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January 31, 2006

Latest Plundering of American Taxpayers

As we growled on August 12, 2005, public funding of the arts is more a jobs program than about creating art since arts the combined funding by all three levels of government is less than 5%. But the arts crowd is nothing less than perservering. Steven Laffey reports for Human Events Online today that the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. will be receiving a "big fat check" from the American taxpayers "to the sweet tune of $900,000." Laffey points out, though, that the Shakespeare Theatre is not among the needy because ticket sales and 'earned income' covers half the budget with the other half coming from "300 corporations, foundations, and public agencies., not to mention 7,500 individuals." When will the legal plundering of taxpayers end? It's one thing to pay taxes for core government services as national defense and police and fire departments, but subsidizing arts projects like D.C.'s Signature Theatre has to strike even the most liberal-minded among us as nothing less than legal plundering.

Speaking of the arts crowd, how many performing arts theatre does Arlington need? They seem to sprouting up all over the county, but they're still pushing to have another included in the new public spaces master plan expected to be adopted by the County Board later this year.

January 30, 2006

Here a County Board, There a County Board, Everywhere Arlington County Boards

ACTA has repeatedly pointed out that year after year after year tax collections by the Arlington County Board consistently exceeds population growth and inflation by a significant margin. In a policy paper from Americans for Tax Reform (requires Adobe), Elizabeth Karasmeighan writes: “Thanks to the strong housing market and an insatiable desire of local government officials to spend taxpayer money, the rising property tax burden is the most pressing issue facing state and local governments. Although more than 40 states have property tax limits of some kind, ineffective policies and multiplying loopholes have contributed to the rising pressure on taxpayers. Over the past twenty-five years, tax collections have exceeded population growth by 55 percent, or roughly 2 percent per year. These continual increases in local property taxes above the rate of population and inflation are squeezing homeowners and reducing economic growth.”

Karasmeighan then goes on to compare the tax reform measures implemented in Massachusetts and New Jersey. In 1977, Massachusetts had the highest per capita property taxes in the nation at $1,543 while New Jersey was second at $1,446. However, because of the contrasting measures used, the property tax burden in Massachusetts decreased by 7.5% while those in New Jersey increased by 36 percent. She concludes that with property tax reform on the 2006 agendas of several states, Massachusetts Proposition 2 ½ provides “an effective, flexible option that lowers property taxes and puts the voter in charge of local decisions.” To see what is being proposed to reform property taxes in Virginia, see plank #2 of the Freedom & Prosperity Agenda.

January 29, 2006

It’s Still the Spending that’s Causing the Deficit

In the latest release in its Fiscal Facts series, the Tax Foundation's Scott Hodge uses data from the Congressional Budget Office to explain that “runaway spending – not tax cuts – (are) causing deficits.” He notes that the “surge of new tax revenues for the federal Treasury is having a limited effect on lowering the federal deficit because spending continues to grow at a relatively rapid pace.”

The following is an abbreviated version of a table he uses to compare revenue and spending between FY2001, Bill Clinton’s last fiscal year, and FY2005:

Category/2001/2005/Change (dollars in billions)
Revenues/$1,991/$2,057/$66
Outlays/$1,863/$2,425/$562
Deficit/Surplus/$128/<$368>/<$496>

So why isn’t Congress making permanent the tax cuts? While doing that, they also need to start figuring out a way to control their urge to spend!

Hat tip: Towhhall.com

January 27, 2006

The Good Life in Academe, at Least in Michigan

Yesterday’s Detroit Free Press reported they had “reviewed performance audits of 11 state universities issued by Michigan’s auditor general,” and found that “Michigan’s public universities have offered thousands of sparsely attended classes, allowed thousands of students to pad grades by taking the same classes over and over, and sometimes failed to monitor or correct faculty performance.” For example, at Western Michigan University, “35% of full-time faculty . . . taught only half-time or less.” At six universities, “auditors found more than 3,800 instances of students taking the same course three or more times."

