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December 31, 2005

Looking at the Half-Filled Glass

Most of my growling tends to see the glass as half-empty. Thanks to a conversation that Larry Kudlow (link is to his blogsite) was having with James Glassman this afternoon as a substitute radio talk show host, I have to start off by admitting this post will see the glass as half-full.

Kudlow was asking about Glassman's year-end article for 2005 posted at TechCentralStation. Glassman writes: "Being a country with a lot of very rich people, however, is nothing to be ashamed of -- as long as mearly everyone has a shot at being well-off. Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal and Lincoln Anderson of LPL Financial Services recently pointed out that the latest Census data show that, far from shrinking or losing ground, the middle class in America has become a good deal richer." He notes that Moore and Anderson said, "Back in 1967 . . . the income range for the middle class (that is, the third of five quintiles) was between $28,000 and $39,000 (in today's dollars). Now that income range is between $38,000 and $59,000." Adds Glassman, "In 1967, one family in ten had an income of more than $75,000 (in 2004 dollars); today, it's one in four." He then says, "Americans believe our economic system gives them a shot at dramatic upward mobility if they work hard and get some breaks."

Glassman concludes by acknowledging "(t)here are threats in America: imminent investment tax hikes, a looming crisis with Social Security and Medicare, terrorism and protectionism. But overall, 2005 was a damn good year. Celebrate!" Indeed! Have no fear, however, the grinches on the Arlington County Board will again be reaching deeper into your pockets in 2006.

If Pearl Harbor happened today

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words

December 30, 2005

Arlington's "Teacher Pay is Tops Across N.Va."

This week's Arlington Sun-Gazette compares Arlington's average teacher salaries to those in other Northern Virginia communities and to the Virginia average. Unfortunately, the basis for the Sun-Gazette's reporting -- a survey released November 30 by the Virginia Department of Education -- does not differentiate between salaries of new teachers and those of older teachers. For example, Loudoun County where the school system is growing will have a lower average salary than does Arlington where enrollment is declining. As a result, the Sun-Gazette began their report saying: "The combination of higher starting salaries and longer-serving educators has kept Arlington's average teacher salaries above all other Northern Virginia jurisdictions this year, and more than 40 percent higher than the average salary for teachers statewide and nationwide." (emphasis added) ACTA's president was quoted saying that Arlington's "teachers are reaping the windfall from a revenue-sharing agreement between the school system and county government, which funnels more money into the schools despite declining enrollment . . . (and) reward(s) Arlington teachers in excess of that needed to maintain a quality teaching cadre." We growled about this on December 15, which contains a table of the average salaries.

December 29, 2005

A "World-Class Community" Unable to Build Fire Stations

From 1995 to 2005, Arlington County's bonded indebtedness has increased an inflation-adjusted 34.2% on a per capita basis and the percentage of debt service needed to pay for total general expenditures has increased from 6.03% to 7.63% (FY 2005 CAFR, pages 166-167). However, two recent stories in the Washington Post emphasize the county's seeming inability to build fire stations on-time and within budget. On December 8, the Post's Annie Gowen wrote about the new Cherrydale fire station that has been in the planning phase since 1990 when "(v)oters approved a $2.5 million bond issue for a new station . . . (with a) second $2.76 million bond issue . . . approved in 1994. Now the the project cost is unknown although Gowen reports "(t)he county is to use about $11.3 in bonds that have already been approved by voters." She quotes the former civic association president saying, "(The fire station is) still in the wrong spot, but if it's got to go there, they've done a pretty good job." Additional information about the new Cherrydale fire station is in the December 14 Arlington Connection. For more information about the project, read the County Manager's multi-part report for agenda item 41 of the Arlington County Board's December 10 meeting.

