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February 28, 2006

Arlington County’s Proposed 2007 Budget is “Caring “ and “Egalitarian”

In a section of his proposed Fiscal Year 2007 budget labeled “community inclusiveness,” the County Manager writes, “Egalitarian values are at the heart of the Arlington vision and are a distinguishing feature of the community . . . This community views a caring philosophy as part of its core strategy for economic sustainability in a global economy.” I guess that philosophy pretty much underlies county and school expenditures that are expected to increase 6.2% to $974.1 million. The Manager’s budget proposes a reduction in the real estate tax rate equivalent to five cents. However, the County Board is not obligated to follow that recommendation.

Unless the County Board reduces the current real estate tax rate of $0.878 per $100 of assessed valuation, the average residential tax bill will have increased from $2,074 in 2000 to $4,757 in 2006, an increase of 129.4%. By comparison, if that tax payment of $2,074 had increased only as fast as inflation during those six years, it would be equivalent to $2,388 today. Look at it this way: the run-up in housing prices has given the County Board a windfall of $2,369 in tax revenue on each residence in Arlington ($4,757 minus $2,388). Where is the accountability?

February 27, 2006

When Cost is Not a Constraint: The True Arlington County Way?

In a worksession this evening, the Arlington County Board met with the North Tract (NT) Design Advisory Committee (DAC) to discuss five points: 1) redesign of the NT master plan design; 2) next steps; 3) project budget; 4) design flexibility; and 5) site expansion.

In the November 2004 elections, voters approved a $50 million bond referendum, which was to cover the first phase of the project. The 2005-2010 Capital Improvement Plan contains background information. Then in July 2005, the county announced a land swap with a developer in which the county gained the gateway site, about two additional acres, and for which the developer would pay the county $25 million. The sum total is that county staff went back to the drawing board to redesign the site layout. Background, funding, news and other information about the North Tract Project is available.

What caused many jaws to drop at this evening’s meeting is the project’s revised costs. The original Phase I cost was estimated at $46.8 million, but the revised cost is now $74.3 million. Project budget information provided at the worksession showed that while site and building costs stay the same at $32 million, there’s a $1.7 million increase for road construction. The cost of environmental work goes from $0 t o $5 million. the “escalation” amount increases by $11 million, A&E costs increase by $5 million, other soft construction costs increase by $900,000, the contingency increases by $1.7, and there is now a $2.2 million amount for construction management.

What was once estimated as a cost of about $100 for both phases now has a revised cost of $135 million. Never fear though. What the voters once thought would cost no more than $50 million for Phase 1, the chair of the North Tract DAC wrote in a February 22 memo to the County Board that “the DAC assures the Board of its commitment to developing Phase 1 within a budget of $75 million , assuming receipt of the ($25 million in) funds related to the County/Monument (land swap) agreement.”

Arlington County voters are encouraged to attend an NT open house this Tuesday evening, February 28, at Courthouse Plaza, Conference Rooms C&D, at 7:00 PM. The flyer for the open house urges citizens to “come create with us.” Hey, it will probably be the only thing that Arlington taxpayers will get for free that’s associated with the North Tract park. And even that's not free since the NT's consultants are likely to be there.

February 26, 2006

There Goes the Liberal Roanoke Times, Again

The 19th century French economist Frederic Bastiat would have had fun with the editorial writers of the Roanoke Times who got worked up in an editorial on Saturday because “Virginia’s House Republican anti-tax ideologues are pushing their doctrine over the immediate interests of rural parts of the state and the future interests of the entire commonwealth.” The paper claims the “ budget plan fails to deliver essential, long-term transportation funding . . . (a)nd it raids education and economic development monies and incurs debt to do so.”

