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April 29, 2006

Blame It on the Arlington County Board

This week’s coverage by the Arlington Connection of last Saturday’s budget and tax decisions by the County Board regarding the FY 2007 budget highlight several more facts that Arlington taxpayers should note. The first is that the County Manager proposed a budget in February that adhered to the Board’s guidance, which required a budget limited to 6.3% growth. Although we thought even that too high, the Board approved a budget with 9.2% growth. Seth Rosen, Connection reporter, noted it was the largest year-to-year increase since 1990.

The paper included this from ACTA’s president, Tim Wise: "There’s only so much that the average taxpayer can bear . . .At some point the additional taxes imposed by Arlington will break the back of the taxpayer." In fact, the editor superimposed a portion of that quote on the online picture for the print edition. Kudos to the Connection editor!

April 28, 2006

Arlington County: More Government by Government for Government

One of many benefits enjoyed by county employees, and public school employees, also, is something called the Live Where You Work grant. They were concocted several years to entice employees to live in the county. They are pegged at 1% of the average residential assessment, and will be increased on July 1 from $4,500 in FY 2006 to $5,400 for FY 2007. Initially, they were to help "defray the cost of purchasing a primary residence," but in FY 2007 renters can receive a grant up to $500. Arlington was authorized by the 2002 Virginia General Assembly to pay the grants. We didn’t like them then (see cartoons on pages 5 and 6 of ACTA’s March 2003 newsletter), and still don’t.

The grants assume some measure of value to Arlington citizens of having county employees living here. We were reminded how tenuous that value may be when we saw the 2006 version of PROFILE, an annual county publication. The graphics on page 6 show how mobile residents of the region really are. For example, 648 Arlington residents work in Prince William County while 10,108 residents of PWC work in Arlington County. Or, 42,263 Arlington residents work in the District of Columbia while 12,164 District residents work in Arlington County. So, if more Arlington residents work in DC than in Arlington and Arlington residents working here are outnumbered by Fairfax County residents working here ..... and Arlington is such a small part of the metro area, could the subsidy make sense? So for county government to squeeze a few more dollars from Arlington taxpayers to provide county employees another “perk” seems highly questionable at best.

April 27, 2006

The Lords in Virginia's Senate Still Pushing Tax Increases

Today's Virginian-Pilot reports that "State senators plan to propose a statewide half-percent sales tax increase today in what many lawmakers are viewsing as a final push to break the logjam over transportation spending. The proposal is partly a response to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's concerns that an increase in the gas tax would not pass the House of Delegates at a time when prices at the pump are soaring . . . The timing of (Gov. Kaine's) "latest warning irritated senators who had been backing a 6-cents-per-gallon tax increase on fuel." We've growled recently that the House of Delegates' transportation plan can be largely paid for with existing taxes. What alternative universe are the Senate's tax-and-spenders living in?

April 25, 2006

Laurel for the Arlington County School Board

ACTA’s president, Tim Wise, testified at this evening’s public hearing on the School Board's proposed FY 2007 budget. He noted that because of the schools’ high cost structure, e.g., the cost-per-pupil for FY 2007 will be at least $17,923 (WABE method), an increase of 8.9%, the School Board puts at risk its strategic objective of building effective relationships with the community. Wise noted that as of March 16, 2006 ten Virginia school districts (Adobe required) have undergone school efficiency reviews. The reviews are performed at no cost to the school districts under an initiative started by former Governor Mark Warner. While school districts undergo various reviews, none look at how well schools management use taxpayers’ money. Consequently, Wise recommended that when the School Board formally adopts their budget next month, they direct the Superintendent to arrange for a school efficiency review.

After ACTA’s recommendation, School Board chairman Dave Foster noted the School Board is waiting for a new computer software system to be installed before looking into a school efficiency review. Since ACTA recommended more than a year ago that an efficiency review be performed, we congratulate Dave Foster and the School Board for their decision, and we look forward to learning how efficient Arlington schools management is at using our tax dollars.

