic book that Arlington government provided ordinary services at extraordinary prices (i.e., taxes). Seems the Arlington Public Schools may have confirmed the truth in that assertion. Thanks to the reporting and editorializing in the Arlington Sun-Gazette (editor's note on page 10 in the September 15 issue, page 4 news article in the September 22 issue, and an article and editorial comment in the upcoming September 29 issue), it seems that the results of the exams have Arlington's school officials somewhat miffed. Some school officials attribute the poor results to a larger pool of students taking the AP exams while one School Board member suggests looking to Fairfax school officials "for ways to improve (Arlington's) declining" AP scores.

Arlington's high schools have fared very well in recent years in the Challenge Index developed by Jay Mathews, an education writer for the Washington Post. In a June 24 column this year, he explains: "The Challenge Index ranks high schools in college level tests, particularly Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate. It is a very simple measurement. I divide the number of AP or IB tests taken in May by the number of seniors graduating in June, and put on the Newsweek list every public school in the country that achieved what I consider a modest average of at least one test for every graduate . . . (it) ignores the scores students get on the AP or IB tests, and just counts how many tests they take. And unlike those SAT figures and other quantitative rating systems, schools with very low average family income can rank very high." An article, linked from Mathews' June article cites one critic who "said the index has spurred a 'mad rush' by 'publicity-hungry administrators'" to pack students into the AP classes. Importantly, though, Mathews points out that research shows that students benefit from taking the more difficult AP classes even if they do not pass the exams.

The brouhaha apparently broke out after school officials issued a "general press release" on September 9, and school officials were unable to provide more detailed information even though Fairfax school officials had done so on August 30. Compounding the lack of detailed results is that school officials issued a "corrected" press release a week later, September 16, and deleted the link to the "uncorrected" press release.

In transmitting the School Board's Fiscal Year 2006 adopted budget (Adobe required) to the Arlington County Board in June of this year, three of the six 'bullets' "showing measurable gains in student achievement" dealt with AP or IB test results. We are not positioned to address the issue of "mad rushes" or "publicity-seeking administrators." However, with Arlington's "cost-per-pupil" at $16,464, one expects better results than the scores presented in the September 22 issue of the Arlington Sun-Gazette (data table available only in the paper copy, however). When regional "cost-per-pupil" data for Fiscal Year 2005 was released in January of this year, Arlington spent more per-pupil than any Northern Virginia or Maryland school district, even exceeding Fall Church by more than $1,000.

September 25, 2005

Citizens Against Government Waste Name two Congressmen "Co-Porkers of the Month"

Citizens Against Government Waste, perhaps the nation's premier organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government on Tuesday "named House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) their Co-Porkers of the Month for their responses to requests to offset the costs of Hurricane Katrina (tax) relief," according to a CAGW press release. CAGW awards the dubious Porker of the Month to lawmakers and government officials "who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers."

September 24, 2005

"A Lot of Money . . . With Little to Show for It"

As reported in Thursday's Virginian-Pilot newspaper, that was the explanation by the president of Virginia's board of education of the board's vote the previous day "to ask the governor to include ($1.18 billion) in the 2006-08 spending proposal." As the paper also reported, "(a)bout $1 billion of a tax increase approved (in 2004) was earmarked for public education." According to the paper, about $0.98 billion of the $1.18 billion will keep "Virginia's schools just running in place " while the other $191 million "would increase the required number of principals, reading specialists and speech pathologists in schools." Fairfax County's Del. Vince Callahan described it as "a big deal. It's a lot of money. But it's not an insurmountable goal." Seems to us that taxpayers should first see some results from the $1 billion given to educators in 2004 before being asked to shell out another $1 billion again. That, Delegate Callahan, should be what you should be demanding to see before shelling out another $1 billion of taxpayer money.

