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May 31, 2006

Are Federal Workers Underpaid?

In an analysis (Adobe required) comparing federal government compensation to that in the private-sectors published earlier this month by the Cato Institute, Chris Edwards writes, “The average federal worker earned $100,178 in wages and benefits in 2004, which compared to $51,876 for the average private sector worker, according to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data. Looking just at wages, federal workers earned an average $66,558, 56 percent more than the $42,635 earned by the average private worker . . . Since 1990, average compensation has increased 115 percent in the government and 69 percent in the private sector, while average wages have increased 104 percent in the government and 65 percent in the private sector.”

The disparity between federal government and private sector pay has been in a general growth pattern since 1950. According to Edwards, the ratio of federal to private pay was 1.19 in 1950, but by 2004, the ratio has grown to 1.93. Edwards acknowledges there are multiple reasons for the increases in federal pay, but adds that workers move "into higher salary brackets regardless of performance, and by jobs that are redefined upward into higher pay ranges."

Edwards points out one indicator of the adequacy of federal pay is the "quit rate," which is 1/4 that in the private sector. "That suggests," writes Edwards, "that pay in most federal jobs is more than adequate, and workers could be attracted with reduced compensation." As an Arlington sage would say, “government by government for government paid by you know who.”

May 29, 2006

Memorial Day

I found this video, titled True Meaning of Memorial Day. Amid all the other things we do this weekend, its a reminder of the day's true meaning.

HT NewsBusters.

May 27, 2006

Bailing and Bailing, at Taxpayers Expense

This story at the National Center for Policy Analysis, which is based on a Wall Street Journal editorial, provides a perfect example of why capitalism and market forces are superior to government. When federal flood insurance, though, will pay to repair your home not once, but 11 times, why not continue living in New Orleans’s Jefferson Parish. Or in Houston where one home has been repaired 16 times for a total of $807,000, seven times what it's worth?

NCPA writes, “Ideally Congress would abolish the NFIP, and homeowners would purchase flood insurance in the private market or accept the risks of building, says the Journal. But Congress has a history of bailing out homeowners from natural disasters, so abolishing the program would eliminate premium collections -- arguably leaving taxpayers worse off. Half of the New Orleans homeowners who will receive flood assistance from Katrina never bothered to pay any flood-insurance premiums. But that isn't stopping Congress from paying them to rebuild. Why does anyone pay premiums?”

Talk about taking personal responsibility? Better yet, American taxpayers should remind their Congressmen of Col. Davy Crockett's “Not Yours to Give” speech,, posted at Patriot Post, which he made in the U.S. House of Representatives when he served in the early 1800’s.

UPDATE 6/3/06. Further evidence that as long as Uncle Sugar is willing to subsidize building in hurricane-prone areas, things will be built. In this case, the state of North Carolina is encouraging development of one of the largest seaports on the East Coast. Sheesh!

May 26, 2006

The Efficiency of Arlington County Government? Not!

An Arlington citizen’s letter to the editor of the Arlington Sun-Gazette describes just how efficiently county street crews resurface county streets. The letter has to be read to believe just how inefficient and lackadaisical the crews were in repaving the street that the letter-writer lived on. To read the hour-by-hour process would be hilarious if it didn’t involve our tax dollars. On behalf of ACTA, I thank this Arlington citizen for taking the time to write the letter.

May 25, 2006

The Cost of The Promises Made by America’s Politicians

An analysis in today’s USA Today provides the bad news, which is that “(t)axpayers owe more than a half-million dollars per household for financial promises made by government, mostly to cover the cost of retirement benefits for baby boomers.” Unfortunately, government didn’t make those promises, however. Those are the promises made by politicians at the federal, state, and local level in order to obtain our votes.

According to USA Today, ”the total of government’s unfunded obligations” are “an unprecedented $57.8 trillion,” or $510,678 for each American family. The paper cites Ed Lorenzen of the Concord Coalition, who said, “These numbers show our long-term financial problems are even greater than our short-term ones.”

The paper provides a graph showing the two largest components of that $510,678 are Medicare ($263,377) and Social Security ($133,456), but it also includes almost $30,000 per family of state and local government debt and retirement benefits.

At least there's accountability for Enron's top executives.

May 24, 2006

A Call for Fiscal Restraint on School CIP Spending

The School Board held a public hearing last week on the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2007-20012 Capital Improvement Plan that totals $285 million, including $234 million from bonds if the plan is approved by the School Board. A focus of the hearing seemed to be Thomas Jefferson Middle School since the school had been ranked as second most in need of renovation, but seemed to be getting short shrift in the CIP, according to this week’s Arlington Connection.

Beth Wolffe, chair of the Arlington County Civic Federation’s schools committee, “called for the School Board to pursue a less aggressive, more fiscally conservative construction policy,” according to the Connection. Specifically, she said the committee’s report recommended scaling back the “proposed bond referendum from $78.5 million to about $44 million.”

Kudos to Ms. Wolffe and the ACCF schools committee!

May 22, 2006

Another $29 Billion of Pork – Thank the U.S. Congress

Last month, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) issued their 2006 Congressional Pig Book, an annual effort to compile all of Congress’ pork-barrel projects. According to their press release, CAGW has identified $241 billion in wasteful spending since 1991. Some highlights of the 2006 Pig Book include: $1million for the waterfree urinal initiative; $550,000 for the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington; and $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum in Sparta, North Carolina.