While at the Virginia Cost Cutting blog this evening, a comment by William Goodwin, who serves on Richmond major Wilder’s education advisory committee, seems especially appropriate. In response to Richmond’s “higher than state average per pupil education spending, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote, “Goodwin said energy should be spent looking at ways to reduce high spending, not attempting to justify it.”

April 24, 2006

Arlington County Budget Still on Steroids?

The Arlington Sun-Gazette has posted their story on the FY 2007 budget, which the County Board approved on Saturday. Looks like Scott McCaffrey also had his pencil sharpened. McCaffrey begins with: “Arlington homeowners will pay an average of $400 more in real estate taxes this year, along with higher charges for everything from trash collection to water service to park fees, under the $920 million fiscal 2007 county government budget adopted Saturday.” He also captures the community’s seeming entitlement mentality: "County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman said the budget includes something for all in Arlington, from the well-off to those who are struggling. "It's a reflection of the values” of Arlington, said Zimmerman, who is seeking re-election in November. "Our budget must reflect our collective commitment to everyone in the community.”

As if to reinforce the Washington Post’s take (see yesterday’s Growls), McCaffrey reports that Wayne Kubicki, Arlington’s outstanding budget watchdog, “complained that the fiscal 2007 budget represents a 9.2-percent increase in spending, up $70 million from the current year and the highest annual increase, by percentage, in 17 years. As a result, Kubicki said, ‘Arlington's residential taxes still seem to be on steroids.’”

County Board members like words such as sustainability as in economic sustainability, environmental sustainability, etc. What they have yet to explain is how their spending is sustainable when it has consistently been twice the inflation rate. Rather, the Board's incessant tax increases seem designed to run more middle class families out of the county.

The Sun-Gazette also provides details about other taxes and fees that will further burden Arlington taxpayers. Budget on steroids? Sure looks like that to us.

April 23, 2006

Arlington County Board “Increases Spending by Nearly 10 Percent”

Washington Post reporter Annie Gowen had her penciled sharpened for her analysis of yesterday's County Board’s approval of the FY 2007 budget and tax increases. According to Gowen, “As tax bills continue to rise in Arlington, county board members yesterday okayed an $829 million budget including the largest approved spending increase in more than a decade. Neighboring jurisdictions, mindful of the slowing real estate market and the possibility of dwindling tax revenue, have tried to hold increases at 5 and 6 percent. Arlington increased spending by 9.2 percent . . . Like other counties in Virginia, Arlington tinkered with the car tax, increasing the rate to $5 for each $100 valuation.” She included this quote by Burt Bostwick, chairman of the Arlington County Civic Federation’s Revenues & Expenditures Committee, “It's well over . . . the basic rate of inflation and any semblance of common sense.”

"An excellent article" according to one Arlington taxpayer. Question for the editors -- why was it buried on page 6 of the paper's Metro section? And don't miss yesterday's Growls, either.

April 22, 2006

Arlington County Board's Message to Taxpayers: You’re Our ATM

This morning, the Arlington County Board completed its annual tax-and-spend cycle by approving budget and appropriations resolutions and increasing real estate taxes, the car tax, and various fees. Spending from the general fund will increase 9.2%. That's the largest single-year increase in 17 years.

If you want to get your blood boiling, read the county press release, especially the paragraph about the 6-cent cut in the real estate tax rate costing $31.4 million. While touting that this will be the fifth consecutive year that the tax rate has been cut, there is no mention that this is the sixth consecutive year of double-digit increase in real estate taxes for the average Arlington homeowner. In fact, the six-year increase is 113.7%. On top of that, the Board voted to increase the car tax by 14% -- from a rate of $4.40 to $5.00, not to mention increases in garbage pick-up fees and water and sewer fees. By the way, the Board is looking to make the car tax "more progressive," which could mean a 40% increase for some car owners (unfortunately, the Board deferred a decision on the precise details).

In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll provide you with the dirty details of both the taxing and spending sides of the Fiscal Year 2007 Adopted Budget. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a good day for Arlington taxpayers. And, hey, County Board, cutting tax rates aren't a cost. Rather, you and local government are a cost for us taxpayers.

April 20, 2006

Hey Congress, Fix the "Dysfunctional" Tax System!