Gowen wrote about a second, troubled fire station a few days later in the December 18 Washington Post, noting "Arlington County's new fire station on South Hayes Street was supposed to open this year as a state-of-the-art tribute to the firefighters of Engine Company No. 5, the first responders to the fiery scene at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001." However, "Arlington County has a decaying building that may cost as much as $2.5 million to repair and complete, a bill that could be passed on to county taxpayers . . . The situation has become an unusual black eye for a county with a reputation for good management and careful planning." (emphasis added)

During this time, the county's press machine cranked out a press release on December 21 praising the fire department's new mobile command center. Fortunately, the unit was supplied by the private sector rather than produced by the county's bureaucrats. When Arlington County property owners receive their 2006 assessments next month, I wonder how many will associate the increased assessments to living in what our political elite enjoy calling a world-class community?

December 23, 2005

Season's Greetings

Blogging will resume next week. Until then, best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

December 22, 2005

The Grinch of WMATA Wants to Raise the Sales Tax Rate for Metro

The Washington Examiner reports today that "(f)ive Northern Virginia jurisdictions are supporting a proposal to increase the local sales tax by 0.25 percent to raise about $50 million a year to fund Metro. The paper also reports the proposal "faces an uncertain future in the General Assembly." Metro has been finagling for a "dedicated" funding source for some time, and the paper says its the "only transit system in the country without a dedicated funding stream" I guess Metro officials don't count the fares paid by its riders as a 'dedicated' source. Guess only taxpayers are dedicated. Sheesh!

According to the county's FY 2005 annual financial report (will be posted here, soon), Arlington taxpayers sent WMATA $11.8 million towards its continuing operations. See the WMATA Metro Compact for more information under which Northern Virginia's local governments operate with the District and Maryland.

December 21, 2005

Senator William Proxmire: A True Taxpayer Hero

Steve Chapman writes the legacy of Senator William Proxmire who died last week in today's Washington Times. Chapman writes that although "many Republicans regarded him as a liberal, the National Taxpayers Union ranked him the best senator on spending issues 10 times -- 'a phenomenal record that many never be equaled,' said (NTU) President John Berthoud." Chapman quoted Senator Proxmire saying, "Government has gotten too big too bast . . . (t)he burden of proof ought always to be on those who want to extend government." Chapman notes that Senator Proxmire said that in 1979. What would he say of today's Congress?

Taxpayers for Common Sense has this press release, information on the Golden Fleece Award created by Senator Proxmire, and a list of the Top 10 Golden Fleece Awards. For a list of the years Senator Proxmire was ranked number 1, see Government Bytes, the NTU blogsite.

December 20, 2005

More of Your Federal Tax Dollars Wasted

The headline of the story in yesterday's Federal Times said: "Defense contractors fail to earn the bonuses they receive, GAO audit says." The story discussed a U.S. General Accountability Office audit released last week, which noted that DoD "paid $8 billion in bonuses on selected projects during five years without regard to how well the projects performed . . . (m)any of the projects were plagued with delays, 'significant cost increases,' and technical problems." The paper also quoted from the GAO report that although DoD "has paid billions in fees over time, the department has little evidence to support its contention that the use of award and incentive fees results in the intended effect on contract performance." GAO makes the mandatory recommendations regarding the revamping of DoD's programs and systems, but apparently makes no mention of whether there was any failure of management and staff in ensuring contract performance.

December 19, 2005

Arlington Property Owners Pay for the County Board’s Largesse

In a September 8, 2004 memo to the county government’s department heads (available at the Arlington County Civic Federation's website), the Manager noted that “real estate assessment growth is approaching 20% for the fourth year in a row . . . (and that for) CY 2000, residential homeowners paid 49% of the real estate taxes and commercial owners paid 51%. The residential percentage is expected to increase to 60% in CY 2005 due to the rapid residential assessment growth coupled with much slower growth in commercial property assessments, shifting the tax burden further to the residential homeowner.”

Now comes further evidence of how all property owners (residential and commercial) are bearing the burden of paying for the County Board’s unwillingness or inability to control the county budget. The new audited financial statements (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) for FY 2005 were released on Saturday (no permalink, yet, but will soon be posted here). Data from pages 160 and 162 shows that the share of general government spending paid by general property taxes has gradually increased from 48.1% in 1995 to 54.6% in 2005. Detail numbers follow (second and third colums are millions of dollars):

Fiscal Year/Gnl Property Taxes/Total Gng Govt Expenditures

1995/222.4/462.2/48.1%
1996/229.7/478.4/48.0%
1997/243.1/491.5/49.5%
1998/253.2/501.7/50.5%
1999/265.3/532.3/49.8%
2000/283.5/558.1/50.8%
2001/308.5/594.9/51.9%
2002/339.0/653.7/51.9%
2003/371.6/713.6/52.1%
2004/405.2/745.8/54.3%
2005/432.3/792.1/54.6%

Isn’t it nice to live in a caring community and be able to observe income redistribution occur right before your eyes?

