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March 31, 2006

“A Rolls Royce Budget When a Chevrolet Budget Will Do”

At the Arlington County Board’s tax rate hearing last night, that’s how a 77-year resident described the budget situation. The full report of last night’s hearing is posted on the Arlington Sun-Gazette’s newly redesigned website, and will appear in next Thursday’s weekly edition. Another speaker who asked for significant rate relief said that “Arlington is going to be an enclave of the very wealthy if something is not done.” Look for the Arlington Connection's story in next week's edition, too.

ACTA thanks the taxpayers who attended last night's tax hearing and those taxpayers who responded to our automated dialer calls on Monday, March 27 by calling or e-mailing the County Board office to ask for at least a 10 cent cut in the real estate tax rate.

March 26, 2006



Budget Hearing, Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Arlington County Board will hold public hearings this week. On Tuesday evening, March 28, 2006, citizens can speak on the budget. Historically, most of the speakers at the Tuesday budget hearing advocate for special interests and bigger government, and only a few advocate for Arlington’s taxpayers.

Tax Rate Hearings, Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Thursday, March 30, 2006, tax rate public hearing will be devoted to the various tax rates that the County Board considers. Historically, most of the speakers who attend the Thursday tax rate hearing advocate for lower tax rates and limited government.

Why It’s Important to Speak or Communicate with the Board

Calendar year 2006 assessments were up 19.4% -- 16.3% for pre-existing property and 3.1% for new construction. The County Board advertised for NO change in the current real estate tax rate. If the County Board doesn’t act to lower that rate, it will result in a 129% increase in real estate taxes since 2000. Even if the Board lowers the rate by 5 cents as “proposed” by the County Manager, real estate taxes will be up 116.3% since 2000. During that period, inflation is up 17.5%. Information about the Manager’s Proposed FY 2007 budget is available.

A 5-cent cut in the real estate tax rate means residential property owners will still face a 11.5% increase in their taxes while residential property owners will still pay 4.8% higher property taxes with a 10-cent cut. That's still higher than the current inflation rate!

When, Where, and How

Both public hearings will be in the County Board Room 307 of Courthouse Plaza, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard. They begin at 7:00 pm; on-site registration begins at 6:00 pm. Click here for the County Board’s general procedures for both hearings.

You can also sign-up in advance. The deadline for signing-up for the tax rate hearings is 5:00 pm on Wednesday, March 29. This page takes you to County Board’s process for advance sign-up; at the bottom of the page, there is a link to the advanced sign-up webform. You will be provided a registration code to confirm that you have signed-up to speak.

If you are not able to speak at the tax rate hearing, please call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130. Better yet, send them an e-mail at County Board with your thoughts about how their taxes are affecting you. Further information about contacting the County Board is available by clicking on “Contact the County Board” link to the right.

For More Information, or to join ACTA

Not sure whether to speak, or still have a question? Call Tim Wise, ACTA’s president at (703) 243-8345. You can e-mail Tim Wise. If not already a member, consider joining ACTA. Use the PayPal link, or send him an e-mail for a membership form. Please browse Growls while you are here; many of the posts should make you growl, too.

March 25, 2006

Another Windfall for the Arlington County Board?

If we had to guess, the County Board will not cut the real estate tax rate any more than 5 cents. In his mid-year review, the Manager provided to the Board on Wednesday, a 5-cent cut was the maximum of several scenarios which the Manager included in the review. Regular Growls readers know the Manager has stashed away $26.1 million in his proposed budget to cover that cut.

From January 2000 to January 2006, inflation has increased 17.5% as measured by the U.S. Department of Labor. Even if the Board eventually cuts the real estate tax rate by 5-cents (on March 14, they voted to advertise no cut), the average homeowner’s real estate tax bill will have skyrocketed by 116.3% over those six years. If the County Board were governing an oil company, their actions would be denounced as pure greed.

So don’t listen when the Board explains how they’ve cut the tax rate. Makes you wonder how Fairfax’s Board of Supervisors have been able to survive with only an 85% increase in real estate taxes over that same six years, as shown in this bulletin from the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.

Arlington taxpayers need to attend the tax rate hearings on Thursday, March 30. Stay tuned for more information, and get ready to start tax revolution in Arlington County.