With Americans having put another tax filing season behind themselves, the National Taxpayers Union leads a coalition of organizations urging Congress to get off the dime and implement real tax reform. One of those organizations is Americans for Fair Taxation, which supports the FairTax. Legislation (H.R. 25) to implement the FairTax would replace the current income tax and payroll tax with a non-regressive national sales tax, according to NTU's press release. John Berthoud, NTU president, says, "The income tax is an economic travesty against hard-working Americans . . . Along with their taxes, individuals and businesses endure compliance burdens amounting to $265 billion, or an additional 22 cents on every dollar collected."

Last week (April 12), we growled that either the FairTax or a flat tax were far preferable to the current tax system. So we support NTU in its efforts to get Congress to pass tax reform. In the meantime, Congress needs to reduce its inclination to spend ever larger amounts of taxpayers' money.

April 18, 2006

Arlington County Board Continues Spending Like a Drunken Sailor

P.J. O’Rourke once said that “Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” That’s about how the County Board acts, too. Yesterday, the Board held its “final wrap-up” budget worksession where they agreed on the final decisions for the FY 2007 budget. The bottom line is they agreed to reduce the real estate tax rate by six cents (i.e., to 81.8 cents per $100 of assessed valuation). The bad news is that still means an 8.3% increase for the average Arlington homeowner; inflation is about half of that. The even worse news is that the personal property tax rate (i.e., the car tax) will be increased 14.3%, to $5.00 from its current $4.40 rate. That’s not all, though. There will be increases in the solid waste, water, and sewer rates not to mention a slew of other fee increases. The Board will formally adopt the FY 2007 budget on Saturday, April 22.

O’Rourke also said (slightly modified), “The mystery is not how Arlington government works but how to make it stop.” The beast must be fed!

Resources: Manager’s proposed FY2007 budget and Manager’s “budget decision” reports to the Board (agenda items 38.A. through 38.S.). Quotes are from OnPower.org.

April 17, 2006

Arlington County Really Does Flush Money Down the Toilet

Required reading in today's Washington Post is the page 1, Metro section, article by Annie Gowen, which discusses how “eco-friendly Arlington hired . . . (an) artist to redecorate its sewage treatment plant, hoping to transform a stinky industrial site near Route 1 into a pretty “gateway” to its "world-class community” . . . Now, after $646,000 of public money has been spent on artist fees, the plan itself has landed in the toilet.” ACTA’s president who is quoted said the county’s effort “borders on lunacy.” The question now is whether taxpayers will hold anyone on the County Board accountable in November. Kudos to the Post reporter Annie Gowen for pursuing the story.

April 13, 2006

“Ending Earmarks Express” Bus Tour Launched

Since Congress cannot seem to control its fiscal ways, the National Taxpayers Union and allies kicked off a bus tour last Friday that will hopefully drive Congress to change its wasteful ways. According to this NTU press release, 21 bills were introduced in Congress that would raise spending for every bill that would reduce spending. To put it more bluntly, “if all proposed spending in the House (of Representatives) became law at once, annual federal outlays would increase by $1.9 trillion.” To put that in perspective, the current federal budget is about $2.5 trillion.

Follow the tour with Americans for Prosperity. Better yet, tell members of Arlington’s Congressional delegation what you think of their spendthrift ways; the links will take you directly to their online websites.

Senator John Warner

Senator George Allen

Representative Jim Moran

April 12, 2006

Flat Tax or FairTax -- Far Better Than Current Income Tax

In a July 2005 Backgrounder (requires Adobe) for the Heritage Foundation, Dan Mitchell explains that “a flat tax is simple, fair, and good for growth. Instead of the 893 forms required by the current system, a flat tax would use only two postcard-sized forms: one for labor income and the other for business or capital income. Unlike the current system, which discriminates based on the source, use, and level of income, a flat tax treats all taxpayers equally, fulfilling the “equal justice under law” principle etched above the main entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building.”

