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October 31, 2005

Virginia 'Piglet Book' Identifies Budget Waste

In a joint project of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Virginia Institute for Public Policy (VIPP), Virginians can now better understand why Virginia's budget has been growing 16% with every two year budget cycle. The Virginia Piglet Book is styled after CAGW's popular publications the Congressional Pig Book and Prime Cuts, and identifies $2.4 billion in wasteful spending. According to the October 19 Charlottesville Daily Progress, there is some question of how completely the recommendation of the Wilder Commission have been implemented by the administration of Governor Mark Warner (D), who initiated the commission upon becoming governor in 2002. Your humble Growler has asked the Governor's office for any reports documenting the implementation of the Wilder Commission's recommendations. We will update this entry if and when the Governor's office responds to our request.

October 16, 2005

Make April 15 "Just Another Beautiful Spring Day"

In perhaps the most succinct case for a single-rate federal tax system, Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, writes, "The most serious obstacle to (tax) reform is the fact that America has become divided between a growing class of people who pay no income taxes and a shrinking class of people who are bearing the lion's share of the burden" since "the top 20% of taxpayers -- those earning more than roughly $71,000 in 2004 -- now pay over 80% of all the income taxes." As we've previously growled, and Hodge points out, one-third of Americans who filed returned in 2004 had no tax liability.

Hodge concludes that "the most neutral system is a single-rate tax levied on consumption or on incomes above some politically accepted level." He closes with: "If lawmakers can finally muster the courage to move to such a system, "April 15th," as former Louisiana Congressman Billy Tauzin once said, "will be just another beautiful spring day." The American people, however, must help provide their congressmen with the requisite backbone.

October 15, 2005

Who Were the 'Biggest Spending Presidents'

Stephen Slivinski, Director of Budget Studies for the Cato Institute, uses "revised data released during the summer by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to author the Cato Institute's latest Tax & Budget bulletin (Adobe required), which provides "side-by-side comparisons of the spending habits of each president during the last 40 years." Slivinski slices the data in several ways so that he can measure who the big spenders were in terms of discretionary, defense, domestic, or entitlement spending. So while President George W. Bush is the biggest spender in terms of discretionary spending, President Johnson was the biggest spender in terms of total spending while President Nixon was the biggest spender in terms of entitlement spending.

In the conclusion, Slivinski writes, "The expenses related to cleanup and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast region as a result of Hurricane Katrina's destruction have not been fully tallied . . . If these budget increases are not offset by cuts in other areas of the budget, (President) Bush's spending recor will look even worse next year."

October 11, 2005

Civic Federation Speaks on Lot Coverage

Civic activists claim they are only trying to "prevent an infiltration of so-called 'monster houses'" into neighborhoods, according to this week's issue of the Arlington Sun-Gazette. Others see it as an attack on property rights while most delegates of the Arlington County Civic Federation apparently see the issue as an unworkable set of "restrictions in single-family neighborhoods." As the Sun-Gazette wrote, "Federation delegates voted, in effect, that the County Board should scrap all three options it is set to consider" on November 15. The resolution passed overwhelmingly by the Civic Federation is here. The proposal presented for approval by the Arlington County Board at its February 12, 2005 meeting is here (note the specific proposal is item #27). Option 3, which was given a 'thumbs-down' by the Civic Federation on October 4, was advertised by the County Board on July 9 (agenda item #45).

The County's Planning Commision is scheduled to hear the three separate options for lot coverage on November 7 while the County Board is schedule to take-up the issue on Tuesday, November 15. Specific questions about the proposal should be directed to the Board offices (703-228-3130).

October 08, 2005

When Growls is just not enough, visit "Government Bytes!"

Being an all-volunteer organization, there are days when Growls' bloggers are otherwise occupied. When that happens, check the blogging at Government Bytes!, the blogspot of the National Taxpayers Union. It's an ideal blogspot for not only keeping current on the latest government waste, fraud, and abuse, but for sharing news so that citizens can maintain pressure on the pols to listen. Three recent posts at Government Bytes! show why frequent visits there are worthwhile.

1) Jeff Dircksen questions "which is more troubling, that another school system has been found abusing the all important E-Rate program or that such abuse is not a surprise to Congress" based upon a news report of a California school spending $2.4 million in violation of federal program rules. 2) Damian Brady asks whether Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN) is proposing competition for the Red Cross and Salvation Army with his bill to create a $150 million disaster wing of AmeriCorps, the federal boondoggle created during the Clinton Administration. And, finally: 3) Elizabeth Terrell takes note of a Fox News report that the Bush administration's Office had issued new guidelines on credit card limits for hurricane-related purchases -- lowering the limit from $250,000 to $2,500.

In addition to Government Bytes!, visit the National Taxpayers Union website. Comment on the issues their bloggers write about, too.

October 06, 2005

Washington Post Editorial Cheerleads for Another Tax

One of today's editorial in the Washington Post does just that. In a bizarre twist of logic, they first find glee in the recent indictment of House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) because, get this, he "may well have planned to obstruct congressional efforts to promote a reliable stream of local funding for the Washington area's mass-transit system." Then they note the effort of regional lawmakers "to take advantage of a mouthwatering financial carrot," which is the $1.5 billion "brainchild" of Fairfax County congressman Tom Davis (R). The congressman has proposed a bill guaranteeing that amount, over 10 years, if regional officials manage to, in essence, get regional officials to impose another tax on the region.