Excuses for this inefficiency ran from “(t)he biggest problem on campus is not inefficiency . . . but dramatic cuts in state funding” to this from the president of WMU’s faculty senate, “Teaching is not the whole job . . . The trend at our university, in particular, is to get more involved in research outside the classroom.”

Virginia taxpayers can review the audit reports published by Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts where the APA appears to perform annual financial, internal control, and compliance audits of Virginia’s state colleges and universities. Now, we need some aggressive reporters to review the APA’s report to look for any trends occurring on Virginia’s campuses.

January 26, 2006

Tax Rates and Tax Reform

Today’s Washington Times contains a good starting point to tax reform by Richard Rahn. He discusses the need to understand both the average and the marginal tax rates in order to achieve doable tax reform. “One major obstacle to tax reform,” he writes, “is the confusion in the minds of most Americans (and many members of Congress) about average versus marginal tax rates. Your average tax rate is the percentage of your total income that you paid in taxes, and your marginal tax rate is the rate you paid on your last dollar of income.” That’s important, he says because: “(h)igh marginal tax rates discourage work, saving and investment and hence result in lower levels of employment and national income. The present system, by having marginal rates much higher than average rates, does much unnecessary economic damage by reducing productive incentives more than is required to produce the same amount of revenue.”

Rahn's solution is to simultaneously broaden the tax base and lower marginal tax rates. He admits his proposal isn’t perfect, “but it would be far less economically damaging, greatly simplify peoples' lives and reduce the ambiguity in the current system. However, its greatest virtue is that it should be politically doable because it provides a greatly simplified alternative, while avoiding the fight over whether to make the system more or less progressive.”

January 23, 2006

Big Government, the Left, and the Redistribution of Wealth

In today’s Christian Science Monitor, Patrick Chisholm writes that America’s political left “is emerging victorious.” He writes, “the era of big government is far from over. Trends are decidedly in favor of that quintessential leftist goal: massive redistribution of wealth.”

Chisholm writes: “Certain trends have been favoring the left for the past several decades. In the early 1960s, transfer payments (entitlements and welfare) constituted less than a third of the federal government's budget. Now they constitute almost 60 percent of the budget, or about $1.4 trillion per year. Measured according to this, the US government's main function now is redistribution: taking money from one segment of the population and giving it to another segment. In a few decades, transfer payments are expected to make up more than 75 percent of federal government spending.” [Emphasis added]

The problem, according to Chisholm is that “(o)ur system of government is highly responsive to vocal groups that lobby for subsidies, government programs, and other special favors. Since the costs are spread out among all taxpayers while the benefits are concentrated among smaller segments of the population (such as retirees, in the case of Social Security and Medicare), the taxpayers have much less of an incentive to lobby against the measure while the beneficiaries have a huge incentive to lobby for it. Whenever those subsidies are threatened, the lobbies launch their barrages of politically effective complaints.”

Kudos to the Monitor for publishing this, and a hat tip to Jeff Dircksen at Government Bytes, the blogsite of the National Taxpayers Union.

January 21, 2006

The Things Arlington Public Schools Management Isn't Telling Us

The online edition of the Arlington Sun-Gazette has a commentary posted which explains many of the factors causing the Arlington public schools to have the highest per-pupill spending of all the government school systems in Northern Virginia. The letter/commentary is from ACTA's president in response to a "Thumbs Down" that the Sun-Gazette had given to the "Arlington Public Schools for "having no one at the top who can explain why the Arlington schools cost 38 percent more per pupil than in neighboring Fairfax County and 75 percent more than in Prince William County." The last among a litany of reasons, Wise explained "the revenue-sharing agreement between the County Board and School Board enables school officials to avoid some of the scrutiny from Arlington taxpayers they otherwise would." Now taxpayers know why the Arlington Public Schools are spending more than $16,000 per pupil in the current school year.

Think about this for a while. In 2005, the Arlington schools spent $4,276 more per pupil than did the Fairfax County schools. The Arlington schools enroll approximately 18,000 students. So here's the question: why does management of the Arlington schools need over $76 million more to educate kids in Arlington than would the management of the Fairfax County schools? Sure seems to be a reasonable question.