Mr. Bastiat could have explained the broken-window fallacy to the editorialists at the Roanoke Times. They are like those who see a silver lining because the broken window brings new business for the repairman, and thus the possibility for an economic boom. Bastiat had a caution, though. In a 2001 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bob McTeer, former president of the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank, explains that the fallacy is not “based only on what is seen. You must also consider what is not seen – what does not happen. What is not seen is how the money would have been spent if the window had not been broken. The broken window didn’t increase spending; it diverted spending.” According to McTeer , “we fall for a version of the broken-window fallacy every time we evaluate the impact of a government program without considering what taxpayers would have done with the money instead.” Seems the editorial writers of the Roanoke Times have fallen for the broken-window fallacy as well.

Nor does it seem that the writers understand how much money Virginia taxpayers are plowing in to K-12 education. As Jim Bacon blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion, “in the House budget, educational spending would increase ‘only’ 8 percent from one biennial budget to the next” . . . half the rate of the Warner plan.” According to the Roanoke Times, “cutting” spending from a 16% increase to an 8% increase is raiding education. I guess that’s how liberal tax-and-spenders think. Guess it also makes the editorial writers poor economists. In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, John Fund noted that Bastiat said, “There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: The bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen."

February 25, 2006

Virginia State Spending is Out of Control, too

The December 2005 update on state spending (Adobe required) prepared by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) arrived in the mail today, and it shows state spending as much out of control as spending by the other two levels of government. According to the report: “Over the past decade, Virginia’s total operating budget has increased by 80 percent, from $16 billion in FY 1996 to $29 billion in FY 2005 . . . After controlling for the effects of inflation and population growth, Virginia’s total appropriations increased by 30 percent between FY 1996 and FY 2006, which is an average annual increase of three percent.”

JLARC also reports that a few “agencies and programs accounted for much of the $13 billion budget growth over the ten-year period." Out of more than 140 agencies, 20 accounted for 91 percent of the budget growth with only three (Departments of Education, Medical Assistance Services, and Transportation) accounting for almost half of the total growth. While a lot of tax-and-spenders whine that the “No Car Tax” legislation should never have been approved, the money going to reimburse local governments for the local personal property tax is only a minor portion of the $13 billion growth in the budget. Consider that K-12 enrollment increased 10% over the 10-year period while aid to public education increased 42% or that enrollment in 4-year colleges and universities increased 13%, but the budgets for those 4-year colleges and universities increased 44%.

If you enjoy number-crunching, the Excel spreadsheets for the data in the report are available. The bottom line is that our state legislators are no more able to control spending than their local and federal colleagues. The only thing that keeps them from spending like their Congressional brethren is they don’t have access to a printing press.

February 24, 2006

The Good and the Bad, but not the Indifferent

That’s the bottom line for Arlington’s Congressional representatives – Senators George Allen (R), and John Warner (R) and Representative Jim Moran (D), according to the latest annual rating of Congressional votes by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU). As explained in this NTU press release, the annual rating gets lawmakers’ praise because it “is based on every roll call vote affecting fiscal policy,” rather than being based just on so-called “key votes.” As noted by NTU president John Berthoud, “Deeds count for more than words in taming the growth of big government.”

NTU’s ratings for Arlington County’s Congressional delegation were:

Sen. George Allen – B+ -- 74%
Sen. John Warner – B – 67%
Rep. Jim Moran – F – 15%

NTU labels members receiving scores of F as Big Spenders. A link to study’s methodology and details can be found at the bottom of the NTU press release.

February 23, 2006

No Shame in the Arlington Superintendent’s FY 2007 Budget

The Superintendent presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board this evening. It’s not posted yet, but, when available, you can find it here. As usual, the budget provides a target-rich environment for cutting costs, and we will be identifying those in the next several weeks. In the mean time, though, several things are worth noting. The first is that expected enrollment for the 2006-2007 budget year will decrease by 148 students to 18,263 (page 67 of overview). Despite that decrease, total employment will decrease only 3.0 FTE (page 52 of overview). In addition, total salaries and benefits are budgeted to increase by 6.46% (page 52).

