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November 30, 2005

Is Virginia Headed Towards Being Just Another Pro-Tax, Big Government State?

Peter Ferrara, a taxpayer hero from the 2003 sales tax referenda battles, notes in his Bacon's Rebellion column this week that the "2005 elections were a disaster for low tax conservatives." After noting the losses by specific conservative candidates in various races, Peter writes: "Worst of all, the debate over the 2004 tax increase is now over, and we the conservatives somehow lost . . . We couldn't possibly have had a stronger case against that increase. The data shows there never was that yawning deficit that (Governor) Warner (D) and Sen. John Chichester (R), Howard Dean's twin brother, kept telling us about. Indeed, after the largest tax increase in the history of the state, we ended up with a surplus bigger than the tax increase. Taxes were raised so that the booming, New York-style increase in state spending since 1998 could be increased even faster."

What's the solution for conservatives? Ferrara writes, "if conservatives are going to win consistently in this state, we need . . . to reorganize to participate effectively in the public debate. That must start with a new funding base of patriots who want to win, not just appear to be leaders, on the cheap." Peter Ferrara is a principled conservative! But all of us who believe in the conservative principles of freedom, liberty and limited government need to join in that public debate and explain why lower taxes mean greater freedom and liberty.

November 29, 2005

Alaskan 'Bridge to Nowhere' Finally Dies . . . Almost

One never ceases to be amazed at the ways Members of Congress find to buy their constituents' votes with taxpayer money. A recent example was the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska -- recently featured on the cover of the November 6 Parade magazine, which comes with many Sunday newspapers. Parade reported that "Congress recently approved $223 million to build a bridge to a tiny island," i.e., Gravina Island, site of the Ketchikan Airport and a population of 50 people. The bridge first came to the attention of most Americans as the more conservative members of Congress sought to use the money from 'pork projects' to offset the cost to repair the infrastructure damaged by Hurrican Katrina. For more information by conservative members of the House of Representatives to to offset some of the costs from Hurricane Katrina, see our September 21 Growls.

A blogger at the Heritage Foundation correctly noted the bridge symbolized "a government run amok . . . The money still appropriated to Alaska, and the other pork projects in the highway bill are left untouched . . . No money is redirectred to higher priority national use." According to The Hill newspaper, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the Transportation Committee, became enraged during a closed-door caucus meeting and confronted two fellow congressmen, "excoriating them for lampooning his notorious 'Bridge to Nowhere' as a mulitimillion-dollar boondoggle." Sounds like a boondoggle to us, not to mention that the Alaska state government still gets to spend the money.

November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

This blogger will be offline until the first of next week. See you then.

November 22, 2005

Pro-Taxers at Roanoke Times Want You to Pay Higher Gas Taxes

Liberal editors at the Washington Post, the Virginian Pilot, and Roanoke Times, among others, like to label those who believe in lower taxes and limited government as anti-taxers. Unfortunately, they never label themselves as pro-taxers, but rather see themselves as supporters of good government. An editorial in today's Roanoke Times, which calls on the 2006 General Assembly to raise the gasoline tax, has us growling. As justification, they point out that the 17.5 cents per gallon tax hasn't been raised since 1987. In addition, they note that drivers of today's more fuel-efficient cars do not buy as much gasoline as when they drove less efficient cars. Both are true, but if transportation is indeed Virginia's number one priority, as state Senator John Chichester contends, then the General Assembly should be tapping into the general fund to pay for Virginia's transportation needs. The editorial whines that unless (gas tax) revenue "does not keep up, bankruptcy or a failed transportation system await." When gas prices skyrocketed a month ago, oil company executives were hauled before Congress to explain their high prices and windfall profits. Taxpayers need to begin asking why government gets a larger take from the price of a gallon of gasoline than do oil companies!

November 20, 2005

The Political Class Does Know What's Best. Just Ask Them.