Other tax revenue sources in addition to general property taxes include local sales taxes, local cigarette, transient, bank stock, recordation, commericial utility, and meals taxes. Non-tax revenue sources include licenses, permits, charges for services, and fines.

December 18, 2005

Learn More About Your County Government. Join ACTA!

"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people
alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories."

-- Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XIV, 1781)

Reference: Jefferson: Writings, Peterson ed., Library of America (274)

Hat Tip to FederalistPatriot.

December 17, 2005

Virginia GOP State Senator Talks Like Arlington County Board

Today's Washington Times reports that "Gov. Mark Warner (D)yesterday outlined his final budget, proposing using the state's $1.5 billion surplus for one-time expenditures on transportation, deposits to the rainy day fund and pay raises for state employees." Sen. Chichester (R-Stafford County), who along with 17 Republican members of the House of Delegates (reference yesterday's post) facilitated a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004, complimented the governor's budget in the Roanoke Times. Specifically Chichester said, "The highlight, which doesn't mean much to a lot of folks, is that it contains one-time expenditures and not [new] ongoing expenditures." Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sounds virtually the same as Arlington County Board members (currently all Democrats) when provided with windfall tax collections at the end of the budget year, i.e., it's ok because it's one-time spending rather than adding to future costs by authorizing the hiring of additional staff. No, ladies and gentlemen, that surplus resulted from the taxpayers' hard work, and would be returned to its rightful owners if Virginia and its local governments were required to under a taxpayers bill of rights (TABOR). More information on TABOR is available at TertiumQuids and in this study at the Virginia Institute of Public Policy (Adobe required), which argues for a Virginia TABOR.

Other reporting on the governor's budget included the Washington Post, the Virginian Pilot, the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

December 16, 2005

GOP Delegate Rewarded for Role in 2004 State Tax Increase?

Today's Virginian Pilot and Lynchburg News & Advance, among other state newspapers, cover the selection of Del. Preston Bryant (R-Lynchburg) to be secretary of natural resources in the administration of Governor-elect Tim Kaine (D). Despite an apparently stellar record of environmental policy initiatives, Bryant is "best known for his role in helping Gov. Mark R. Warner pass a package of tax increases in 2004," as noted by the Virginian Pilot. The newspaper adds that "Bryant assembled a coalition of 17 House Republicans who joined with Democrats to pass the measure." For his role in passing the $1.4 billion tax increase, his picture is included on the "Virginia's Least Wanted" poster, published by Americans for Tax Reform. (From this page, you can download the poster or order a copy from ATR).

December 15, 2005

Teacher Salaries Befitting a World-Class Community?

On November 30, the Virginia Department of Education submitted its annual teacher salary survey for 2005-2006 (summary or entire report) to the Virginia General Assembly (Adobe required to read entire report). A summary of the statewide averages for classroom teachers showed the average salary increased 3.28% from FY 2004 to FY 2005, and a 4.26% increase from FY 2005 actual to the FY 2006 budgeted. They included:

FY 2004 actual average teacher salary -- $43,936
FY 2005 actual average teacher salary -- $45,377
FY 2006 budgeted average teacher salary -- $47,310

Virginia’s average teacher salary ranked second in the Southeast region, and that FY 2005 average ranked just below the national average of $47,750. One would expect Arlington's teacher salaries to exceed those in most of Virginia, but Arlington’s average teacher salaries far outdistance those for all other Northern Virginia school districts. Arlington’s average teacher salaries are exceeded only by those at Thomas Jefferson High School, the governor’s school in Fairfax County. Average teacher salaries for Northern Virginia include:

School District/FY 2004 Actual/FY 2005 Actual/FY2006 Budgeted

Arlington/$60,014/$61,407/$66,308
Fairfax County/$53,345/$55,158/$60,673
Loudoun County/$53,446/$52,547/$53,096
Prince William/$52,100/$53,108/$52,238
Alexandria/$55,821/$58,759/$63,260
Falls Church/$53,294/$57,194/$59,363

Arlington taxes would have to be raised substantially in order to exceed those at Thomas Jefferson, and while we don’t know if the Arlington school district offers world-class teacher salaries, we do know they are substantially ahead of the other public school districts in Northern Virginia.

December 14, 2005

It's Your Surplus. Tell Your Legislators What To Do With It!

Today's Shenandoah Valley Daily News provides coverage of the expected agenda of the 2006 Virginia General Assembly. The online newspaper covered a legislative breakfast meeting of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce. According to the paper, transportation, property rights, and tax reform will likely be the top issues. With this being the "long" session, the paper took no time to point out that developing the biennium budget "that is expected to be supported with a $2.2 billion surplus in revenues." There were then wise words from Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) who said, "Anytime you end with surpluses, there is no shortage of people with ideas of how to help them." On the issue of transportation, there were some interesting comments about the possibility of I-81 becoming a toll road, e.g., via a public-private partnership. Del. Steve Landes (R-Weyers Cave) said "Toll all the Interstates, then we can toll I-81 . . . If we're not going to toll all the interstates, we should not toll I-81 . . . It's a matter of fairness." It's also true that $2.2 billion surplus results from the hard-earned work of Virginia's taxpayers, and should be returned to us, and not spent by our elected representatives. In fact, it's a good time to point that it would be returned to its rightful owners if there was a Virginia Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR). A Virginia TABOR is one of 11 planks of the Freedom & Prosperity Agenda developed by a coalition of Virginia conservatives and libertarians.

December 13, 2005

Arlington County Board's 'Placeholder' Budget Process

When the County Manager proposed the Fiscal Year 2006 county budget in February 2005, he included a number of "policy priority initiatives." One of them involved performing "independent audits where results will be shared with appropriate audiences . . . conducted by third-party independent organizations . . . It is anticipated that four to five program audits could be completed in the first year." The idea was "to improve the service that Arlington County offers its residents." While included in the Manager's proposed budget, the item originated with this year's Board chairman in his New Year's Day 2005 speech under the rubric of 'earned value.' No additional FTE's were provided to staff the initiative.

Fast forward to item 36 on the Board consent agenda (Adobe required) for its December 10 meeting. The Manager recommended the Board "(a)llocate $120,000 from the General Fund General Contingent (001.713) to the Department of Management and Finance (001.031) for a program performance audit of the Site Plan Process." According to the fiscal impact section section of the Manager's report: The FY 2006 budget included $100,000 for program performance audits. The current Medical Care for Inmates audit being conducted by Criminal Justice Institute, Inc. will cost $63,980. Since there will not be sufficient funds to conduct a program performance audit of the Site Plan Process, funds are being requested from the general contingent to do so." Thankfully, Bob Atkins, one of Arlington's fiscal watchdogs, removed item 36 from the consent agenda so that it would be heard at the Board's recessed meeting this evening rather than on Saturday.

During public comment, ACTA's president, Tim Wise, asked Jay Fisette, Board chairman, to explain why so few dollars were included in the FY 2006 budget for these performance audits. Wise essentially wanted to know why so little thought was devoted by the chairman, apparently, to thinking through what he expected from the policy initiative. During the Board's discussion of item 36, the chairman offered that "the $100,000 was a placeholder . . . never believing the $100,000 would do it." That explanation would hold if the chairman had not been an auditor at the U.S. General Accountability Office. The Board discussion then focused on the scope of the planned site plan audit for which the additional money was being requested. Mr. Zimmerman objected to the scope of the planned review, but the item passed 4-1.

While your humble fiscal watchdog has been watching county spending for more than a decade, the opporunity to watch a transaction isolated such as this is a rare opporunity indeed. Nevertheless, it raises questions of how much serious thought goes into developing a local government budget.