September 21, 2005

"Operation Offset"

At a press conference today, members of the House Republican Study Committee (RSC) called for budget offsets to pay for the Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction effort. Called "Operation Offset," RSC members unveiled "a list of budget offsets (requires Adobe) to find savings in the budget so that the reconstruction costs aren't passed on to our nation's children and grandchildren in the form of an enormous debt burden." The list contains such tough choices as delaying the Medicare prescription drug bill, repealing so-called earmarks in the recently passed highway bill known as TEA-LU, and updating the formula used for federal pensions. Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal (requires Adobe) reported that "the Republican party's "conservative wing, led yesterday by Oklahoma's Tom Coburn in the Senate and Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana in the House, is calling for offsetting "sacrifices" in federal spending. And they're backed by a growing chorus of conservative activists, columnists and bloggers."

Hat tip to two bloggers: the National Taxpayers Union's Government Bytes and the Club for Growth whose bloggers were hopeful that "Operation Offset" would begin bringing fiscal sanity to the federal budget picture. Let's hope so! If RSC members need more "offsets," one New Mexico resident told the committee, "Give us a quiet room, copies of the spending bills, a box of red pencils, and watch what happens."

September 20, 2005

Arlington County Board Hosts Potlatch

Gift giving, according to the Houghton-Mifflin encyclopedia of North American Indians, was "a central feature of social life" among the natives of North America, and "(i)n the Pacific Northwest . . . this tradition is known as the potlatch." It was thought to be "a system of redistribution that maintained social harmony within and between tribes." We first noticed the similarity between this tribal custom and the Arlington County Board's habit of dishing out taxpayer money during their final budget markup session several years ago. We were reminded of that potlatch meeting as we read the online version of this week's Arlington Sun-Gazette. The paper noted that on Saturday, the County Board approved dishing out $219,000 of our taxes to a slew of Arlington arts organizations, e.g., the Arlington Arts Center ($6,797), Signature Theatre ($30,000), and Teatro de la Luna ($19,792). In addition, $36,764 was dished out for "specific grants." In a separate action, the paper reported the County Board approved $159,496 "to keep the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Northern Virginia facility in operation." Sure seems like the County Board is operating a "system of redistribution" to us.

September 19, 2005

Government & Taxes: Monkey See, Monkey Do!

Earlier this month, this Growler noted that the National Taxpayers Union was urging Virginia Governor Mark Warner to take an 'active leadership' role in cutting the Commonwealth's fuel tax. And, last Friday, we were happy to report that Oklahoma voters handily defeated (87% to 13%) an initiative to raise their state's gas tax.

The Tax Foundation reported last week that one reason gas prices are so high is that local, state, and federal gas taxes consume 45.9 cents per gallon on average. They also point out that although the federal gas tax is now 18.4 cents, it began in 1932 "as a temporary levy with a rate of just 1 cent per gallon." It was then made permanent in 1941 when it was also raised to 1.5 cents per gallon. In 1951, the tax was raised to 2 cents to help pay for the Korean War. It was raised to 4 cents in 1959 to help pay for the interstate highway system, and wasn't raised again until 1981.

According to the Tax Foundation, "In 1919, Oregon became the first state in the nation to place a tax on gasoline," and in "monkey see, monkey do" fashion, "every state has subsequently adopted this form of taxation." Virginians pay combined local, state and federal gasoline taxes of 37.7 cents per gallon.

The Tax Foundation reports the "annual gas tax burden (is) roughly $271 for every man, woman, and child in the United States." Keep that in mind the next time you fill-up the gas tank!

September 17, 2005

Today is the 218th Anniversary of the Constituion

On September 17, 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention met for the last time to sign the document they had created (see National Archives or their press release announcing related events).

In a column this week, Thomas Sowell asks: "Why do we pay attention to the Constitution in the first place." More importantly, he answers by saying "the moral and legal authority of the Constitution do not rest with those who wrote it . . . (but) from those who ratified it -- "we the people" -- not those who wrote it. The writers of the Constitution themselves knew this. That is why some of these writers also wrote "The Federalist Papers" to explain to people across the country why they should ratify the Constitution."