We enjoyed growling on November 9 after voters in Virginia's Pittsylvania County defeated a meals tax. For those who think that politicians don't put themselves into a political class above the rest of us, comments by two members of Pittsylvania's political elite in today's Danville Register & Bee should abuse you of that notion. The article starts "The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors was surprised when the county's meals tax referrendum . . . only garnered support from 30 percent of the voters on Election Day," and then provides the comments of the board chairman and county administrator. Both tell you a lot about what they see as the role of taxpayers. From board chairman: "Voters were against the tax increase because it was a tax increase . . . They didn't realize it was designed to help them with their real estate taxes." And from the county administrator: "All towns have to do is vote it in. All cities have to do is vote it in. . . . We have to get permission through a referendum before we can even schedule a hearing." Since these political elite don't think it's fair that counties have to get permission from voters before raising taxes while towns and cities do not, the paper reports the supervisors' top legislative priority is to get the 2006 General Assembly to give them "the same powers to impose local taxes that are currently available to all Virginia cities and towns." The political class really do think they know what is best for the rest of us! Just ask them.

November 19, 2005

Monkey See, But Monkey No Do

The Revenue Sharing Agreement (RSA), first approved for the FY2002 budget year by Arlington's County and School Boards, essentially puts the school's budget on autopilot. The RSA provides the schools with a set percentage (currently 48.1%) of tax revenues whether it's needed or not. It provides the Superintendent no incentive to manage efficiently. Our most recent growl about RSA was March 6, 2005 when we noticed a column in the Fredericksburg paper, which opined that 'constructive disagreement' between school boards and their local governing bodies was a good thing.

In order to convince their legislative bodies, government bureaucrats like to trot out a list of other localites doing what they themselves want to do, i.e., a "monkey see, monkey do" mentality." Thus, it was heartening to read in Thursday's Newport News Daily Press that the Gloucester County, Virginia, county board of supervisors had "nixed" a proposed revenue sharing agreement between the two bodies. The paper reported supervisors "were leery of losing flexibility at budget time." According to the paper, "A report prepared by county staff showed that over the past eight years, the amount of county tax revenues dedicated to schools has fluctuated from approximately 60 to 68 percent." The paper also noted that only a "handful of localities" in Virginia have these such agreements.

November 18, 2005

Spending Other Peoples' Money must be Hard Work. Arlington County Board Wants Pay Raise!

In yesterday's "hot news," the Arlington Sun-Gazette reports: "Arlington County Board members are considering asking the General Assembly for a raise of up to 50 percent." With county spending significantly exceeding the rate of inflation, Arlington taxpayers are left wondering whether Board members are worth even their current pay. According to the Manager's budget guidance (Adobe required), which the Board is expected to approve at their recessed meeting on November 29, Arlington property owners will get hit with 20% increases in their assessments in January 2006. As this week's Sun-Gazette points out, "Even with a cut in the tax rate again next year, rising assessments mean most Arlington homeowners will be paying significantly more for basic government services and schools." And after pilfering our property rights on Tuesday evening (see previous two 'growls'), the Board thinks they deserve a pay raise? As Nomad said in response to news that Congress will likely take a pay rais afterall at Government Bytes, the blogsite of the National Taxpayers Union, "I guess service isn't its own reward."

November 17, 2005

How Many Pockets did the Arlington County Board Pick as a Result of their Lot Coverage Decision?

On Tuesday evening, the Arlington County Board voted to restrict the property rights of Arlington property owners, effectively reducing the value of many Arlington properties. (See previous post for background.) In response to hundreds of phone calls and e-mails to the Board office on Monday and Tuesday urging the Board to follow the advice of the Arlington County Civic Federation, which "called for no change to existing rules," as reported by the Arlington Sun-Gazette in a special midweek article, the Board's chairman said "doing nothing was not an option." There was no other explanation to justify what amounts to the downzoning of your property. Will the Board's decision to restrict property rights, although dressed-up as lot coverage, reduce property value? We believe that owners of older homes will find the value of their land (vs. the value of the 'improvements') reduced because builders will be constricted in the size of home that can be constructed. Over time, those decisions will spread throughout county. The Washington Post and NewsChannel8 also covered the Board's decision. The county issued a press release late Wednesday afternoon.