The most significant number, in our opinion, however, is that the cost per pupil is proposed to increase by 8.86%, assuming the School Board makes the Superintendent’s budget its own. Compare that 8.86% increase to the reality of most Arlington taxpayers. That increase is more than twice the latest inflation rate, at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation rate (i.e., 4.0%) for the Washington metropolitan area, which staff presented to the School Board during this evening’s budget worksession. As I left the Ed Center on North Quincy Street, a Great Arlingtonian noted how appropriate it is that the planetarium is in front of the Ed Center since the Schools’ FY2007 proposed budget is out of this world.

Arlington taxpayers are urged to contact the School Board office to obtain a copy of the Superintendent’s proposed FY2007 budget so they can review the numbers for themselves. They’re also urged to join ACTA to provide us a louder voice urging Arlington’s political elite to curb unsustainable spending.

February 22, 2006

Dueling Virginia Transportation Plans

Chris Jenkins writes in today’s Washington Post that Virginia “House (of Delegates) leaders defended their spending proposals (yesterday), saying the state can pay for schools and health care programs while providing more money for transportation projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.” The House GOP leaders “were responding to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who said Monday that the House was trying to finance road and rail improvements at the expense of other important services.” [see several of the recent Growls for our take]. Specifically, the Speaker of the House “pointed to $160 million in salary increases for teachers as evidence that the House is addressing the state’s needs,” wrote Jenkins.

In the Post's report, Del. “Bud” Phillips (D-Dickenson) called on citizens to contact their senators and delegates. Sure explains why the tax-and-spenders so frequently get their way, but it also explains why those favoring the need to prioritize spending without raising taxes, and within existing revenues, also need to contact their legislators.

Jenkins also has a sidebar piece noting the problem and key differences in the three plans (Senate’s, House leadership, and Gov. Kaine’s). For a more detailed comparison of the three plans, the Virginia Municipal League has posted the handout they prepared for their annual legislative day. A summary of what Gov. Kaine told Northern Virginia at his transportation town hall meeting in Woodbridge, there’s this piece Steve Ginsberg has in the Washington Post. Having attended the meeting, this scribe thought the report an an accurate account of the meeting.

In describing “the problem,” VML notes that “Virginia has $108 billion of documented transportation needs “ that VDOT plans to remedy over 20 years. Well, here’s the list for Northern Virginia (Adobe required). Most projects on the list fix existing roadways. Only two new roads are planned – the Tri-County Parkway and the Loudoun County Parkway. Take a look at that list, and make your judgment whether that list is going to improve congestion in Northern Virginia!

February 21, 2006

They’re Cutting the Programs, They’re Cutting the Programs

That pretty much summed up the view of Gov. Kaine (D), according to today’s Washington Post, as he “criticized House Republicans on Monday for offering a budget that he said fails to provide enough money for transportation improvements while cutting funds for education and health programs.” In addition, “(t)he governor said the House committee’s refusal to consider tax increases for road and transit spending led it to cut ‘really important programs’ in the state’s operating budget.”

Why not let transportation compete with education for general fund money as many advocate? According to data compiled by the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance (requires Adobe), higher taxes have not resulted in higher student achievement. For example, from 1979 to 2004, funding for Virginia’s public schools has increased 129% (adjusted for inflation) while enrollment increased 11%, but Virginia’s SAT scores have been flat for that period. If that's the case, then why not use the money for transportation, instead? Shouldn't taxpayers expect their tax money to result in some increase in student achievement?

February 20, 2006

Virginia’s Legislators Begin the Budget Dance

Christina Bellantoni of the Washington Times put the General Assembly’s competing budgets in perspective when she wrote: “The House and Senate money committee yesterday passed competing two-year budgets, with the House using part of a $1.4 billion surplus for road projects and the Senate seeking higher taxes to come up with a long-term transportation fix.” Regarding transportation, she noted it “is likely to be the toughest sticking point. There are deep philosophical differences between the two chambers on how to ease traffic and increase funding for public transit.”

Michael Hardy and Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch report that “The Senate Finance Committee, controlled by (Republican) moderates, and (Gov.) Kaine (D) favor $1 billion-a-year road and transit plans supported with new taxes. The House Appropriations Committee, a redoubt of conservative Republicanism, wants to do the job at roughly half the cost, largely through borrowing and using nearly half the state’s $1.4 (b)illion(sic) surplus."