According to Mitchell, the principle advantage of the flat tax are growth and fairness:

1) Growth. “Many economists are attracted to the idea because the current tax system, with its high rates and discriminatory taxation of saving and investment, reduces growth, destroys jobs, and lowers incomes. A flat tax would not eliminate the damaging impact of taxes altogether, but by dramatically lowering rates and ending the tax code’s bias against saving and investment, it would boost the economy’s performance when compared with the present tax code.”

2) Fairness. “(T)he most persuasive feature of a flat tax for many Americans is its fairness. The complicated documents, instruction manuals, and numerous forms that taxpayers struggle to decipher every April would be replaced by a brief set of instructions and two simple postcards. This radical reform appeals to citizens who not only resent the time and expense consumed by filing their own tax forms, but also suspect that the existing maze of credits, deductions, and exemptions gives a special advantage to those who wield political power and can afford expert tax advisers.

Mitchell writes that a flat tax and a national sales tax “are different sides of the same coin.” Either is obviously preferable to the current federal income tax. For more information about the FairTax, visit Americans for Fair Taxation, or Neal Boortz’s book.

April 11, 2006

“Read My Lips” or “Piece of the Pie”

That is how the Arlington Connection framed the Arlington County Board’s March 28 budget hearing and the March 30 tax rate hearing in their April 5-11 edition. The question left unanswered, however, is what right does government have to take from Peter in order to give to Paul. The answer, of course, stems from government’s coercive power of taxation.

Under the caption “Read my Lips . . . ,” Seth Rosen of the Arlington Connection reported the call of Arlington residents for the Arlington County Board to lower the real estate tax rate. Rosen also reported on Tuesday's budget hearings where “Residents Want Piece of Pie.” Unfortunately, no Arlington County Board member was pointing out that in order to provide that “piece of the pie,” they are the ones taking from taxpayers to give to taxeaters.

In the process, the County Board risks running even more of the county’s middle-class out of Arlington. Is this what the County Board means by their vision of a world-class community?

April 10, 2006

Civic Federation to Arlington County Board: Cut It 9 Cents

Last Tuesday, April 4, the Arlington County Civic Federation approved the report of its Revenues & Expenditures Committee (Adobe required), which urges the Arlington County Board to cut the real estate tax by 9 cents. However, the Arlington Sun-Gazette notes the Federation’s action will probably put it “at odds with County Board members.” The Sun-Gazette adds, however, that “(e)ven if the rate is cut nine cents, nearly all county homeowners would still pay more. The average residential assessment has risen more than 18 percent over the past year.”

To put this in perspective, the Manager's proposed FY 2007 budget "sets aside" funds for a 5 cents cut in the real estate tax rate while the County Board advertised a rate with no cut in the rate.

April 09, 2006

Arlington School Board Spends More With Revenue Sharing Agreement

At least that’s the conclusion one can reach after a chart of total spending per student in the Friday, April 7 Washington Post got me computing the year-to-year changes in spending by the School Board. The Post’s chart shows the nationwide average spending per student in the 1999-2000 school was $6,836, but grew to $8,287 by 2003-2004, a change of 21.22%, or 5.31% a year.

By comparison, according to the cost-per-pupil numbers on page 51 of the Superintendent’s Proposed FY 2007 budget, the cost per pupil for the Arlington Public Schools for 1999-2000 was $10,271 and for 2003-2004 was $13,309, an increase of 29.58%, or 7.39% annually.

So why blame the Revenue Sharing Agreement, which the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board inked in FY 2002 that automatically gives the School Board about 48% of all county tax revenues? The increases in per pupil spending were 4.98% from FY 1999 to FY 2000, 6.50% from FY 2000 to FY 2001, and 3.71% from FY 2001 to FY 2002. Since the two Boards signed what one ACTA member calls the Share the Loot Agreement, the annual increases have been higher – ranging from 7.38% to 9.10%. To use that ol' time expression, the proof is in the pudding. In plainer English, give government the money, and they will spend it.

Maybe the two Boards should talk about this when they hold a joint worksession on Tuesday, April 18, rather than the usual yackety, yack, yack. For an interesting “debate” between that year’s School Board candidates – Beth Wolffe and incumbent Mary Hynes -- on their policy differences in the Revenue Sharing Agreement, see ACTA’s August 2002 newsletter, The ACTA Watchdog (Adobe required). Also, see last year’s School Board candidates responses to question 3 in the October 2005 issue of The ACTA Watcdog.