Expect more growling on this theft of property rights in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, homeowners may want to ask a realtor whether the Board's decision has made their property nonconforming.

November 13, 2005

Arlington Homeowner Alert

PROPERTY VALUES COULD PLUMMET IF COUNTY BOARD RESTRICTS LOT COVERAGE

The Arlington County Board will vote on Tuesday evening, November 15, on drastic new limits on what you can build on your property.

This proposal would greatly reduce the land area that can be covered by your house, decks, patio, walks, and driveway, and would decrease the value of your property. The Manager has proposed a zoning ordinance to make these changes (Adobe required). Even the Arlington County Civic Federation passed a resolution on October 4 detailing the Federation’s objections to this proposal

The proposal got its start as a way to curtail the construction of grossly oversized monster houses like the notorious 'blue whale' on N. Sycamore Street. Then it morphed into restrictions on so-called "McMansions" that were just slightly larger than neighboring older houses. But now it's completely out of control, and would lower the value of almost every single-family home in Arlington.

You can now build on 56% of your lot, but if the most restrictive options are chosen, you would be severely restricted. Depending on the size of your lot, your house could be limited to no more than 20% of your lot. In addition, three separate options are available for the Board’s consideration. Even some who have been involved in the process for several years find it confusing. How many more people will be needed in the county’s zoning office to handle the ensuing bureaucracy?

If you oppose these unreasonable restrictions on your property rights, you should tell the County Board immediately. You can call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130. You definitely should e-mail them at countyboard@arlingtonva.us. Better yet, speak to the County Board directly on Tuesday evening, November 15. The Board’s public hearing on lot coverage (agenda item 43) will begin shortly after 6:45 pm in Room 307 of Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard. Procedures for speaking can be found on the November 15 agenda.

Not sure whether to speak, or still have a question? Call Tim Wise, ACTA’s president, at (703) 243-8345. And please browse Growls while you are here. If you’re not already a member, please join ACTA, which you can do by clicking on to the PayPal icon to the right.

November 11, 2005

Trust Free Markets, not Pandering Politicians

Today's New York Times (regular version -- print version) reports: "Burger King is offering a $6,000 signing bonus to anyone who agrees to work for a year at one of its New Orleans outlets. Rallys, a local restaurant chain, has nearly doubled its pay for new employees to $10 an hour. On any given day, contractors and business owners pass out fliers in downtown New Orleans promising $17 to $20 an hour, plus benefits . . . " Contrast that to an "economic snapshot" from the organization cited by one of Arlington's delegates in the General Assembly who "believes it his duty to make employers pay them higher hourly wages" (reference Capital Freedom, October 17, 2005). In their "economic snapshot" dated November 9, the Economic Policy Institute discussed the "extreme levels of joblessness" faced by Katrina evacuees "especially those who have yet to return to their homes."

So while the free market in New Orleans raises the wages of those willing to work, one of Arlington's renowned politicians wants to raise Virginia's minimum wage because he thinks he know better than the free market. For those who have yet to visit Capital Freedom's blogsite, I recommend it because her analyses are especially incisive. For more on minimum wages and the so-called living wage, visit the Employment Policies Institute. For why wages rise, see the classic 1956 article posted at the Foundation for Economic Education.

November 09, 2005

Meals Tax? Pittsylvania Voters Say 'No' to Their Political Elite

Voters in Virginia's Pittsylvania County defeated a referendum yesterday that would have allowed their county supervisors to collect up to a 4% tax on prepared foods. In virtually every place in Virginia that has put the issue of a meals tax on the ballot, voters have defeated the measures. According to today's Danville Register-Bee, "Unofficial returns show 10,908 votes cast against the proposal, compared with 4,484 voters -- roughly 30 percent -- in favor." Make that 29.1%!

County officials and their political friends on the Register-Bee's editorial staff emphasized the revenue raised would equate to a two-cent increase in the real estate tax rate. Nevertheless, the meals tax referendum only gained the support of 36% of voters in the areas of the county with the highest property values.