We understand the "commentary" will appear in the newspaper's January 26 edition.

January 20, 2006

More on "Government for Government by Government"

Some scary information, at least for taxpayers, came yesterday from the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, which summarized the salient features of two articles from USA Today two days earlier describing the mounting taxpayer burdens "due to the luxurious pensions doled out by politicians to governernment workers." The SBEC noted that according to one USA Today article, "Average annual benefits for retired state and local workers grew 37% to $19,875 from 2000 to 2004." That 37% change is in stark contrast to the average annual 2.5% COLA for Social Security recipients over that same time period. From the second USA Today article, the SBEC noted that "public servants have been guaranteed retirement benefits that are far richer than private pensions" and that the "belief that government offers good benefits to make-up for lower wages appears to be a myth. Government workers earn higher average wages and get better benefits than people in the private sector." Seems worth remembering the next time the County Board starts rolling out their song-and-dance about Arlington being a world-class community.

January 19, 2006

As You Mull Over Your 2006 Assessment

By now, most Arlington County property owners have received their 2006 real estate assessment notices. The insert that came with the new assessment noted that in 2001, real estate taxes were about evenly split between residential and commercial property. Now, however, the value of residential property is over 60%. Information in a January 5, 2006 PowerPoint presentation prepared by county staff puts that shift into numbers. For example:

Year/Residential Tax Base ($ billion)/Commercial Tax Base ($ billions)
2001/$11.5 billion/$11.9 billion
2006/$30.7 billion/$19.7 billion

Several alternative tax cutting scenarios were also presented: For example, if current real estate tax rates were maintained, residential (single-family and condominium) taxes would increase 21.4% while commercial properties would increase 11.7%. However, a cut of $.07 in the tax rate would result in a 11.7% increase for residential property, but only a 2.8% increase for commercial property. A cut of $.11 in the rate would still leave an increase of 6.2% for residential taxpayers, but would produce a drop of 2.3% in commercial real estate taxes. This probably means that Arlington property owners will not likely see a cut in the real estate tax rates beyond 7 cents. Afterall, the Arlington County Board would not want to give commercial property owners a tax break even though the 6.2 increase for residential property owenrs is still about double current inflation.

Arlington residents will be able to tell the Arlington County Board how much to cut the real estate tax rate at the annual budget meetings on March 28 and March 30. See you then!

January 18, 2006

"Myth: Schools Don't Have Enough Money"

That's John Stossel's concluion in his Townhall.com column today. Yes, the same Stossel whose TV special last Friday evening in which he "suggested that public schools had plenty of money but were squandering it because that's what government schools do." According to Stossel, "The truth is, public schools are rolling in money. If you divide the U.S. Department of Education's figure for total spending on K-12 education by the department's count of K-12 students, it works out to about $10,000 per student." He then adds, "America spends more on schooling than the vast majority of countries that outscore us on the international tests. But the bureaucrats still blame school failure on lack of funds, and demand more money." Myths die hard, don't they?

January 17, 2006

They Don't Know What?

A report by Bob Gibson in Sunday's Charlottesville Daily Progress begins: "Nobody in state government knows how many government employees work for Virginia. One reason for this strange truth is the fact that state government employee can be defined many different ways." When state officials sent a survey to anyone who received a W-2 tax form, they learned that 'state employee' included 4,000 state prison inmates. Members of the caucus "were surprised that no one knows how many state state employees Virginia has, especially in light of claims governors like to make about how many fewer workers the state employs." The newspaper goes on to discuss the the work of the "mostly Republican" Cost Cutting Caucus of the Virginia General Assembly, chaired by Del. Chris Saxman (R-Stauntaon). Del. Saxman has even started the VACostCutting blog where Virginians can participate. For more information about the establishment of the caucus, and its partnership with the Thomas Jefferson Institute, see this press release (Adobe required). Thank goodness someone is interested in paring the size of Virginia government!

January 16, 2006

Where do Politicians Get Their Ideas?