The editorial bemoans the fact that Metro is "the nation's only major mass-transit system that lacks a dedicated revenue source." Of course, Arlington taxpayers know the Arlington County Board will reduce our tax burden, which includes $13 million for Metro in Fiscal Year 2006 if such a tax is implemented. Right! The editorial concludes with: "A politically viable deal to secure Metro's future -- one that might involve new taxes in some or most area jurisdictions -- may not be achievable before elections this year and next in Virginia and Maryland. Still, now is the time for local officials to debate, formulate and begin to advocate funding strategies." Ah yes, the ever-reliable Washington Post reaches further into our pockets.

October 05, 2005

Rich Still Paying Most of the Federal Income Tax

In their constant drone about "taxing the rich," the Left seems never to look at the actual facts. Yesterday, Jeff Dircksen of the National Taxpayers Union blogged the latest data (i.e., for tax year 2003) from the IRS of who actually pays the federal income tax. Seems the richest 5% of Americans, those with adjusted gross income (AGI) above $130,080 already pay 54% of federal income taxes while those with AGI's above $95,000 pay 66% of those taxes. Those in the bottom 50%, i.e., with AGI's of less than $29,019, paid just 3.46% of federal income taxes. Take your choice: facts or rhetoric. The wise choice is to choose the facts. Hat tip, once again, to the bloggers at the Club for Growth.

October 03, 2005

If restraint is good, why choose balance?

Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, Jr. (R-Fairfax), chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote, in an op-ed in the Metro section of yesterday's Washington Post, "As the General Assembly looks ahead to its 2006 session, it should commit to maintaining a structural balance." However, after noting that he's seen four recessions in the 30 years he's served on the House Appropriations Committee, he goes on to opine that "(e)ven in properous times, (the General Assembly) should make the difficult, sometimes unpopular choices to exercise the restraint necessary to match its budget to its revenue stream. That's the only way to avoid roller-coaster budgeting." Nice, flowery thoughts, certainly, but let's look at the record over those years. The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance has produced some telling analyses, which shows there has been little restraint on the part of the General Assembly. For example, their analyses show that "Virginia's "budget crisis" occurred because spending (was) based on overly optimistic revenue projections" or "(t)he (then) current Virginia budget of $24 billion is $9 billion more than needed to cover population and inflation growth since 1984." Or that since 1975, there has been a 70% increase, adjusted for inflation, in spending per student in the public schools with no significant increase in Virginia's SAT scores. If there had been restraint, there would have been no need to discuss the virtues of balance. Just a thought, not a sermon, Delegate Callahan.

October 01, 2005

Of Pork, Corruption, Government, and Leviathan

Most Americans seem willing to accept a little so-called porking in their governments. However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Americans may finally be ready to tell Congress and the President that 'enought is enough.' David Keating of the National Taxpayers Union points to two Washington Post opinion pieces this week, which use language rarely seen, especially on the editorial pages of the Washington Post. On Tuesday, he notes, the Post editorialized "Like looters who seize six televisions when their homes have room for only two, the Louisiana legislators are out to grab more federal cash than they could possibly spend usefully."

That was followed-up the next day by an opinion column by the Post's Anne Applebaum that has to warm the hearts of even the most ardent advocate of low taxes and limited government as she describes "the Louisiana congressional delegation's new request for $250 billion in hurricane reconstruction funds." She writes: "In its scale and sheer disregard for common sense, the Louisiana proposal breaks new ground. But I don't want to single out Louisiana. After all, the state's representatives are acting logically . . . They are playing by the rules of the only system for distributing federal funds that there is, and that system allocates money not according to the dictates of logic, but to the demands of politics and patronage." After citing the "obvious boondoggles such as federal transportation spending," she asks whether it is time to stop calling pork pork, and then closes with: "As I say, corruption comes in many forms. But whatever form it comes in, it will be easier for voters to identify if it's called by its true name."

In the same vein, Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute also discusses decisions made in the aftermath of Katrina to reduce "foolish regulations and trade barriers. He notes that "(s)uch corrupt payoffs to interest groups raise the cost of production and the cost of living, making the rest of us poorer." All of this comes on top of such foolishness as FEMA's decision to spend over $200 million to hire cruise ships to house hurricane relief workers, described in this Washington Post news article.

David Therous writes in introducing Robert Higgs' book, Crises & Leviathan, "the main reason for such growth lies in government’s responses to national “crises” (real or imagined), including economic upheavals (e.g., the Great Depression) and especially wars (e.g., Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Cold War, etc.). The result is ever increasing state power, which endures long after each crisis has passed--fostering extensive corporate welfare and pork, raising taxes, and undermining civil and economic liberties and economic growth. Moreover, crises are usually the creation of earlier government interventions and the flouting of constitutional law. Thus, government action begets further government action in an endless 'death spiral.'"