The paper's November 4 editorial was especially disingenuous in urging voters to approve the referendum when they quoted the county administrator saying, "This is just asking the people's permission to do it." Then yesterday, the paper reported on the previous evening's county supervisor's meeting with the headline, "County makes final pitch for meals tax." The board chairman was quoted with the following elitest comment: "I don't think people would miss that money very much." Afterall, our political leaders know best.

But, you say, Arlington has a meals tax, and voters never had the opportunity to vote on it. That's correct! About 15 years ago when Virginia's General Assembly approved the authorizing legislation, one of Arlington's senators added a floor amendment that enabled any county with the County Manager form of government (guess which one that would be) can avoid putting a meals tax before the voters if the tax is unanimously approved by the county's board of supervisors. Guess the political rulers just didn't want us serfs to have another thing to worry about when we went to the polls.

November 08, 2005

Tax Reform Panel's Report: "Some Hits, Many Misses"

That's the conclusion of the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which analyzed the final report of the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. In a November 1, 2005 press release, NTU said the report's "findings may disappoint grassroots activists who have been building momentum for a new and better tax system over the last decade." In their scorecard, NTU said the panel's recommendation to repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) was a "hit," but that retaining multiple tax brackets was a "miss." Also, NTU said the panel's call for "ditching the arcane method of taxing worldwide profits of U.S. firms, while reducing corporate tax rates" was a "hit," but restricting certain deductions was a "miss." According to NTU president, John Berthoud, Americans who hoped the report would "light a fire under policymakers may only see a few smoldering embers by the time the Washington establishment gets through with it."

November 06, 2005

Understanding the Language of Big Government and their Leftist Friends

For more than a decade, Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) has been the landmark method by which fiscal conservatives hoped to control the growth of government. Consequently, the advocates of ever bigger government are giddy that Colorado voters decided on November 1 to suspend for five-years the portion of TABOR that requires that surplus revenues be returned to taxpayers. Rather, state government will be able to spend about $3.7 billion over the next five years instead of refunding it to taxpayers.

According to the two authors of a Cato Institute study on Colorado's TABOR, the legislation "mandates that state revenue can grow no faster than population, plus inflation, and requires immediate refunds of surplus revenues to taxpayers."

The editorial desks of the Virginian Pilot and the Cleveland Plain Dealer were clearly overjoyed. Margaret Edds, editorial writer at the Virginia Pilot titled her column today, "Kicking out government by gimmick in Colorado," and wrote, "government-by-formula makes as much sense as driving down a crowded freeway on autopilot." On Friday, the Plain Dealer editorialized that Colorado's voters escaped "from an irresponsible financial straitjacket known as TABOR . . . (and) should resonate in Ohio and other states considering similar measures."

Thankfully, John Berthoud, president of the National Taxpayers Union, which has supported TABOR efforts for some 15 years, said in a press release, "In the months, years, and decades ahead, we will not be deterred from giving taxpayers a greater voice over how much government they can afford."

UPDATE 11/8/05. Critics of Colorado's TABOR may be conducting 'self-immolation,' however, says Friday's Rocky Mountain News. Responding to one particular critic, who claimed that TABOR was "as good as dead," the paper outlined a number of reasons why TABOR still lives. For example, its caps on spending are still in place, and taxpayers must still vote on any tax increase.

November 05, 2005

Why Have a Constitution if You're Not Going to Follow It?

President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court last month set off a storm of protest among conservatives, who sought someone who would adhere to the principles embodied in the Constitution rather than the whims of judicial activism. Virginians and Marylanders can thank the Constitution for not having to pay a commuter tax, which "more than 30 plaintiffs -- including (D.C.) Mayor Anthony A. Williams" were seeking to impose upon D.C.'s suburban neighbors. According to today's Washington Times, "A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that Congress has the authority to prevent the D.C. government from taxing government. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District said the Constitution clearly grants Congress 'exclusive authority' to govern the District." The newspaper then cited the following text from the appeals court's decision, "The policy choices are Congress' to make."