Taxpayers are urged to contact their state legislators to voice their opposition to tax increases! Addresses and phone numbers are available at the General Assembly's Legislative Information System. The Washington Post’s reporting is here. The Virginian-Pilot’s is here. Key provisions of the two budgets are here, courtesy of the AP and the Times-Dispatch.

Norm Leahy at One Man's Trash came across a press release from the Speaker of the House, which lists transportation projects to be funded under the House transportation plan. Now let's see the projects in the Senate's and Governor's transportation plans.

February 19, 2006

Will Virginia's Legislators be Dancing the Tango, Waltz, or Mambo?

The headline of Chelyen Davis’s report on the state budget in today’s Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reads: “House, Senate to begin state budget dance.” It reports that “the General Assembly money committees will meet in Richmond today to unveil two competing budget proposals.” While you may think that all 140 members of the General Assembly have a say in the budget, that’s not so, according to Ms. Davis.

Here’s how the dance is likely choreographed. “Each house will pass the budget put forth by its own committee, and in a complicated procedural process, each will reject the other house’s budget and they’ll put the whole thing into a conference committee. That conference committee, typically made up of four or five senators and four or five delegates – all members of the money committees, all long-serving and well-versed in state finances – will begin meeting in the evenings, with members from both sides pairing off to go over specific areas of the budget and find common ground. Ideally, the conferees will reach a compromise within the last week of the session . . . “

So much for accountability and transparency!

February 18, 2006

“Tax Complification” Courtesy Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee

If you want to know how smart some of your state legislators are, you need look no further than the scheme they’ve come up with to raise money for transportation. According to an editorial in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The proposal consists of raising the wholesale gasoline tax 5 percent, and then setting up a rebate plan under which residents who keep their gas receipts and turn them in to DMV offices could receive a check for 5 percent of what they spend on gasoline.” As the editorial points out, “The proposal consists of raising the wholesale gasoline tax 5 percent, and then setting up a rebate plan under which residents who keep their gas receipts and turn them in to DMV offices could receive a check for 5 percent of what they spend on gasoline.” The editorial then concludes with “Minds of the quality that produced this plan belong in Washington. Perhaps the authors who produced it could move there -- and thereby raise the collective I.Q. of both the national and the state capital in one fell swoop.” Brilliant even by the Times-Dispatch’s high editorial standards!

Visit the Senate Finance Committee's webpage for contact information.

February 17, 2006

The Arlington County Board's Salary Grab

Ask members of the Arlington County Board why county spending has to increase faster than the rate of inflation, with perhaps minor adjustments for population increases, and you get a lot of himming and hawing. But ask them why their pay should increase faster than the rate of inflation, and the response is “It’s a matter of equalizing treatment (with other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth),” as Board Chairman told Ryan Self of the Arlington Sun-Gazette this week. The Sun-Gazette also reported that in 1997, the General Assembly gave the Board “authority to raise its salary each year, but only by the percentage increase given to county employees,” which generally reflects increases in inflation. The bill allowing the Board to raise their salaries passed the House of Delegates 87-6, and will likely pass the more free-spending Senate of the 2006 General Assembly. Consequently, it will be up to the citizens of Arlington to provide accountability for the County Board.

If Board members think they are working too many hours, they can begin looking at their own willingness to take on outside commitments. For example, the Washington Blade recently reported that Jay Fisette will become chairman of the Washington Council of Governments. He is also VP of the Virginia Municipal League while Paul Ferguson is a VP of the Virginia Association of Counties. The cost of these organizations to Arlington taxpayers is about $200,000, $35,000, and $35,000, respectively.

Before the Board begins raising their salaries, they need to evaluate their commitments to outside organizations. The COG, VML, and VACo are just a beginning. Each seems to be involved in a plethora or regional organizations.