December 12, 2005

Puffery, Philanthropy and Politicians

For those wondering why the Republican-controlled Congress has had as much trouble keeping a lid on federal spending as did Democrats when they controlled Congress, Chris Edwards, director of tax policy for the Cato Institute nails it in his column posted at National Review Online. According to Edwards, "The real problem is the pro-spending mindset ingrained in long-time legislators. It's called "Potomac Fever," and it causes members of Congress to see themselves as philanthropists with unlimited means to solve every problem in society." Edwards also notes that "Congressional hearings add to the pro-spending climate. Rather than being like court proceedings , , , (they) are dominated by witnesses who favor more spending . . . (while) (w)itnesses skillfully flatter members for their wise support of supposedly vital programs."

What to do? Edwards says, "first we need to appreciate that politicians enjoy spending, they gain esteem from it, and most of them see their role as philanthropists, not defenders of the taxpayer or the Constitution." As U.S. Representative Davy Crockett of Tennessee said many years ago, "We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money." People who think Potomac Fever afflicts only those east of the river, obviously haven't watched members of the Arlington County Board in action. Board members know how to suck-up to the tax eaters, but only rarely are they heard defending taxpayers.

Hat tip to the Club for Growth blog.

December 11, 2005

Will Congress Summon the Arlington County Board to Capitol Hill?

After America's largest oil companies recently reported high quarterly profits, the headline of an article in the leftist Nation magazine was "Oil Tycoons Grilled on Windfall Profits." The Metro section of today's Washington Post carried an above-the-fold article with the headline: "Localities Prepare for End to Windfalls." It seems fair, therefore, to ask if Congress has plans to dragoon the five members of the Arlington County Board before a Congressional committee to explain why the windfall profits from escalating residential property enriches county coffers rather than Arlington County taxpayers. We certainly aren't going to hold our breaths for Congress to act, but it sure raises the question of why politicians get excited over windfall profits in private industry, but do not get equally excited about windfall profits by local government. Afterall, since 2000, per capita income in Arlington is up 19.1%, but real estate tax bills are up 94% with another 20% increase possible next year since the Manager has already announced that increases in 2006 assessments are expected to be 20%.

An analysis in the October 28 Washington Post told of how the oil industry was trying to "cast huge profits as no big deal." Some members of the U.S. Senate even want to pass a tax on the oil company's windfall profits although it was defeated, according to the Houston Chronicle. For politicians needing a tutorial on the economics of windfall profits, this Townhall.com column by Dr. Walter Williams of the economics department at George Mason University is recommended reading. We must admit that watching the Arlington County Board in front of a Congressional committee on C-SPAN would be better theater than most County Board meetings.

December 10, 2005

Nevertheless, Congressional Spending Continues Unabated

According to Mark Weinberger, one of the participants during a discussion, hosted by Tax Analysts, among "prominent figures in Washington's tax community" yesterday, "(p)olicymakers will significantly revise the tax code after 2008 when major budget pressures are likely to force the otherwise politically thorny issue of tax reform." He added, "You need a precipitating event to force big policy changes in Washington . . . I believe the demographic changes and the fiscal challenges we face in the country will, by necessity, include changes to the structure and level of taxes in this country." So, rather than begin paring down the federal budget now, the spendthrift Congress will wait another three years when it will be even harder to effect any changes in tax policy. Way to go Congress!

December 09, 2005

Virginia Chamber of Commerce Doesn't Seem to Understand the Concept of Setting Priorities

Today's Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reports that "the Virginia Chamber of Commerce -- which wields considerable lobbying influence in the legislature -- said transportation is an urgent crisis that requires a comprehensive solution during the 2006 legislative session . . . Asked whether the chamber would support an increase in the gas or other taxes for transportation, (chamber chairman Jack) Reasor said the group isn't pushing for one, but they're not opposed to one, either . . . Increasing a tax should be considered only as a part of a larger package, Reasor added. The chamber wants lawmakers to also consider tolls, public-private partnerships, HOT lanes and using surplus money for one-time investments." (emphasis added) There's nothing wrong about making transportation a top priority, but if the General Assembly is going to do that, it needs to reduce the money going to other areas of state government. Life is a matter of setting priorities -- unless, of course, you are a politician and can spend spend taxpayers' money.