The Washington Post noted in their story on the appeals court's commuter tax decision that "Congress barred the District from imposing a commuter tax as part of the Home Rule Act of 1973, a ban that city leaders say has resulted in unfair tax demands on D.C. residents. At stake is an estimated $1.4 billion that the District hoped to tap each year from residents of Maryland and Virginia who work in the city."

November 04, 2005

This "Smoking Gun" is on Fire

Smoking Gun is how ACTA members and concerned Arlington citizens can alert us to possible misdeeds and/or misspending by officials of our local government. One Smoking Gun recently told us that top management of Arlington’s Kenmore Middle School “had spent $10,000 to buy every student a green polo shirt with the Kenmore logo on it . . . (and the shirts) were used only on the first day of school, to gin up school spirit, or something like that.” The schools’ FY2006 adopted budget expected an enrollment of 744 students. So if 750 shirts were ordered, the average cost would be $13.33.

The story doesn’t end there, however. According to the minutes of the PTA’s September 13, 2005 meeting, the school’s principal showed up to “plea for PTA to contribute $5,000 (which is one-half of the cost) toward the cost of the polo shirts given to each child on the first day of school.” The minutes also recorded the principal “(e)xplained that he has a tight fiscal year and that any support toward this expense would be appreciated.” Although “some PTA members (were) reluctant to pay $5000 now without reworking the (PTA’s) budget,” the minutes showed the “motion carried.” The sender of the Smoking Gun e-mail wondered “if there is any control on frivolous spending by principals, especially when parents get nickel-and-dimed to pay for things with real educational value.” The example provided by Smoking Gun was a teacher’s request for $25 from parents so their children could attend a field trip that in year’s past was paid for by the school or by the PTA.

Although $10,000 is not material within the context of the $6.8 million budgeted for Kenmore for the FY2006 school year, taxpayers must wonder how much spending would be eliminated if the school’s management was spending their own money rather than taxpayers’ money?

November 03, 2005

They Don't Subsize Automobiles, Do They?

Last week, the County Board and a group of "interested parties," officially the Arlington Affordable Housing Roundtable, wrapped up a plan "to preserve and create affordable housing throughout the County," according to the county's October 25 press release. Although the roundtable had 23 members, it's highly questionable whether any one of them had the interest of Arlington taxpayers as their primary concern. According to the November 2 issue of the Arlington Connection, the County Board is slated to adopt an ordinance that will incorporate the compromise deal reached last week. The paper noted affordable housing is defined as being "those apartments a family with 60% of the area's average median income can pay for," which in Arlington is $53,600 for a family of four or $42,800 for a family of two. Just asking, but since taxpayers don't subsize the ownership of automobiles, why should taxpayers subsidize housing? Some people can own Lamborghinis and BMW's while others can only afford Chevrolets while still others are left buying used cars. Sound like the redistribution of income?

November 02, 2005

Arlongance Defined

One Arlington pundit characterizes the unique brand of arrogance in Arlington County government by calling it "Arlogance." If you're looking for a definition of "Arlogance," look no further than tomorrow evening's School Board meeting. Item C.8. of the consent agenda (requires Adobe) calls for the "(r)ecision of School Board Policy 10-18, Policy Monitoring" with the Superintendent recommending the Board approve the "staff recommendation to rescind the policy." What is policy 10-18 you ask? A previous School Board approved it to "ensure that the Arlington Public Schools serves the students, parents, and other residents well . . ." Talk about staff being out of touch with Arlington's taxpayers? Wth a cost-per-pupil for the current fiscal year of almost $16,500, among the very highest in Virginia, it's understandable why staff doesn't want taxpayers looking at how well the Arlington Public Schools use the money given to the schools by Arlington taxpayers.

UPDATE 11/7/05. We were mostly correct on this one. We spoke on agenda item C.8. at Thursday's School Board meeting, and learned that it was not the Board's intention that policy directive 10-18 be rescinded. Your humble scribe learned from one of the schools' top managers that the error resulted from "a miscommunication," and consequently "thought" it was the School Board's intent to rescind policy 10-18.