April 07, 2006

“Obstructionism” vs. Obstructionist

It could be called the case of the dueling editorials. On Wednesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorialized, “To get a sense of just how determined the State Senate is to raise taxes, consider its knee-jerk rejection of a compromise proposal by the House of Delegates. The House suggested setting aside for transportation roughly $1 billion of the $12 billion in new state revenue, passing the rest of the budget, and returning in the fall to hash out the differences over roads and taxes . . . (b)ut setting the roads question aside until later would frustrate the Senate’s strategy, which apparently is to create a crisis by wrapping new taxes and road spending into the overall budget and pushing the Commonwealth toward a possible government shutdown if the House refuses to cave in.” The editorial notes that postponing the debate on transportation “would have the salutary effect of permitting greater public debate – possibly even through an advisory referendum – on the merits of further tax hikes in an era of budget surpluses.”

Ever the lover of hiking taxes, the lead editorial in today’s Washington Post argues the obstructionists are the Speaker of the House of Delegates, William J. Howell (R-Stafford) “and his caucus (who) have decided that no statewide taxes will be raised for transportation improvements.”

We growled on March 12 that Post reporter Michael Shear was either cheerleading for a tax increase or deliberately failed to describe the differences between the Senate and House of Delegates transportation plans. The Post’s lead editorial seals our opinion that the Post never saw a tax hike it wasn’t in love with -- merited or not.

April 06, 2006

Arlington County School Board Increases Budget Transparency

A recent addition to the Arlington Public Schools website are the questions School Board members raised from their review of the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2007 budget as well as the staff responses. In addition to the Q&A’s, there is a table of all 56 (at last count) questions, date asked, and the department responsible for responding. For example, questions include the amount in the Schools’ capital account, variables responsible for the 8.3% increase in the operating fund, and how “the costs of the Glebe infant/toddler program compare to the costs of the Career Center baby program?” Yessiree, they start ‘em young in the Arlington public schools! It ain’t just K-12 anymore!

Reading the responses, you learn, for example, the School Board could have $13.8 million stashed away in their capital accounts, and how its allocated. Or you would learn that the bus driver attrition rate since February 2004 has been about 1% per month.

We encourage Arlington taxpayers to read through the Q&A's in order to better understand how their tax money is used. More importantly, we’re sure taxpayers will raise even more substantive questions. And if you want to read the Q&A’s raised about the Fairfax County Public Schools budget, the link is here. Kudos to the School Board and Superintendent for this added transparency. Now let's see how long it takes to get the County Board to post their Q&A's as well as the reports of the Board-appointed Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.

April 05, 2006

Dulles Rail – Built on Deception?

An editorial in the March 28, 2006 DC Examiner claims the Dulles Rail project was “built on deception.” According to the editorial, it is “one of the most outsized and cynical boondoggles ever foisted upon (Fairfax) county residents."

Wondering how generous their Grand Poohbahs are with taxpayers money? The editorial says, “Last December . . . Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin informed the state that the county would pay all cost overruns from the general fund or future bond sales – both of which are primarily financed by residential property taxes.”

And it’s not just Fairfax’s Grand poohbahs, either. The Examiner editorial continues: “The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Fairfax Board of Supervisors have not been honest about the final cost of the largest public works project in Virginia history, who will pay for it, or even what it will look like.”

Guess the Grand Poohbahs didn’t want us peons worrying our little heads off.

April 04, 2006

Myths and Facts of Who Pays Federal Income Taxes

One of the myths perpetuated by liberals is that tax cuts go to the rich while spending cuts go to the poor. That’s not what the facts are, however, at least according to this fact sheet published last week by the Tax Foundation. Using IRS data, the Tax Foundation estimates that 43.4 million (32 percent) returns, representing 91 million individuals, will “pay zero federal income tax after taking advantage of deductions and credits . . . Adding to this figure the 15 million households and individuals who file no tax returns at all, roughly 121 million Americans – or 41 percent of the U.S. population – will be completely outside the federal tax system in 2006”. Table 1 in the analysis shows the percent of returns with zero tax liability was 28% in 1950, dropped to 16% by the late 1960s, peaked at 26% in the late 1970s, dropped to 18% in the mid-1980s, but has since steadily risen to its current level of 32%. In Virginia, there were 945,257 returns, or 27%, that had a zero or negative tax liability.