February 16, 2006

Dishin' Laurels and Darts

The National Taxpayers Union, joined by other member organizations concerned with eliminating the practice of earmarking, or porkbarrel spending, wrote to Congressman Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) yesterday strongly endorsing H.R. 1642, the “Obligation of Funds Transparency Act.” NTU pointed out that Congressional pork, or earmarked funds, as it is known technically, “is being tucked away in conference or committee report language for inherently political or wasteful purposes that do little good for the American people." The NTU letter noted that Flake’s bill “would help expose some of the most egregiously wasteful and sneaky earmarks. Consequently, a laurel to Congressman Flake.

Unfortunately, reform of the earmark process is being opposed by a number of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, as noted in a front-page article in today’s Washington Times by Stephen Dinan. For example, Dinan includes this quote by Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-New York): “The Buffalo News, which is my hometown newspaper, still believes I should bring home the bacon.” Darts to the GOP leadership in the House of Representatives.

If you think that federal spending is out of control, including the use of earmarks, we urge you to write or call (202-224-3121) all three of your representatives in Congress. Arlington taxpayers can use the following links:

Sen. John Warner

Sen. George Allen

Rep. Jim Moran

February 15, 2006

The cost of lawsuits

Lawsuit reform is admittedly outside the scope of ideas generally addressed by this taxpayers association, but we couldn't miss the topic while browsing at Overlawyered.com. The AP/Saginaw News, reported, "The cost of lawsuits adds at least $500 to the price of every vehicle, according to Chrysler Group President Tom LaSorda, who said Thursday that Chrysler is stepping up its fight for tort reform." Although we don't deal with tort reform directly, tort reform could dramatically affect Arlington taxpayers since the county will spend $4.4 million for insurance costs in FY 2006, according to page 349 of the county's adopted FY 2006 budget. According to page 336 of their adopted FY 2006 budget, the Schools will spend almost $1 million for risk management services.

February 14, 2006

Governor Kaine’s On the Road Selling Tax Increases

Gov. Kaine (D) “took his transportation on the road (to Norfolk) last night,” reports today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, hoping to “spur the divided General Assembly into action.” According to the paper, “Kaine’s plan calls for raising about $1 billion per year for transportation improvements through a combination of new taxes and fees. The state Senate has proposed raising slightly more through different means, including a 9-cent increase in gas taxes by 2010. The House of Delegates – which rejected the core of Kaine’s plan last week – has proposed a plan that would raise about $500 million yearly without increasing taxes.”

Gov. Kaine’s transportation plan promises 1) better planning; 2) greater accountability; and 3) responsible investment. Attend his Northern Virginia transportation “town hall” meeting, but tell him to fix transportation, not raise taxes. The date is next Tuesday, February 21, 2006, at 7:00 pm, and the location is:

Auditorium
Dr. A.J. Ferlazzo Building
15941 Donald Curtis Drive
Woodbridge, Virginia

For 10 reasons for not raising taxes, see this Bacon's Rebellion column by James Atticus Bowden. Note his third paragraph where he writes that an aide to Sen. Marty Williams (R-Newport News) "expressed complete surprise that Republicans were against more taxes. She said Sen. Williams’ office hadn’t heard from people who oppose increased taxes." In addition to telling Gov. Kaine to not raise taxes, tell your delegate and state senator to not raise taxes, too.

February 13, 2006

Hey Virginian-Pilot, Recommend a Virginia TABOR Instead

Last Friday, we growled about the grudging admission by members of the Arlington County Board that they might have to prioritize capital improvement projects later this year. Now this editorial in today’s Virginian Pilot (may require free registration) in which they fail to recognize the need for legislators to prioritize spending. As always, they like to chastise the “anti-tax crowd” in the Virginia General Assembly; this time rebuking several members of the House of Delegates for “introducing scores of budget amendments that, if enacted, would gobble up a hefty chunk” of the $1 billion-plus surplus that many want to use to pay for better transportation. What the Pilot’s editorialists fail to recognize is that some of the budget amendments submitted by the lower-tax legislators may be more worthwhile, and, thus, of a higher priority, than other proposed budget spending. It would be better to learn that the Virginia Pilot advocated better control of state spending, e.g., though a Virginia taxpayers bill of rights (TABOR), the first plank in the Freedom & Prosperity Agenda. The justification for a Virginia taxpayers bill of rights can be found at the Virginia Institute for Public Policy (Adobe required).