Two other op-eds this week raise serious issues related to the Constituion. In a paper posted at the von Mises Institute, Gary Galles discusses the irony of the requirement, added by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) in a spending bill, that "every educational institutional receiving federal aid must teach about the U.S. Constitution on the September 17 anniversary." Galles writes, "There is nothing in the (Constitution) that permits the federal government to tell those schools what they can and cannot teach." In another paper posted at Townhall.com, Mark Alexander asks whether the Constitution has become "a fully pliable document," a so-called 'living Constitution," or, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "a mere thing of wax in the hands of the judiciary which they may twist and shape into any form they please."

For Virginians, September 17 is also Citizenship Day, and September 17-23 is Constitution Week, according to the Code of Virginia. For additional information, visit the Federalist Patriot or this University of Virginia document to read what Jefferson wrote about constitutions.

September 16, 2005

Oklahoma Voters 'Pummel' Gas Tax at Polls

On Tuesday, Oklahoma's voters soundly defeated a fuels tax that would have raised the tax on gas by 29% and on diesel fuel by 57%. The University of Oklahoma's Daily Oklahoman said it all -- 87.21% NO and 12.79% YES. With the recent run-up in gas prices, even supporters were talking about the "bad timing," according to the Associated Press report at Forbes.com. The AP report also noted that road safety advocates "went through the initiative process after trying and failing for years to secure adequate funding from the Legislature," but opponents argued "it doesn't take a tax increase to fix it." Advocates outspent opponents by $2 million to $150,000. The HometownChannel reported that almost 290,000 Oklahomans "signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot . . . when gasoline prices were about $1 less than Tuesday's $2.79 average price of regular."

Hat tip: National Taxpayers Union's Government Bytes blogsite.

September 15, 2005

"How Democracy Works in America Today"

Many people have now heard of the $230 million that is being set aside for a bridge in Alaska that will connect a town of 8,000 people and an island with 50 people living there. Jacob Hornburger, president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, tells a story at LewRockwell.com that is equally upsetting to those who believe in fiscal restraint. He notes that Rep. Rick Boucher (D) had requested $400,000 in the recently enacted transportation bill to renovate a local train station in Bristol, Virginia. Sen. John Warner (R) requested $1 million for the same project.

Hornburger first asks, "So what did Congress do?" and then answers, "It simply combined the two numbers and awarded Bristol officials a grant of $1.4 million." He then writes, "Yet isn't the entire process nothing more than a corrupt way to purchase votes in advance of an election? Rather than simply stuff cash into the hands of individual voters, which would be illegal, they stuff grants of cash into the hands of local public officials and ask their constituents to return them to office so that they can do more of the same." He then paraphrases the 19th century Frenchman Frederic Bastiat, saying "the federal highway bill provides a good example of how the federal government has become a fiction by which everyone is trying to live at the expense of everyone else."

September 12, 2005

Curbside Recycling - What a Waste!

Perhaps just slightly embarrassed to have the nation's largest stable of far-left-wing columnists, the New York Times recently drafted John Tierney, a longtime Timesman, to provide just a smidgen of balance on its Op-Ed page.

To my surprise, the Times's free online archive [registration required] still contains Mr. Tierney's famous 1996 essay for the New York Times Magazine, "Recycling Is Garbage." Perhaps because of the author's science-writer background, the article is unassailable from a scientific standpoint and as fresh today as when it was published. Everybody - especially everybody on the Arlington County Board - should read it.

Arlington County's recycling program is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars, and gets more expensive every year. It's time curbside recycling in Arlington, Virginia disappeared into the yellow recycling bin of history.

September 11, 2005

When did it become "The Feds' Job?"

I debated a long time on just how, or even whether, to comment about Hurricane Katrina and its catastrophic aftermath in New Orleans. Eugene Robinson's op-ed "It's the Feds' Job' column in today's Washington Post erased whatever doubt lingered in my mind. Seems one of the items on the Left's 'talking points" against the Bush administration and the federal government involves the matter of limited-government. Will Wilkinson, writing at Tech Central Station, skewers the New York Times' Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman as well as the Post's Harold Meyerson over this issue. Robinson's column was no exception when he penned, "Now it falls to the Bush administration, so heavy on limited-government ideology . . . Make no mistake, nothing less than an all-out effort by the federal government will do -- state and local government can't possibly deal with this devastation on their own."