March 24, 2006

Buying Votes; to Heck with Roads and Streets

Members of the county's Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, appointed by the Arlington County Board, got an earful last night from Wayne Kubicki, who chaired the FAAC’s panel that reviewed infrastructure expenditures, essentially covering “pay-as-you-go” capital (as opposed to most capital funding, which uses voter-approved bonds). It seems the department responsible for Arlington’s streets and roads is making every effort to live up to its top priority, which is to “encourage and support the shift away from an automobile based network” by letting the county’s pavement literally deteriorate. Don't blame the department or the Manager, though, since it's the Arlington County Board and their social engineering that's moving us to the "urban village" and modes of mass transportation.

The panel’s report pointed out that the county’s pavement condition rating (PCR) dropped from 71 to 70 in FY2005, and “(s)taff has cautioned that a further drop in the rating is inevitable at the projected levels of funding . . . (where) further deterioration eventually causes streets to need rebuilding – where the lane mile cost is 5 to 6 times higher than repaving.” More information about PCRs can be found at this Ohio DoT document (requires Adobe) explaining the PCR method and these two graphs from Clinton County, NY, and the Bay Area’s metropolitan transportation commission (both graphs require Adobe). For information on spending for repaving, see the Manager’s proposed FY 2007 budget (section F has the information about the PCR and section O has PAYGO information).

Instead of devoting their energies to taking care of basic needs, the Arlington County Board has been taking care of themselves – seeking pay raises and buying votes through more redistribution schemes, e.g., homeowner grants, the living wage, and live-where-you-work grants for county employees. Could this explain why they keep getting reelected?

March 23, 2006

How Do They Do It? Maintain Their AAA Bond Rating, That Is.

Arlington’s pols and bureaucrats puff their chests at the mere mention of their triple-A bond ratings since the county’s bonds receive S&P, Moody’s and Fitch’s highest bond ratings. The rating agencies write-ups generally mention the quality of the county's fiscal management, but our guess is the agencies are more impressed by the fact that if ever the need arises, the County Board can pawn-off yet another tax increase with little accountability expected from Arlington’s voters.

The matter of fiscal management raised its head yesterday at the Board’s recessed meeting. The Manager asked the Board (agenda item 17) to approve $3.2 million in neighborhood conservation bond funds. Funding for seven projects with an estimated cost of $2.45 million was being requested. In addition, the Manager was asking for almost $800,000 to pay for cost overruns on 10 other projects.

Tim Wise, ACTA’s president addressed the Board, and urged the Board to either hire an Inspector General or provide some oversight of their own. Wise had a list of 65 NC projects that had an accumulated total of $4.95 million in cost overruns. For example, a project in the Donaldson Run Civic Association area was estimated to cost $250,000, but after spending $110,000, the county still finds it needs $399,000 to complete the project. Civic watchdog Bob Atkins wondered whether the Board’s unwavering support of the NC projects was just “another instance of Enron accounting.” Further detail is provided in this report from the Arlington Sun-Gazette.

March 22, 2006

Reading Assignment for Politicians Promising Fiscal Restraint

Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas’ column in today’s Washington Times should be read by every politician professing to be a fiscal conservative. He includes the quotes of several politicians, including Ronald Reagan. He also wrote several quotable lines which may be attributable to him in the future.

He began his column with former President Ronald Reagan’s observation that “We don’t have deficits because people are taxed too little. We have deficits because big government spends too much.” That was followed by this advice from Mr. Reagan: "The federal deficit is outrageous. For years I’ve asked that we stop pushing onto our children the excesses of our government.”

Thomas then writes, “That Republicans are outspending the most reckless 1980s Democrats (and 1960s Great Society Democrats and 1940s Franklin Roosevelt Democrats) is the sorriest spectacle of all.” He follows that up later by noting that “Perhaps the real culprit is us, not Congress . . . As long as we are willing to take the money in exchange for our votes, politicians will give it to us.”

Wise words, indeed, from Mr. Thomas.

March 21, 2006

County Board Gets Set for Budget and Tax Hearings

Arlington citizens get to talk back to the Arlington County Board at next week's budget and tax rate hearings -- Tuesday, March 28 for the budget hearing and Thursday, March 30 for the tax rate hearings. The Arlington Sun-Gazette has two stories on page 4 (tax rate and water rate) dealing with the Board's decision to advertise no cut in the real estate tax rate and a possible 12% increase in water bills. If the Board keeps the real estate tax at its current 87.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, it would result in a 16.3% effective tax rate increase. And that's by the county's own calculation. The burden on taxpayers will be higher, though, since the Board is likely to increase other taxes and fees.

March 20, 2006

Where’s the Accountability, Governor?