February 12, 2006

LBJ’s Great Society Writ Really, Really Large

Last Tuesday, we growled about plans by all levels of government, including international bodies, to tax the Internet. Now we learn those plans may just be small potatoes compared to what the United Nations has in mind. In a report in Friday’s FrontPageMagazine, Joseph Klein writes that based on “a new book launched with great fanfare at last month’s World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland,” the “United Nations says it can end poverty, stop global warming, and end the threat of contagious disease while also unlocking $7 trillion of hidden wealth from developing nations in the process.” (Emphasis in the original).

Sound like the same old socialist rhetoric? According to Klein, “the overview section of The New Public Finance says it all: The equity or distribution branch of public finance, seen to support society in realizing its goals of fairness and justice, may sometimes have to achieve its objectives though income redistribution and transfer payments.” (Emphasis in the original). An Internet tax is just one item in what the book calls an “Inventory of Financing Arrangements.” As Klein says, “Instead of blaming the West for problems that are not of our making, the (United Nations) should focus on encouraging entrepreneurship.” Afterall, why allow people to solve their own problems, when you can use the power of government to redistribute wealth?

February 11, 2006

Triple Laurel for U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

American taxpayers owe a debt of gratitude to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and his colleague U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) for announcing their “intention to challenge every individual earmark on the floor of the Senate,” a practice lobbyist “Jack Abramoff described as Congress’s ‘earmark favor factory.’” In an op-ed in yesterday’s editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Coburn explained that “the pork process is effectively a black market economy: Thousands of instances exist where appropriations are leveraged for fundraising dollars or political capital. It is delusional to claim Congress can redeem its relationship with K Street without eliminating earmarks. The problem is not lobbyists. The problem is us.”

Sen. Coburn also notes that “(e)armarks are a gateway drug on the road to the spending addiction. One day an otherwise frugal member votes for pork, the next day he or she votes for a bloated spending bill or entitlement expansion. A “no” vote might cut off their access to earmarks.” The bottom line for Coburn is that “(p)ork is a modern indulgence.”

I encourage you to read the entire op-ed. It will leave you wondering just who is being served by members of Congress!

UPDATE 2/12/06. George Will writes about Sen. Coburn and his efforts to fight pork-barrel spending in the Senate. Will writes, "Coburn is the most dangerous creature that can come to the Senate, someone simply uninterested in being popular. Fortunately for American taxpayers, Coburn says he's "like the gopher who keeps on digging . . . the tunnel under spending."

February 10, 2006

Isn’t That What County Board Members are Paid For?

In late spring, the Arlington County Board will review and approve a new capital improvement plan. The effort includes identifying projects to be included in the 2006 bond referendum. A report in this week’s Arlington Connection by Seth Rosen suggests the current capital improvement program may not be sustainable, and that Board members may need to reduce the size of their appetites.

The paper quotes Manager Ron Carlee saying, “We have significant challenges trying to do as many capital projects as we want . . . we may have to rethink the scope of some projects” and Board member Jay Fisette, “We are going to have to make difficult decisions and say no to worthwhile projects.” Could it be that projects are getting approved without fully considering their future costs, similar to "bait-and-switch" consumer fraud? The report notes, “Projects identified for inclusion in the 2006 bond referendum were originally forecasted to cost $79 million,” but may now cost $105 million, leaving the Manager scrambling to find the additional $26 million. How about just putting one or two of those projects off until some future year? Taxpayers are encouraged to review the current 2005-2010 capital improvement plan. In addition, the county has a new database of capital projects, called CAPTrack, which enables citizens to review information on capital projects, including those in their neighborhood.