Columns by Llewellyn Rockwell and Walter Block, both posted at the von Mises Institute make the very logical case that "Katrina came and went with far less damage than anyone expected. It was the failure of the public infrastructure and the response to it that brought down civilization." Block adds that "Private enterprise alone should determine if the Big Easy is worth saving or not." Space does not permit a summary of Rockwell's and Block's argument, but both papers are well-worth reading. As Wilkinson notes, "New Orleans is paying for the failure to limit government, for the profligate abuse of the notion of the public good." For a fuller discussion of limited government, see A Principle of the Traditional American Philosophy.

September 10, 2005

Lot Coverage: Theft of Property Rights, Arlington Style

The four-year fight against lot coverage restrictions, which began on June 30, 2001, is now scheduled to come to an end in November when the Arlington County Board considers the latest version of the County Manager's efforts to implement restrictions on property owners being pushed by a small coterie of so-called neighborhood "activists." If you thought your house is your home, guess again. As Adam Summers, a policy analyst at the Reason Foundation, writes in a von Mises Institute op-ed, "Property rights are in trouble just about everywhere. The latest trend hits an economic right Americans have traditionally taken for granted: the right to build or buy the biggest home you can afford." As the latest exhibit, he cites an "anti-mansionization" ordinance passed 11-0 by the Los Angeles City Council, which would prevent "smaller homes from being torn down and replaced by larger houses." He notes that one Councilwoman said, "Homes are being built larger than is necessary." Summers then appropriately asks, "But who is (she) to judge how large someone's home may be or what is best for the homeowner?" During its July 9 meeting, the Arlington County Board deferred further consideration of lot coverage until after the elections in November, but here is the County Manager's latest proposed ordinance (Adobe required) from that meeting. As Summers puts the question: "If 'activist' neighbors, politicians, and bureaucrats can place restrictions on what you can do with your property, do you really own your property?" (emphasis in the original)

September 09, 2005

Governor Warner, Provide the Leadership in Cutting the Commonwealth's Fuels Tax

The National Taxpayers Union, on Wednesday, urged Governor Mark Warner (D) to take an 'active leadership' role in cutting the Commonwealth's fuels tax. In their letter, NTU encouraged the governor "to permanently lower state gas tax rates or provide temporary relief through a 'gas tax holiday' . . . Although using budget reserves to fund new spending programs may be tempting, lowering state gas taxes immediately is a better way to assist Virginians as all taxpayers and aspects of your state's economy are affected by rising gas prices." That call for tax relief was solidified yesterday when two Central Virginia lawmakers, Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge) and Sen. Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) called "for a temporary rollback of Virginia's 17.5 cent gas tax to help offset the effects of Hurricane Katrina on gas prices," according to today's Lynchburg News & Advance. That sure sounds like a position that ACTA can support!

September 08, 2005

Battle of Websites: Fairfax County Public Schools -- A; Arlington County Public Schools -- B+

The budget and financial services webpages of both the Arlington Public Schools (APS) and the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) websites both contain useful information for anyone looking to examine the cost of each school district's operations, e.g., annual budgets, capital budgets, etc. However, the Fairfax webpages contain one significant difference. School staff in Arlington do an exemplary job in answering questions of School Board members, even providing extra copies at each budget worksession for citizens who attend the meetings. APS staff also answer questions, in the same format, for the county's Civic Federation's schools committee. However, the Fairfax schools go one important step further. The FCPS post all questions (at least 83 when we looked), raised by school board members, members of the county's board of supervisors, citizens, and even questions from civic associations during development of the FY2006 adopted budget. Staffs of both school districts deserve credit for the financial data at their websites, but this Growler thinks the FCPS staff deserve kudos for posting those questions and responses with the other budget data. Such transparency aids accountability.