Yesterday’s Washington Post reported that Virginia's Gov. Tim Kaine (D) “plans to barnstorm this week on behalf of higher taxes for roads and transit, holding town hall meetings in southwest Virginia even as lawmakers remain deadlocked on the state’s budget." (emphasis added) The story, reported by Michael Shear, continued: “Kaine has prepared an election-style campaign that includes radio ads, direct mail and automated telephone calls aimed at increasing the pressure on 26 Republican delegates to reach a compromise.”

Isn’t this kind of electioneering supposed to be done during an election campaign so that voters can hold politicians accountable at the ballot box? Oh, you mean during campaigns politicians can tell voters whatever is necessary to get elected before the real game of raising taxes begins? Oops, I missed that section in my civics textbook.

March 19, 2006

The Arlington County Board Thinks They Deserve a Pay Raise

What a system? The Board voted last week to advertise no reduction in the real estate tax rate, which means that real estate taxes on the average Arlington residence would increase 129% since 2000. Over that same time period, inflation has only been 17.0%. Based upon that record of performance, the Board does not deserve a pay raise. Besides, they have been receiving annual pay raises based on increases in the cost-of-living.

According to reports in the March 16 DC Examiner and Thursday’s Arlington Sun-Gazette, the Board is getting set to raise their pay. According to the Examiner, the county’s chief spinmeister tries to split hairs by differentiating between a $10,000 pay raise Board members received several years ago and annual COLA raises since then. In the Sun-Gazette, Board member Paul Ferguson reported being “generally satisfied” with his pay, but said Board members should be compensated fairly. He then tries to compare the pay in Arlington to the pay of county supervisors in Fairfax County. Isn’t that like trying to compare apples with oranges? In addition, HB 1002, sponsored by Del. David Englin, will enable the Board to vote themselves large pay raises a year from now.

The Board advertised (Adobe required) a public hearing for March 28, 2006 to receive comment on their pay raise. But shouldn’t Arlington voters be required to approve the pay raises before they go into effect? Afterall, how many employees can unilaterally raise their pay? Meeting procedures for the March 28 budget hearing and the March 30 Tax Rate hearing, which will be held in room 307 at Courthouse Plaza, can be found at the county’s website.

March 18, 2006

The Redistribution of Income Occurs Among the States, Too

Most taxpayers know their taxes are being redistributed in a way that would make Marx and Lenin proud although they may not be aware of the extent. We’ve growled several times of how Steven Malanga in his book The New New Left divides us into taxpayers and taxeaters. Now, the Tax Foundation, which has studied trends in federal taxing and spending benefits, identifies “beneficiary states” and the “donor states” that pay the bill. Their press release, and accompanying study, provide the details (with link to the full study), According to Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, “The main culprit is not lazy congressmen who don’t bring home enough pork, but rather the progressive income tax.”

In 2004, the biggest beneficiary was New Mexico, which received $2.00 from Uncle Sam for every $1.00 paid in taxes. Some other “beneficiary states” were Alaska ($1.87), West Virginia ($1.83) and Mississippi ($1.77). The highest “donor state” was New Jersey, which received 55 cents back for every $1.00 paid in taxes. Virginia ($1.66) was near the top with a significant increase from 1994 when it received $1.40 in federal spending for every $1.00 paid in taxes. Need another reason for the FairTax?

March 17, 2006

Politicians and Dumb Economic Ideas

Ray Keating, Chief Economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, writes in today's Fact of the Week, "Dumb economic ideas never seem to go away, they just get picked-up by politicians at different levels of government. Conider the minimum wage. It has not been increased at the federal level since 1987. As a result, labor union and other left-wing activists have been pushing the states to hike their respective minimum wages above the federal level of $5.15 . . . In reality, a minimum wage winds up hurting many of the prople it is supposed to help. Young and low-skilled workers are priced out of the marketplace."

The same for the so-called living wage, also pushed by leftists, which is used to increase the mimimu wage at the local level. Arlington taxpayers will be dealing with this issue over the next month since the Manager's proposed FY 2007 budget (page 3, Manager's message) lists increasing Arlington's living wage by $986,000 as one unfunded alternate. If approved by the County Board, a good part of one cent of the real estate tax rate used to compute the taxes of every Arlington property owner's tax bill will be redistributed through the socialistic living wage."

March 14, 2006

Did the Virginian-Pilot strike out? Big-time!