After learning in last week’s Arlington Sun-Gazette that Arlington County Board member Paul Ferguson is interested in giving tax breaks to millionaires, one has to ponder the question. Are they that out of touch, or are they just so focused on buying the next vote? State law limits local governments from providing tax relief to seniors whose assets exceed $340,000 or whose income exceeds $72,000. Mr. Ferguson was quite explicit at the Civic Federation since he explained in his answer the number of digits needed, i.e, 7 for assets ($1,000,000 and above) and 6 for income ($100,000 to $999,999). Fellow Board member Barbara Favola, however, told the Sun-Gazette’s Ryan Self, “No, no, no, no, no . . . . Paul was speaking for himself on that one,: but Board member Walter Tejada told Self, “In concept, it sounds good right off the bat.” Last year’s chairman, Jay Fisette was amenable to an “incremental” increase in the two caps; this year’s chairman, Chris Zimmerman, apparently wasn’t available to opine.

Several Board members apparently, are learning their lessons at the school of the redistribution of wealth. According to the website, Importance of Philosophy, “Redistribution of wealth by the government, for example Welfare or Social Security, is egalitarianism put into practice at the point of a gun. This blatant theft is often obscured by the fact that it is voted into place. They claim that the majority of people believe some individuals are deserving of ‘charity,’ and people should give some money to them. They say that they don’t mind that government is using their money to help the needy. This is an obfuscation, though. If people felt they should be charitable, they could donate on their own. Government is an agency of force. If something can be done voluntarily, it wouldn’t need to be done by the government. The redistributionists don’t just want to give their money, they want to give other people’s money away.” Perhaps now it’s clear why many jokingly refer to Arlington County as the “Peoples’ Republic.”

January 15, 2006

“What the government spends is not its money”

In the middle of his inauguration speech yesterday, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) made several pledges. One especially caught our attention. i.e., “To the taxpayers of Virginia,” he pledged to “always remember that what government spends is not its money. It’s your money. We will place a premium on accountability; ensuring that your dollars are used responsibly in meeting the priorities that we share.” While one may have a different set of priorities than the governor, I cannot recall another politician having the courage to recognize so explicitly that what government spends actually came from the taxpayers. Today’s Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star has the story and the new governor’s website has the entire inauguration speech.

January 14, 2006

Arlington County Board is Set-up to Receive Another Windfall

The voracious appetite of Arlington’s county government for more of our taxes is about to get a large dollop of it, according to yesterday’s press release from the county and this morning’s Washington Post. As the Post noted, “The value of the average single-family house increased by 18.25% to $541,800 while the average condominium increased by 19% to $367,000. The increases were less than last year.

So where’s the windfall for the county? Unlike many reporters who don’t seem to understand the relationship between the assessed value of real estate and the tax rates set by the politicians, Bill Turque, the Post’s reporter, fully understands that while market forces determine the assessed value of our homes, it is the politicians who determine the size of our tax bill. He writes: “The actual size of property tax bills will not be determined until local governments (read politicians) set their tax rates later this year. Officials are promising significant cuts in tax rates, but such reductions rarely offset the impact of steadily escalating housing values.”

And what about all those promises of tax relief made a year ago by the two major candidates for governor? According to Harry Minium in Thursday’s Virginian-Pilot(free registration required), “major real estate tax relief seems unlikely.” Gov. Kaine (D) proposed exempting the first 20% of a home’s value from taxation, but it would require a constitutional amendment, which requires passage by two consecutive General Assemblies with an intervening election. The governor’s spokesman now says, “It makes better sense to pursue this next year." However, that proposal, or others identified by Minium, are unlikely to pass both houses of the General Assembly. According to Sen. Nick Rerras (R-Norfolk), “A bill might pass the House . . . I don’t think any will pass the Senate” where they would have to get through the Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Sen. John Chichester (R). According to Rerras, “that committee doesn’t look favorably on anything limiting the power of local governments. They feel like that should be up to the local governments, and if the citizens aren’t satisfied, it’s up to them to vote their elected officials out of office.” Hear that Arlington citizens?

Arlington homeowners can search for the value of their home at Arlington's Department of Real Estate.