September 07, 2005

Fair Tax or Flat Tax, Either Is Preferable to Today's Income Tax

Things seem to be heating-up in the tax reform arena. The Club for Growth has just announced an economic policy conference for September 21 that will feature former U.S. Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) debating current U.S. Representative John Lindner (R-GA) on the flat tax and the fair tax. Is one better than the other? Perhaps, but as Stephen Moore wrote in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, "The truth is that these two reform plans have a lot in common -- low rates, uniformity, simplicity -- and they both run circles around the current system, which is every bit as bad as (Steve) Forbes says it is." More detailed information on the flat-tax is available in this "Backgrounder" from the Heritage Foundation while information on the fair tax is available from Americans for Fair Taxation. In addition, radio talk show host Neal Boortz's book on the fair tax was #1 bestseller for the second week in a row in the NY Times, and you can find more information about the fair tax at Neal's website. Finally, if you have any comments about tax reform, you should make them to the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform.

September 06, 2005

Average American Now Working for Their Own Benefit

One news item earlier this summer missed getting blogged by the Growlers. In celebrating the nation's birthday on Independence Day, we failed to take note that it was also Taxpayers' Independence Day, also. For each of the past 13 years, American for Tax Reform calculate "the day when Americans have finally paid off all the costs of government -- spending and regulations -- and can begin to work for themselves." According to this ATR press release (Adobe required), Americans will work 84 days to pay for federal spending, 43 days to pay state and local spending, 37 days for federal regulations, and 23 days for state regulations. Virginians got a slight break with Cost of Government Day occuring on July 2. No wonder it's so difficult to fill-up our gasoline tanks, government takes half of what we earn. Details about ATR's computations, including the state breakdowns, are here.

September 05, 2005

'Cost-per-Pupil' -- Arlington vs. Fairfax County

Rather than focusing on what school officials say, this Growler finds it instructive to look at the numbers in financial and budget documents. Take the 'cost-per-pupil' numbers, for example, in the Fiscal Year 2006 adopted budgets for the Arlington and Fairfax County public schools. Both budgets point out the usefulness of the number in analyzing expenditures over time and analyzing one school system's expenditures to those of another. In Arlington's FY2006 adopted budget (page 39, Introduction, Adobe required), one also sees that Arlington's cost-per-pupil for FY2006 is $16,464, an annual increase of 7.62% over the FY2005 amount of $15,271. The budget claims Arlington's cost per pupil is higher than other Washington-area schools is "due in part to Arlington's committment to kindergarten and preschool education." The Arlington budget also includes a chart separating that $16,464 into money going to schools ($13,122), facilities ($1,350), instructional support ($873), leadership ($165), and management and support services ($955).

The cost-per-pupil information presented in Fairfax County's adopted FY2006 budget (pages 149-151, Information) is relatively more informative. First, they present a chart how Fairfax County's cost-per-pupil in FY2005 of $11,022 compares to other Washington-area schools. There is also a chart, which presents the cost-per-pupil for general education ($10,063 for FY2006 although they also report numbers for kindergarten, elementary, and high school), special education ($17,601) and for all instructional programs in FY2006 ($11,915). Finally, the Fairfax budget presents the cost-per-pupil for three alternative programs ($16,062 - $21,078), for students who speak other languages ($3,226), and special (various depending on services needed).

Does Fairfax County have a better accounting system, better computers, or just a desire to present more transparent infromation to their taxpayers?

September 04, 2005

Almost 44% of Americans Pay No Federal Income Taxes

The political left whines that the rich do not pay their 'fair' share, and one of last year's vice-presidential candidates, John Edwards (D), was famous for his "Two Americas" speech. As usual, the facts tell a different story. The summer issue of the Tax Foundation's newsletter, Tax Watch, reports that we are a "nation of nonpayers" with "forty percent of Americans outside (the) income tax system." According to Scott Hodge, the foundation's president, "The number of Americans who paid no income taxes because of deductions and credits in the tax code has varied greatly since 1950 . . . (b)ut in recent years it has spiked to record levels (32.4%), and the trend line does not appear to be slowing." In addition, another 11.4% "earned some income last year but not enough to be required to file a tax return." Together, 57.5 million Americans "pay no federal income tax." We growled about this early this summer, but publication of the Tax Watch newsletter reinforces the need to growl some more.