December 08, 2005

Arlington Homeowners to See 20% Increase in Assessments

The County Manager's report to the Arlington County Board (agenda item 44) (Adobe required) for their November 30 recessed meeting noted that the "(a)verage residential real estate assessment growth for Calendar Year 2006 is projected to exceed 20%, the sixth year in a row with double digit growth." While the Manager went on to tell the Board there have been reductions in the real estate tax rates for the past four years, those cuts have not been sufficient to offset the skyrocketing increases in residential assessments, leaving gaping holes in the pockets of Arlington taxpayers. This week's Arlington Connection includes in their reporting on the Board's budget guidance for Fiscal Year 2007 comments by two of the county's top fiscal watchdogs -- Wayne Kubicki, a member of the County Board's Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) and Burt Bostwick, the new chairman of the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures Committee. Both offered sage advice to the Board. Bostwick "argued that the board should return or credit to taxpayers the first 50 percent of generated surpluses for fiscal 2007. We would argue that any and all surpluses be returned to their rightful owners, but 50% is a good start!

December 07, 2005

The Liberal's 'Tax the Rich' Mentality

Whenever more federal revenue is needed, liberals like to drag out their 'soak the rich' mentality. Well, guess what, the rich already do pay a very large share of federal taxes. In fact, as Bruce Bartlett points out in his Townhall.com column yesterday analyzing who pays taxes, the share of taxes being paid by the country's top earners has increased steadily. According to Bartlett, "in 1980, when the top statutoryincome tax rate went up to 70 percent, the share of income taxes paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers was just 19.3 percent." By 1992, the top 1 percent paid 27.5 percent, and in 2003, it was 34.2 percent. Bartlett then makes the point that "it is remarkable that the percentage of federal income taxes paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers almost doubled during a time when the top income tax rate by by half," which leads him to ask what matters to the liberals. Is it "the appearance of soaking the rich by imposing high statutory tax rates . . . or lower rates that may bring in more revenue that can pay for government programs to aid the poor? Sadly, the left nearly always votes for appearance over reality." The National Taxpayers Union has a very hand chart that is also well worth looking at.

December 05, 2005

The "9/11 Money Trough" -- Another Case of American Taxpayers Being Taken to the Cleaners

If American taxpayers are wondering how much of the money being set aside for relief and reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will get frittered away, they need look no further than how much of the $21.4 billion appropriated for disaster recovery in New York City after September 11, 2001 was wasted or misspent. In a major investigative reporting effort, the New York Daily News began a series on Saturday, December 3, with an article titled “4-Year Scandal of the 9/11 Billions.” While noting the “tragedy brought out the best in most” people, they sadly report “the huge and sudden influx of billions of dollars . . . brought out the worst in others.”

The four-month effort by the Daily News “reveals that major elements of the aid process were procedurally flawed – from the determination of how much money was supposedly needed, to how it was distributed, to how it was actually spent and ultimately, to how little oversight there was over the spending. In effect, no one was watching.” The bottom line, according to the paper, the “9/11 recovery aid was used to finance a plethora of projects that taxpayers elsewhere could be forgiven for characterizing as old-fashioned pork-barrel spending.”

Additional parts of the series address: 1) how organized crime moved in on the Ground Zero debris cleanup; 2) where the debris removal money went; 3) how the rich got richer and the poor got crumbs; and, 4) how an elevator hero got caught taking kickbacks. Not surprisingly, today’s paper reports the politicians are now calling for Congressional investigations.

December 04, 2005

Does the Arlington County Board Need an Economic Adviser to Explain to Them the Effect of their Lot Coverage Decision?

Members of the County Board use every opportunity to lecture county citizens about so-called affordable house being the Board's "Number One” priority. Yet on November 15, the Board approved restrictions on the property rights of Arlington property owners under the rubric of ‘lot coverage,’ which will have the effect of reducing the value of individual properties by restricting the size of homes that can be constructed.