January 12, 2006

The Cost of Tax Compliance: It’s Not Just the Taxes

A new study from the Tax Foundation discusses the “rising cost of complying with the Federal Income Tax.” The study reports that the cost of tax compliance has grown tremendously with the biggest part of the increase resulting from “growing non-economic demands lawmakers place on the tax code.” Last year “individuals, businesses, and nonprofits will (sic) spend an estimated 6 billion hours complying with the federal income tax code, with an estimated compliance cost of over $265.1 billion,” which “amounts to imposing a 22-cent tax compliance surcharge for every dollar the income tax system collects.” The study also notes that “tax compliance does not fall evenly on taxpayers” because the cost is highly regressive.” When does the revolution start? Here's the accompanying press release.

January 11, 2006

Northern Virginia Politicians Planning More Taxes . . . for Metro

Ah yes, politicians with help from their friends in mainstream media. That sure seems to be the view from reading this Associated Press report posted at the NewsChannel8 website. The AP reports “local governments around the Washington area (are) prepared to push for a dedicated funding source for Metro.” After noting that U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (D-Virginia) “is dangling a $1.5 billion federal carrot,” the AP goes on to say that Arlington state Sen. Whipple (D) is sponsoring a bill (SB 267), which “would raise the sales tax by .25 percent, with the money collected going directly to support the rail and bus system.”

It seems that Metro’s directors and management need to learn how to run a tighter ship before they can be entrusted with a “dedicated revenue source.” On October 22, 2004, we growled because of Metro’s decision to install escalator canopies with an “attractive design” costing $761,000 rather than more utilitarian ones costing $450,000. Reports in the Washington Post this past year on Metro’s management show they still do not understand they are dealing with the public’s money.

January 10, 2006

Expecting Richmond to Help Northern Virginia’s Traffic Gridlock?

After devoting five paragraphs to discussing Gov. Mark Warner’s (D) final, state, two-year $72.2 billion budget, the editorial in the December 30 Washington Examiner says, “If you're starting to get the feeling that Richmond doesn't really want to fix our transportation nightmare in Northern Virginia, you might be on to something.” The editorial then continues, “Neither the governor nor state lawmakers are forced to prioritize expenditures, and when comes to transportation, Governor-elect Tim Kaine, the House of Delegates and the state Senate are, as Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it, "headed toward the political equivalent of a multicar wreck." Virginia's archaic budget doesn't help. It's virtually impossible for part-time lawmakers to figure out which state programs are working and which ones are not. It's a lot easier to just fund everything rather than risk the inevitable political backlash that occurs when anyone dares utter the word "cut."

The Examiner editorial then quotes the authors of this study for the Virginia Institute for Public Policy (Adobe required): “A healthier approach to budgeting . . . would be to assume that no government program can get a free pass each year during the budget cycle.” The VIPP study is a well-recommend read for citizens hoping to make an impact on public spending in Virginia.

January 09, 2006

How Does Virginia's State Bureaucracy Compare?

The January 2006 "Tax & Budget Bulletin" from the Cato Institute (requires Adobe Reader) provides an interesting look at Virginia's state bureaucracy in comparison to the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Chris Edwards, Cato's Director of Tax Policy Studies, begins by saying, "The nation's 16 million state and local government workers form a large, growing, and well-compensated class in society. State and local workers earned $36 per hour in wages and benefits in 2005, on average, compared to $24 per hour for U.S. private sector workers. Another distinction is that 42 percent of state and local workers are represented by unions, compared to just 9 percent in the private section."

For 2004, Virginia's share of state and local government employment as a percentage of total employment in the state is just about average for the nation. Virginia's percentage is 11.4% while the percentage for all states is 11.3%. This ranges from 16.6% for Alaska and 16.2% for the District of Columbia to a low of 8.6% for Nevada. Percentage shares are also provided for education, safety, welfare, and services. Virginia's share is above the all states average for education, but below for the others. After noting that "(n)umerous factors affect the size of bureaucracies in the states," he concludes by saying, "there seems to be substantial room for increased government efficiency in many states. Although this bulletin provides only a brief look at differences in state bureacracies, the data indicate that some states deliver government services with many fewer workers than do other jurisdictions." It will be interesting to see how Virginia's bureaucracy grows after digesting the $1.5 billion tax increase engineered by Gov. Mark Warner (D)/Sen. John Chichester (R) in 2004.