February 09, 2006

Outrageous Government Junkets at Taxpayers Expense

How outrageous? $1.4 billion worth of outrageousness. At RealClearPolitics, Michelle Malkin documents “how much of our hard-earned money has gone to subsidize the spring break-style trips and conferences of the federal government over the last five years.” She adds that “(s)pending on bureaucracy boondoggles has increased some 70 percent in that time period.” One example was a HUD “trip to the resort town of Los Cabos, Mexico for a conference on American real estate and urban areas.” Or HHS sending a delegation of 236 to an AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain -- price tag was $3.6 million.

Ms. Malkin points out that we know about these junkets because U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) directed federal bureaucrats “to document their conferences, meetings and travel expenses since 2000.” She writes that when Sen. Coburn tried “to limit conference spending by just one agency – HUD – (it) was anonymously stripped from an appropriations bill behind closed doors and unceremoniously killed.” Reducing that $1.4 billion sounds like as good a place as any to begin achieving a smaller federal government.

UPDATE 2/10/06. Additional details about these junkets are available at Government Bytes, the blogsite of the National Taxpayers Union. Elizabeth Terrell also provides a link to the U.S. Senate subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Tom Coburn (R), including his opening statement as well as statements by several agency representatives.

February 08, 2006

Just How Much Lobbying Do Arlington County Taxpayers Pay For?

Probably much more than most citizens are aware of. Arlington County is a member of both the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League. When we last looked several years ago, Arlington’s membership in VACo cost taxpayers at least $34,000, and the cost for VML membership was about the same. There’s more, though. According to the lobbyists disclosure reports database maintained by Virginia’s Secretary of State, Arlington taxpayers paid an additional $42,000 to lobby Virginia’s executive and legislative bodies in 2004-2005. This includes $28,000 for the county’s lobbyist and $14,000 for the Arlington Public Schools’ lobbyist. Perhaps a better question is why are any lobbyists necessary since Arlington voters are represented in the General Assembly by two state senators and four delegates.

February 07, 2006

Don’t Say They Won't

There may be no Internet tax today, but governments at all levels have their greedy little paws outstretched attempting to get a share of the revenue from an Internet tax. This study from the Institute for Policy Innovation outlines the threats posed by state/local governments, the federal government, and international bodies, including the United Nations. The IPI notes that as the Internet “matures into a routine component of our daily lives, its independence from both taxation and regulation is rapidly eroding. Absent a more sweeping federal intervention to secure the Internet’s freedom, it will be an increasingly rich target for revenues and regulatory interference froim all directions. Moratorium or not, the Internet already is viewed as a potentially lush revenue source at the state, local, and even international level.” As National Taxpayers Union blogger Kristina Rasmussen notes at Government Bytes, “Don’t say we didn’t warn you about UN-levied Internet Taxes.” Hat tip to Government Bytes.

February 06, 2006

Bureaucracy Run Amok

At least that’s the picture, which emerges from the front-page story in today’s Washington Post about the cost overruns for the new headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The original price tag for the building was $119.7 million, but has now grown by almost $19 million to $138.5 million at a time the Post says “the agency is considering sharp cuts in the number of new cars, bulletproof vests and other basics it provides agents.” The Post reported the ATF director had “planned to purchase among other things, nearly $300,000 in extras for the new director’s suite, including a $65,000 conference table and more than $100,000 for hardwood floors, custom trim and other items.” In addition, the Post said that “some ATF officials object to the approximately $1 million annual cost of an extensive security detail.” Thankfully, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee is expected to begin examining the cost overruns.

February 05, 2006

Steelers Win Super Bowl, but Tax Collectors are Big Winners

Congratulations to the Steelers for their 21-10 victory in the 40th Super Bowl in Detroit. As usual, though, it’s the tax collectors who are the big winners in such events. While millions of Americans were celebrating the Super Bowl, the bloggers at the Tax Foundation point out that “it will also be a celebratory day for Michigan and Detroit tax collectors. The reason is the imposition of the little known ‘jock tax,’ which “require traveling professional athletes and other team employees to pay income taxes in every state where games are played.” It’s estimated the city of Detroit, alone, will collect $200,000 for the one day event. The Tax Foundation raises legitimate questions whether such so-called ‘jock taxes’ are based on sound principles of tax policy.