The National Taxpayers Union has several charts for tax years 1999-2002 which show who pays income taxes. Some numbers from 2002 are the following:

Percentile Ranked by AGI/AGI Threshold/Cum. Percent of Fed. Income Tax
Top 1%/$285,424/33.71%
Top 5%/$126,525/53.80%
Top 10%/$92,663/65.73%
Top 50%/$28,654/96.50%
Bottom 50%/<$28,654/3.50%

Quoting Hodge, again, "America is becoming divided between a growing class of people who pay no income tax, and a shrinking class who bear the majority of the burden . . .That makes tax reform politically difficult, since reform would require drawing these non-payers back into the tax system in order to broaden the tax base."

September 03, 2005

'Greed Gone Wild' -- Pennsylvania's Legislators Vote Themselves a Pay Raise

Sometimes you just have to step back and look at how legislators elsewhere in America treat their taxpayers to realize that "over there" can actually be worse rather than better. While the Grand Poohbahs in Arlington County, or even those in Richmond, have not shown county taxpayers any respect, it could be worse as evidenced by the manner in which Pennsylvania's state legislators gave themselves a pay raise this summer. State legislators there think they "virtually sit on the board of directors of a $35 billion entity called Pennsylvania." That's how Pennsylvania House Leader William DeWeese (D) told the Philadelphia Inquirer, in defense of the legislative pay raise of 16 to 38 percent, according to a column by Ralph Reiland in the American Spectator. Reiland noted that Pennsylvania's legislators received an "F" from the Cato Institute in 2004 "for controlling spending." It gets worse, though. According to Paul Jacobs of Americans for Limited Government, "(b)ecause legislators wanted their new dough right now, they also had to overcome the clear restriction in the state constitution that says they cannot take a pay raise without an election intervening first. How'd they do it? They simply called their raises 'unvouchered expenses' and began grabbing the loot immediately." Perhaps the best view of the pay raise comes from a cartoon posted at the National Taxpayers Union's blogsite.

September 02, 2005

Congress' Fiscal Responsibility: All Talk, Absolutely No Action

Cal Thomas writes in today's Washington Times that "Congress returns to work in a few days, which means unrestrained raiding of the public purse by wasteful and unnecessary spending will likely continue." He then adds, "While most parents would not allow such free spending by their children in college, Congress spends with few restraints and with few complaints from those who earn the money. This might be more understandable if Democrats ran the government, but overspending under Republican leadership is something like a virtue monitor succumbing to vice." Thomas says that "A Republican president and a Republican Congress should not be about controlling the rate of government growth. They should be about reducing the government's size, cost, reach and influence."

The press release for a report issued yesterday by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, in Thomas' words, "finds misspending is bad and getting worse." The NTUF press release notes, "For every hour the 108th Congress was in session, the Senate and House of Representatives each voted to raise federal spending by roughly $200 million." Jeff Dircksen, the NTUF project leader for the report, noted, "Unfortunately, lawmakers wasted this chance to address an ever-expanding federal government," and concluded, "By failing to bring down expenditures, elected officials are putting taxpayers on the road to higher taxes and lower economic growth in the future." Access to the complete report and its appendices is available from the press release.

Appendix B to the report (requires Adobe) provides an analysis of spending increases or reductions, as well net spending/baseline mandatory spending for each member of Congress. Results for Arlington's three Congressional legislators follows:

Spending Increases/Reductions/Net + Baseline
Sen. George Allen (R) $364.6 billion/$0.6 billion/$502.0 billion
Sen. John Warner (R) $372.3 billion/$0.5 billion/$509.8 billion
Rep. Jim Moran (D) $427.8 billion/$11.o billion/$554.8 billion

The NTUF press release pointed out that phrases like "fiscal responsibility" "appeared 2,740 times in the 2003-2004 Congressional Record." As Mark Twain said in 1866, "“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”