An editorial in yesterday’s Virginian-Pilot concerned teacher pay and how best to compare the pay of Virginia’s public school teachers. According to the editorial, “the option preferred by the Virginia House of Delegates . . . called for the state to start measuring itself against 16 member-states in the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), rather than the nation, when it comes to teacher pay.” The editorial concluded: “Members of the ruling clique in the House of Delegates may prefer to think of Virginia as part of a southern tradition. But most Virginians probably realize the Old Dominion became wedded to a higher standard along about 1865.”

The problem, though, is the House of Delegates did not make the change attributed to it by the Virginian-Pilot. Rather, the change was made by the Senate’s Finance Committee. The bill, SB 324, prefiled by Arlington’s state Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, reads as if written by the Virginia teachers union, the Virginia Education Association. According to the “summary as introduced” the bill, “(e)establishes, as a goal of the Commonwealth, that the average salary for Virginia public school teachers equal or surpass the national average salary for public school teachers.” It passed the Senate’s Education and Health Committee 14-0.

SB 324 then went to Senate Finance, which voted 15-0 “with substitute.” The “amendment in the nature of a substitute” among other things, changed the bill’s goal to measuring “the Commonwealth’s compensation for teachers relative to member states in the” SREB. That language doesn’t change in the “summary as passed” both houses.

I know the liberal Virginian-Pilot tries to never miss an opportunity to slam the low tax, limited government, members in the House of Delegates, but this time they got it wrong. Big time! Seems even Senator “Likes to Raise My Taxes” Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, can’t stomach legislation written principally to appease the teachers union. The Virginian-Pilot actually got it wrong twice. Teacher pay should be determined like pay in the private sector, i.e., by market forces.

March 13, 2006

Laurel to the Kids of Arlington Science Focus School

Kudos to the students of Arlington Science Focus elementary school and the Silver Diner in Clarendon. I stopped for dinner at the Silver Diner, and was pleasantly surprised to find a crew of young kids from Arlington Science Focus "working" there as part of a fundraiser for the school. With the trend of taxes in Arlington, it's good to see those kids learning about the world of work so early in life.

March 12, 2006

Washington Post Continues Push for Higher Virginia Taxes

Michael Shear reports in today’s Washington Post on the stalemate over a Virginia state budget, and the call (see this press release for further details) by Gov. Kaine (D) for a special session: "The stalemate means that Northern Virginia commuters stuck in traffic or crammed into trains will have to wait longer to see whether Kaine and the state Senate succeed in their proposals to spend about $1 billion more on roads, bridges, tunnels and transit services. Or whether the House of Delegates fends them off with its plan for a much smaller spending increase without additional taxes.”

Shear is either cheerleading for a tax increase, or deliberately fails to describe the actual differences in the two plans. According to Friday’s Update from the Virginia Municipal League, the plan from the House of Delegates will provide Northern Virginia a 4-year total of $603 million of “additional funding for primary, secondary, urban and transit systems.” That’s with no increase in taxes. The Senate plan, on the other hand, provides $843 million over the 4-year period. That’s with a tax increase.

Taxpayers need to tell their state Delegate or Senator to follow the House Plan. Spend that money, and if more is needed, then come back to the voters, and tell us why spending under the House plan was not enough. You can reach your Delegate or Senator at the General Assembly’s website. Voters in North Arlington can reach Del. Brink at his new website Extra Innings. Richmond Times-Dispatch and Roanoke Times also report on the end of the regular 60-day General Assembly session.

March 11, 2006

Is Ordinary the Same as “Very Ordinary”

In Thursday’s Washington Post, Lena Sun reported about the belt tightening measures being taken to reduce the cost of lunches for Board members of Metro. As reported by Ms. Sun, Metro “has been strapped for cash in recent years, deferring needed investments and paring operating costs to the bone,” according to agency officials. They are also “fighting for a regionwide effort to provide the Washington area’s bus and subway system a steady stream of funding.”

As a result of inquiries from the Post, Metro officials decided to dine on cold sandwiches costing less than $8 each rather than have their lunches catered for $26 to $33 for each of the 15 people (12 board member and three staff). Ms. Sun reviewed the 2005 menus, and found such dishes as “flame-seared salmon swimming in tarragon caper cream sauce” and “grilled rosemary rubbed lamb chops” being served. However, Arlington County Board chairman, who has served on the Metro board for eight years, described the lunches as "very ordinary,” adding “It’s a tray on Sterno.” Guess when you represent a “world-class community” as Arlington's political elite like to refer to the county, cold sandwiches just won’t do.