January 08, 2006

Arlington County Board Taxeaters = 5, Arlington County Taxpayers = 0

Ah, yes. The beauty of living in a ‘caring community,’ as a current County Board member referred to Arlington several years ago. Instead of speeches extolling the virtues of greater efficiency, effectiveness, and economy at their 2006 organizational meeting last Monday, January 2, the five County Board members spoke with such utopian terms as ‘livable communities,’ ‘sustainability,’ ‘new urbanism,’ ‘smart growth,’ and the Marxian ‘social justice.’

Although Mr. Fisette did refer to his program performance initiative, no Board member talked about cutting waste, or talked of eliminating employee deadwood (fewer than 1% of employees are denied their periodic step increases). None talked of ‘tightening the ol’ belt’ so that citizens can keep more of their own money. None talked about selling-off excess county buildings and land, deregulating taxi service, eliminating curbside recycling, closing branch libraries, suppressing vagrancy, or providing school choice.

Last week I growled that since 1998, when Mr. Zimmerman first chaired the Board, taxes on the average home have increased 79% after adjusting for inflation, and per capita bonded indebtedness has increased 31%, also after inflation. Instead, he is proposing transportation and other costly initiatives, e.g., increasing employee benefits. Instead of telling citizens how he would prevent future construction failures such as the two fire stations, which I growled about in late December, he talked of “planning and building for the future.”

While Mr. Fisette focused on his promotion of fiscal discipline and accountability, those words ring hollow given the increases in real estate taxes and bonded indebtedness cited in the previous paragraph. He does deserve an “A” for effort, however, since he does say that his fellow Board members must reduce their “appetite for new capital projects.” Ms. Favola continues to talk about affordable housing and early childhood education, but seems to offer no new initiatives. Curiously, though, she talks about the “heartless budget cutting at the Federal level.” An interesting choice of words since Federal spending now exceeds $22,000 per family annually (page 3, Adobe required). Mr. Tejada wants to begin a community discussion about physical fitness. When did that become a core purpose of government? And Mr. Ferguson wants to ensure “that site plan conditions are enforced.” If the Board didn’t have a mechanism to ensure that such conditions would be met, why did they include them in the original site place?

You are encouraged to read each of the Board members' New Year’s Day speeches. Be prepared, however, you will need plenty of coffee, or else you will soon doze off from boredom. In case you’re not sure about the term “tax eaters,” it’s a term from Steven Malanga’s book, “The New New Left.” Seems a fitting description for the Arlington County Board.

January 06, 2006

Happy 1st Birthday to Government Bytes

Government Bytes, the blogsite of the National Taxpayers Union, celebrates its first birthday tomorrow to help NTU in its efforts to educate and mobilize citizens seeking to fight back against big government. On the occasion, John Berthoud, NTU's president, said, "As long as the tax-and-spenders keep having their cake and eating it, we'll keep offering hearty helpings of meat and potatoes to help the tax revolt grow stronger." Celebrate Government Bytes' 1st birthday by visiting their website. Happy birthday, Government Bytes!

See their birthday cake!

January 05, 2006

Coalition to Congress: Extend the Capital Gains & Divident Tax Cuts

Last month, a coalition, which included the National Taxpayers Union, wrote to Rep. Roy Blunt (R), the Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, urging him "to immediately bring up a vote on extending the very successful capital gains and dividend tax rates and then move to conference the tax bill with the Senate version before the end of the year." To our knowledge, that vote never occurred. Consequently, ACTA members and friends are asked to take a minute, and e-mail Arlington's Congressional delegaion to voice your support of this extension. You can e-mail members of the Virginia delegation by using the following links:

Sen. John Warner

Sen. George Allen

Rep. Jim Moran

They need to hear from you. These tax rate cuts need to be extended. Besides, you can spend the money more efficiently than the government. They need to hear you, though.