However, the Board's decision will also raise the overall cost of housing for all Arlingtonians. According to a study summarized in the September 2005 Digest of the National Bureau of Economic Research, the most important fact driving up housing prices over the past two or three decades has been government regulation. As noted in the NBER’s digest: “(s)ince 1970, homebuilders have faced increased difficulty in obtaining regulatory approval for the construction of new homes. Local residents – more educated, more affluent – have had a greater ability to block new projects should they be deemed harmful to their own interests.” Once again, the County Board proves it can “talk the talk,” but it can’t “walk the walk.”

For more background, see our November 17 and December 1 growls. See also the county’s short summary of the Board’s approval of the lot coverage ordinance. Note especially the last “bullet” which acknowledges that obtaining permits will now take longer. For the best understanding of lot coverage, however, see the very readable explanation (Adobe required) produced by the Arlington County Civic Federation's Planning & Zoning Committee's co-chair (posted on the Civic Federfation's website) and this worksheet for computing lot coverage (Adobe required; posted on the county's website).

Aren’t government regulations wonderful?

December 03, 2005

The Irresponsible Congress, Part X

Last week's Detroit News reports: "Less than four months after President Bush signed a six-year, $286.4 billion highway and public transit act, a report commissioned (but not endorsed) by the U.S. Chamber of Commere says the federal Highway Trust Fund is running out of money and Congress needs to think about new revenue sources." (Emphasis added) It was ok, though, for individual Congressmen and Senators to include over 6,000 "earmarks," or pieces of pork, totalling over $23 billion, at the behest of individual members of Congress into that transportation bill. And it was ok for Alaska's Congressman to include over $500 million for two bridges. When will the American people begin taking back the Congress? Hat tip to the Tax Guru for the alert to the Detroit News article.

December 02, 2005

Who is Being Subsidized by the Charitable Tax Deduction?

A recent study by the Tax Foundation (link is to the press release, but provides access to the entire study) argues that the charitable tax deduction is both "highly regressive and subsidizes many organizations that are questionably charitable." Specifically, the report notes that "few charities now subsidized by the charitable deduction provide services that wouldn't otherwise be supplied in the marketplace without a tax subsidy." According to the Tax Foundation's economist who performed the study, "Gifts to traditional charities like scientific research and civil rights groups are a small part of total giving . . . (and furthermore) Many charities are similar to for-profit companies, selling private goods and services rather than conducting traditional charitable work . . . It's hard to justify tax subsidies for them."

The press release notes: "The President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform recently recommended expanding the charitable deduction in various ways. However, the study notes those benefits come at a real cost to society. By shrinking the federal tax base, the exemption for charitable gifts forces up tax rates for everyone." Sounds like further evidence of support for a flat tax or the FairTax, not to mention avoiding the pain of preparing a return.

December 01, 2005

Some Arlingtonians Don’t Seem to Understand the Meaning of Freedom

The weekly Alexandria-Arlington “Extra” that came in today’s Washington Post has a letter to the editor from an Arlington resident “cheering” the Arlington County Board’s November 15 decision to restrict the property rights of Arlington property owners. For background information on the specific issue of lot coverage, see the November 13 and November 17 Growls. Although the letter writer claims to be a 13-year resident of Arlington, she may not be aware that lot coverage has been flying below the radar of most citizens’ attention for more than five years, and that the ‘poster child’ of that stealth effort has been the notorious ‘blue whale’ on North Sycamore Street, which she conveniently failed to mention.

More importantly, though, the letter writer seems typical of the social engineers who pushed the drastic lot coverage restrictions through the county’s bureaucratic labyrinth. Why else would she bother to write about the “uninhabitable space” in these so-called McMansions and their “two-car garages and useless attics?” Residents seeking permits to expand their homes are already finding their freedom is slowly being eroded as they spend more time satisfying the county government bureaucrats at the Courthouse. Rather than reducing the bureaucratic maze associated with home improvements, the Arlington County Board has peeled off another slice of our freedom by adding another layer of bureaucracy.