March 09, 2006

A Magic Potion in Arlington County's FY 2007 Budget?

How else to look at a budget that potentially increases the real estate taxes of the average Arlington residence by 18.2% in one-year (or 129.4% in six years), but after all the Manager’s “shakin’ and bakin’” increases by only 6.3% overall. The Manager has "set aside" revenue for a 5-cent cut in the current real estate tax rate, but the Board is not obligated to do so. Seth Rosen writes in this week’s Arlington Connection that the Manager’s “proposal represents a 6.3 percent increase over last year’s adopted budget, yet contains no new county personnel or initiatives. Rosen reported that Board member Jay Fisette said, "It is my hope we will find a way to reduce it beyond 5 cents." But Rosen wrote that Board chairman Chris Zimmerman said, "'We have to balance the taxpayers needs for relief' with the county's other goals." Guess taxpayers have to keep feeding the leviathan of local governments.

Since they are expected to increase real estate taxes more than a nominal amount, the County Board is required by state law to hold public hearings, which the Board will do on March 28 and March 30. We will have more information about these meetings in the coming weeks. You can also call the County Office at (703) 228-3130 for more information.

March 08, 2006

Hey, Congress! The World won’t End

According to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU), that seems to be what some Congress members seem to think because a new budget proposal from the Republican Study Committee (RSC) would only leave Congress 95% of project expenditures for fiscal years 2007 through 2011. Earlier today, an NTU press release reported on the release of a 5-year spending plan from the RSC. NTU spokesman Kristina Rasmussen praised the RSC’s plan for “reorganizing the fiscally-challenged Commerce, Education, and Energy departments.” NTU added that the RSC plan “is a sign Congress can stop being superficial And start getting serious about controlling budget deficits.”

March 06, 2006

Vengeance of the Car Tax

This week’s Arlington Sun-Gazette scorches the General Assembly, actually those General Assemblies since former Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) was elected on the promise of eliminating the car tax, in one of its editorials. As most Arlington taxpayers know, the car tax has been capped with the state government paying 70% and the car owner paying the rest. In 2004, the General Assembly limited total state payments to $950 million. Consequently, with car prices rising, taxes paid by the car’s owner will be rising.

The editorial notes that “(t)axes are like vampires — unless you put a stake through their hearts, you can never be sure they are really dead. Such has been the case with the car tax.” They then conclude saying, “We don’t oppose reasonable taxation, but we have been adamant for nearly a decade on this particular issue. The public said they wanted this tax gone, and the legislature refused to go along. And, when voters forgot all about it and didn’t hold General Assembly members accountable at the polls, the legislature decided it could apply the screwgie to residents again, forcing them to pay more.” Whew, my fingers are hot from just holding the page with those words on it. The next time one of Arlington’s fine General Assembly delegation comes knocking on your door, ask them how they voted on the car tax issue!

March 05, 2006

How to Get Something for Nothing?

In an excellent three-part series of columns last week in the Washington Times (Part I, Part II, and Part III), Thomas Sowell explains why you can’t get something for nothing. It should be required reading for the left-leaning Arlington County Board. In Part I, he uses the example of the Medicare prescription drug program to show there is a price to pay for what people think is a free lunch. He concludes saying “the illusion of something for nothing has kept the welfare state going – and expanding . . . (b)ut so long as you think you are getting something for nothing, the politicians’ shell game has worked and the welfare state can continue to expand.”

In Part III, Sowell notes that while the official unemployment rate in South Africa is 26%, a manufacturer of aluminum wheels has outsourced work to Poland because the South African government, encouraged by labor unions, has set unrealistically high minimum wages. He then writes: “In many cities and towns across America, local politicians, activists, and even religious groups have been pushing for laws mandating a ‘living wage’ higher than the federal minimum wage.” The Arlington County Board passed a living wage ordinance several years ago (see page 3 of the Manager’s message in his proposed FY2007 budget for more information).

Sowell concludes, “For politicians, however, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs is a viable strategy, provided that the goose doesn’t die before the next election. Provided also that people have short memories, don’t connect the dots, and don’t keep in mind that there is no such thing as something for nothing.” Are you listening, Arlington County Board? Several years-worth of Thomas Sowell’s wisdom are archived at Townhall.com.