The concern, according to the Tax Foundation, is that reform of the federal tax system “requires that the base of the federal income tax be widened so that overall tax rates can be reduced . . . (and) any attempt to broaden the tax base will be a difficult sell for lawmakers.” In his latest column, Thomas Sowell asks whether facts are obsolete. We hope this post helps dispel the myth that low-income people are shouldering the burden of the tax cuts received by the rich.

April 03, 2006

Another $1 Billion of Taxpayer Money Down the Government Rathole

Yesterday’s Indianapolis Star reported on an audit by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General. The newspaper said that “(m)ismanagement of a $1 billion technology contract by the Transportation Security Administration resulted in the expenditure of the entire budget long before all of the needed computer and telephone equipment was installed . . . The $1 billion was supposed to be enough to finance the project through 2009, the audit said, but most of the money ran out this year before many projects were complete . . . The audit found that much of the work on the contract proceeded without normal oversight.” And these government bureaucrats want pay raises? Sheesh! [Hat Tip to Virginia News Source]

April 02, 2006

Arlington Taxpayers Spend How Much, and Schools Management Doesn't Do What?

A front-page story in the March 30 edition of the Arlington Sun-Gazette focused on a report from the schools committee (Adobe required) of the Arlington County Civic Federation. According to the Sun-Gazette, the report "contends that county school officials are failing to track students well enough to see why some fail the state-mandated Standards of Learning tests, or SOLs."

The Federation's committee researched school budgets for the years 2001-2005, and found that $230 million was spent "raising student achievement and eliminating the (achievement) gap" during those five years. The report's executive summary says that while achieving "gratifying results in the increasing percentages of students passing the SOL tests and other measures of progress, However, we also found that there may be a hard core of 150-200 students (approximately 15% - 20%) in each grade who fail to meet the SOL standards, even when looked at longitundinally." The newspaper quotes comittee chairman Beth Wolffe as saying, "The system takes snapshots of kids in a certain year, but it doesn't follow kids to see if they are making progress."

According to the Superintendent's proposed FY 2007 budget, Arlington taxpayers will spend $17,923 per student (page 51).

April 01, 2006

Arlywood – Propaganda Film Capital of Local Government

Another chapter in the use of your tax dollars! And this isn't an April Fool's joke either. Last Wednesday’s edition of the DC Examiner reported that “Arlington County’s government access cable channel, AVN74, has released the first episode in a series of TV documentaries that explore issues such as transportation, emergency services, and affordable housing. The first episode, titled “Affordable Housing?” addresses the need for and lack of affordable housing in the county from the view of low-to moderate-income residents, senior citizens, developers and county government officials.”

Channel AVN74 is part of the $1.2 million Communications Division of the Department of Libraries (reference page 9, section H, Manager’s Proposed FY 2007 budget).

For the record, Arlington taxpayers do more than their “fair share” to subsidize so-called affordable housing. One needs look at just two documents. Look first at the Summary of Resources, page ix of the FY 2005 Comprehensive Annual Performance Report [CAPER] (Adobe required), which is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). It shows that Arlington County officials used $93 million in federal, state, local, and private money in providing so-called affordable housing. Then, according to data in the Washington Council of Government’s 2003 Housing Data Survey (Adobe required), one learns that Arlington County’s “effort per 1,000 population ranks third among local governments in subsidizing housing, as measured by the number of rental and public housing units per 1,000 residents:

Alexandria – 29.01
Arlington – 28.33
Washington, DC – 36.73
Fairfax County – 12.12
Falls Church – 12.86
Loudoun County – 16.99
Montgomery County – 22.53
Prince George’s County – 6.60
Prince William County – 7.30

With numbers like that, it’s no wonder that Arlington’s grand poobahs have to get its propaganda machine running.