February 04, 2006

Stop the Pork! Subject ‘Earmarks’ to Greater Scrutiny

In an open letter, dated January 27, 2006, the National Taxpayers Union “commended the pledges of Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain to challenge the long-abused practice of legislative earmarking,” which NTU appropriately described as “a major flaw with the annual appropriations cycle.” We last growled about pork-barrel spending on November 29, 2005.

Growls readers can use the following links to contact Virginia’s U.S. Senators George Allen and John Warner to provide them your views on pork-barrel spending.

Senator George Allen

Senator John Warner

February 03, 2006

Making Sure the History of the 2004 State Tax Increase is Not Rewritten

Most Virginians know by now that Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D) provided the Democrat response to Tuesday evening’s State of the Union speech by President Bush (R), including “the great bipartisan collaboration in his state of Virginia,” according to Peter Ferrara, writing in National Review Online today. Ferrara went on, “We were told that collaboration has served the people by focusing on delivering services, making record investments, and producing real results,” which Ferrara terms the “new code words” for the “historic runaway government spending, (which) is being fueled by record tax increases.” Ferrara goes on to describe how an historic tax increase made its way through the 2004 General Assembly even though Gov. Warner had promised, “I will not raise your taxes.” With former Gov. Mark Warner (D), who helped engineer that record tax increase along with state Sen. John Chichester (R), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, it’s important to have an accurate historical account of who said what, and when. Thanks, Peter, for this accurate story of the 2004 state tax increase.

February 02, 2006

CDBG: HUD, Politics, Effectiveness, and Arlington County

Last week, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) issued this press release to announce the organization’s decision to award its 2005 Porker of the Year award to New York’s two U.S. Senators, Sens. Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer (both D-N.Y.), who received 45.5% of an online poll. Followed closely in second place were Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Don Young (R-Alaska) with 40.5%. New York’s two senators had been selected as February “Co-Porkers of the Month” for “pledging to fight President Bush’s reforms of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. The administration wanted to merge the CDBG program with 17 smaller economic development programs because the administration believed the CDBG programs was “ineffective,” has an “unclear purpose,” “loose targeting requirements,” and exhibits a “lack of results.” Much CDBG money had also been squandered on programs not targeted to people with low and moderate income in New York. For example, $500,000 was used for ‘streetscape improvements’ in wealthy Westchester County while Buffalo’s newspaper reported in 2004 the city had “squandered much of the block grant money it had received over the past 30 years.” Instead of working to improving use of taxpayer money, CAGW said, "Sen. Schumer called the plan a 'meat axe approach' to reducing the deficit and Sen. Clinton called the program a 'lifeline' for New York.

This CDBG post even has an Arlington County component. According to the County’s adopted FY 2006 budget, the county spends slightly more than $2 million of federal tax money annually on its CDBG program “(t)o improve the housing, neighborhood and economic conditions” of its low- and moderate-income residents. Money from the Arlington CDBG program is used to fund several low- and moderate-income programs run by non-profits such as AHC and APAH plus a variety of small programs such as a community bicycle shop, a ‘youth brigade,’ and a ‘lifeworks’ program.

February 01, 2006

Cost of Promises in Last Night’s State of the Union Speech

According to this press release today from the National Taxpayers Union, the ‘price tag’ of President Bush’s SOTU speech sank to a “Record-Low $91 Million.” The NTU says that’s the “smallest amount” since they first started tracking the Presidential addresses in 1999. They identified 18 possible items with a potential budget impact with 11 increasing spending and 2 reducing spending. They identified the American Competitiveness Initiative with a $10 billion annual cost as the largest spending item. According to the White House, it would “encourage American innovation and strengthen our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy.” We are tempted to agree with Mark Steyn who asked, at National Review Online, “Isn’t there something a little ridiculous about the government, which has no competition, running a competitiveness initiative?” If Growls readers haven’t bookmarked the NTU website, yet, we encourage them to do so, and visit their website frequently to learn the latest government scams to fleece taxpayers!