March 04, 2006

“When a Reporter Becomes a Teacher, She Learns Something”

On a whim, a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer became a teacher in “The Badlands, the nickname for a heroin-ravaged Puerto Rican neighborhood in North Philadelphia . . . (where) test scores ranked it as the worst middle school in the city.” In a “first person” article for the Columbia Journalism Review, she writes, “Too many reporters think that nothing can be done. They allow the protectors of the status quo to use sensitive issues of race and culture and poverty as a shield against their critics. They feed the sense of hopelessness that is encouraged by bad teachers, self-aggrandizing union leaders, and hapless administrators. All those things affected me, too, when I was a reporter. It took a classroom of them to convince me” otherwise.

As Andrew Roth who heard her speak about her book, The Emergency Teacher, summarized at the Club for Growth blog, she learned 1) "The teachers’ union is the biggest obstacle to school reform," 2) "'More money' is not the answer;" and 3) "Vouchers empower inner-city, minority parents."

Hat tip to the Education Intelliegence Agency for the link to the CJR article and this link to the first chapter of Ms. Asquith's book, which begins about 1/3 down the page.

March 03, 2006

Federal Bureaucrat Named Porker of the Month

As defined by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), Porker of the Month “is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.” For that reason, CAGW named the U.S. Department of State’s Frank Moss, Assistant Secretary for Passport Services, as February’s Porker of the Month. Moss and the State Department “decided to ignore the overwhelming public opposition to the use of passports containing radio frequency identification (RFID) chips.” According to the CAGW press release, the “supposed basis” for the use of the RFID chips was “better fraud protection and faster processing through customs.”

CAGW reported the cost of producing a passport will increase from $2.40 to more than $10. In addition, the chips can be “scanned” or “act as beacons to broadcast travelers’ nationality to terrorists.” Finally, of the 2,335 responses the State Department received in response to the introduction of the electronic passports, 98.5% of the responses were negative.

If you think this is a wasteful and horrible idea, please write your member of Congress, you can write or call (202-224-3121) all three of your representatives in Congress. Arlington taxpayers can use the following links:

Sen. George Allen

Sen. John Warner

Rep. Jim Moran

March 02, 2006

“Who Benefits from the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction?”

The Tax Foundation studied the most recent data from the IRS last month, and found that “(d)espite recent attempts by real estate, home building, and mortgage lending organizations to portray the home mortgage interest deduction as vital to middle-income family budgets, an analysis of data from the Internal Revenue Service tells a different story.” Their study then said that "few low- and middle- income taxpayers benefit from the home mortgage deduction."

For example, the study noted, “Those who filed tax returns with under $30,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2003 received just 9 percent of deductions for home mortgage interest, despite filing 52 percent of all tax returns. (The median taxpayer’s AGI was approximately $29,000 in 2003.) In contrast, 36 percent of home mortgage interest deductions were claimed by taxpayers with AGIs over $100,000.”

Seems like further justification for the FairTax.

March 01, 2006

A Laurel for the Arlington Sun-Gazette

The paper and its editor, Scott McCaffrey, do indeed deserve the laurel for the newspaper’s reporting this week on the budget of the Arlington Public Schools. The page 1 headline read “Per-Student Spending Up 9% in Budget Request.” Actually, it is 8.9%, and is based on the methodology used by all member school districts of the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE). The Arlington schools expect that it will cost Arlington taxpayers $17,923 to educate each of the expected 18,263 students. That is up from $16,464 in the current FY2006 adopted budget.

Ryan Self, who wrote the story, put the $17,923 amount in perspective, saying it “is more per student than any other jurisdiction in the Washington suburbs: 31 percent higher than Montgomery County, 34 percent higher than Fairfax County and 75 percent higher than Prince William County, according to current WABE figures.” He also reported a number that few other stories featured. While the WABE computation is based primarily on the operating budget, the schools have additional expenditures. For FY 2007, Arlington's operating budget is $313.5 million, but total school expenditures are expected to be $$390.4 million, which includes debt service, cafeteria fund, and capital projects. Consequently, Mr. Self reported that the total expenditures per-student will be $21,367.

As we noted yesterday about the county budget, there is a price for having a caring and egalitarian community. For their reporting on the one financial indicator that Arlington taxpayers can use to compare the Arlington Public Schools against others in the region, the Sun-Gazette deserves a laurel. Their reporting on the school budget is enlightening for taxpayers; compare it, for example, to the Washington Post reporting, which focused on the new programs being pushed as well as incorrectly reporting the School Board chairman. For links to the APS budget, see our February 23 Growls.