January 04, 2006

Help Decide the "2005 Porker of the Year"

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) carries on the legacy of President Reagan’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, also known as the Grace Commission. In 1982, President Reagan directed the Grace Commission to "work like tireless bloodhounds to root out government inefficiency and waste of tax dollars." For two years, 161 corporate executives and community leaders led an army of 2,000 volunteers on a waste hunt through the federal government. The search was funded entirely by voluntary contributions of $76 million from the private sector; it cost taxpayers nothing.

CAGW offers you a choice of eight members of Congress as nominees for 2005 Porker of the Year. Explanations are provided for each nominee. And, if you think one or more members of the Arlington County Board deserve special mention as local porkers, don’t hesitate to send your nomination to ACTA!

Hat tip to the Club for Growth's blogsite.

January 03, 2006

The Decisions Politicians Make When It's Not Their Money

Many will remember Louisiana's Gov. Kathleen Blanco asking Congress to appropriate more of the American taxpayers' money to repair the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina last fall. According to this news report, "(s)ome members of the governor's staff will return from the three-day holiday (today) to newly renovated offices at the State Capitol" in Baton Rouge. The news report continued that "after the two hurricanes, Gov. Kathleen Blanco decided to renovate some of her staff's offices. At the time of her decision, Blanco also was hinting at deep budget cuts to state programs and the possibility of laying off 20 percent of the state workforce. The project cost $564,838. The newly refurbished office space on the sixth floor of the State Capitol includes hookups and mounts for two flat screen televisions, Swedish granite countertops, walnut paneling and frosted laminated glass." Sheesh!

January 02, 2006

Government by the Government for the Government -- Arlington County in Action

This morning, the Arlington County Board held its traditional New Year's Day organizational meeting at which it formally elects its chairman and vice-chairman and tends to other housekeeping duties. However, the most important thing the meeting provides is an opportunity for the chairman to bloviate on the initiatives on which he, or she, will justify their reelection later in the year. Interestingly, the incoming chairman noted in his speech that in 1998 he first assumed the chairmanship of the Board. And although he spoke at length about Arlington being the "model of an urban village," he failed to mention the cost of the Board's so-called vision.

I'll address the "initiatives" portion of the chairman's speech in a day or two, but for now, let me tell you what the chairman didn't say, which is that all of that bloviating has a cost. And in the case of the Arlington County Board since 1998 when he first served as the chairman, that cost has been significant. Let's look at two numbers. According to the Board's adopted budget for fiscal year 2006, real estate taxes on the average single family home has increased 78.6% since 1998 on an inflation-adjusted basis. Almost as bad, based upon numbers on page 166 of the FY2005 Comprensive Annual Financial Report, the net bonded debt per capita has increased 31% after inflation. The financial reports are available at the finance department's webpage. Inflation was calculated using the U.S. Department of Labor's CPI Inflation Calculator.

As a neighbor who looked at the chairman's speech commented, "Who says Arlingtonians want to be a social justice example to others? Perhaps they'd just like sufficient emergency services that they can get help when needed, deter crime, and still have money left after Co taxes to pursue happiness." Another friend describes Arlington's county government as "government by the government for the government." If you think that description is too harsh, check out the "slideshow" produced by the 2005 chairman to document his accomplishments.

January 01, 2006

Hold Onto Your Wallets, General Assembly Set to Convene

In her Washington Post column this week, Melanie Scarborough urges Virginians to remember "a few lessons" from prior General Assembly sessions. First and foremost, she advises that "Henny-penny, Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland) will try to convince everyone that the sky is falling -- and his claim won't be any more credible." Continuing her spanking of the Senate Finance Committee chairman, she notes that "Chichester and his supple-spined acolytes allowed (Governor Mark) Warner to look like a moderate" by "demanding a tax increase higher than the one proposed by" Gov. Mark Warner (D). As Arlington taxpayers learned in 2004, tax-and-spend Republicans such as Senator Chichester are as dangerous to their pocketbooks as the tax-and-spend Democrats in Arlington County.