Arlington received only a small morsel of Congressional pork this year, i.e., $400,000 for a bus transfer facility. You can see the complete list of Virginia’s pork inserted by the Commonwealth’s Senators and Representatives into the various appropriations bills. Since Arlington County has its own Industrial Development Authority, we noted that $1 million was inserted into the SBA appropriation bill for the Halifax County IDA.

For more on pork-barrel spending, visit Porkbusters, Instapundit for the latest news on pork-barrel spending, and our February 11 Growls in which we thanked the efforts of U.S. Senator Tom Coburn for his fight against Congressional pork.

May 20, 2006

Some Facts and Figures Concerning Virginia’s Tax Climate

Don’t let the political elite get the upper hand when talking taxes. Arm yourself with the basic facts. For example, know that Tax Freedom Day in Virginia occurred on April 24th this year (20th nationally). The Tax Foundation has gathered this and other basic facts about Virginia's tax climate onto a single page to assist in your research.

While Virginia’s tax burden is below the national average, it has grown over the past 35 years – rising from 8.9% in 1970 (35th nationally) to 9.5% in 2006 (41st nationally). So when the politicians smile and tell you Virginia is a low-tax state, turn the tables on them by asking them to explain how you are better off today with an increased tax burden.

The Tax Foundation also presents facts about Virginia’s business tax climate, both individual and corporate income taxes, sales taxes, and federal income taxes. Kudo’s to the Tax Foundation for this valuable information.

May 18, 2006

The End of Arlington County’s Windfall Profits Approaching?

A report in this week’s Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that home sales for April “declined 7.2 percent compared to a year before, and the average sales price dipped a bit, too.” For the first four months of the year, there were 420 sales compared to 424 sales a year ago. The average sales price dropped from $736,291 to $729,752.

While many have been anticipating this break in real estate, it’s likely the end of the windfall the county has been receiving the last several years from skyrocketing assessments. Of course, Arlington County government’s appetite for more of our taxes never slows down.

May 17, 2006

Angry Taxpayers Cause "Earthquake in Pennsylvania"

Last July, several leaders in the Pennsylvania legislature in Harrisburg crafted a pay raise of 16 to 34 percent for themselves and other state officials. The pay raises were later rescinded in November, but that did little to defuse voter anger, according to today’s Pittsburg Post-Gazette. According to the Post-Gazette, “Senate President Pro Tem Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, and Senate Majority Leader David Brightbill, R-Lebanon, two of the architects of the pay raise, were defeated by candidates who presented more conservative platforms.” Ten other incumbents also lost primary challenges. See also the Pittssburgh Tribune-Review's take on yesterday's elections in Pennsylvania, or this AP story noting that the two parties are spinning the story in different directions.

The paper also reported, ""This has been a tremendous defeat that I predict will reverberate throughout the Legislature for months to come," said G. Terry Madonna, head of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall University. Mr. Madonna said that across the state many Republican incumbents lost their nominations to more conservative challengers. That could mean substantial changes in the relationship between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. "It looks like we're going to have a much more conservative leadership in the Republican Party," Mr. Madonna said.”

And for a cartoonist's view of how the Pennsylvania legislature treated taxpayers, the National Taxpayers Union cartoon blogged the story last July.

May 16, 2006

How Do You Spell Tax Increase? A-F-F-0-R-D-A-B-L-E

That looks to be the case after reading about the latest initiative from Gov. Tim Kaine (D). Called “Smart Beginnings,” it directs “new and improved resources to families with children from birth to age five. According to a press release from the governor’s office last week announcing the launch of the initiative, he also named a Start Strong Pre-K Council, which “will focus on developing an affordable, effective, and efficient blueprint for expanding access to high-quality, pre-kindergarten education to every child in Virginia.” (emphasis added).

The liberal Roanoke Times touted the initiative in an editorial this past Sunday. In it, they noted its cost as $300 million. They noted that half of Wisconsin’s school districts offer free preschool for 4 year-olds. If starting kids in public schools at age 4 is good, then why not start when kids are age 3, or even 2. Looks like cradle-to-grave government is just over the horizon, even in Virginia, and that requires tax increases.

May 14, 2006

Arlington Public Schools – Expensive and Getting More So

On May 2, I growled when I saw the cost per pupil numbers for Virginia’s school districts for the 2003-2004 school-year (SY). The Virginia Department of Education now has per pupil spending numbers posted for the 2004-2005 SY. Never fear -- Arlington is still the most expensive school district in Virginia with per pupil spending of $16,964 (operating fund only).

For the following analysis, however, I compared the change in per pupil spending of the six districts in Northern Virginia over five years, i.e., from SY 1999-2000 to SY 2004-2005 (Table 15 in the state superintendent’s annual report) and relative to that year’s state average. For example, for the earlier SY, Arlington spent an average of $11,697 per pupil, which was 67.5% above the state average of $6,985. By SY 2004-2005, however, Arlington’s spending per pupil was $16,964, or 84.6% above the state average of $9,202. For the six Northern Virginia school districts, the comparable numbers are:

School District -- 1999-2000/2004-2005
Alexandria -- 53.5/73.5
Arlington -- 67.5/84.6
Fairfax -- 23.9/22.3
Falls Church -- 53.3/67.0
Loudoun – 2.2/22.2
Prince William -- <2.6>/<2/3>

Loudoun can claim that much of its increased spending was due to their fast growth. Interestingly, Fairfax and Prince William school officials were able to keep per pupil spending under control. Arlington taxpayers, however, may want to ask the School Board why it wasn’t able to maintain per pupil spending steady at 67.5% above the state average, or even reduce it somewhat. Consider that if Arlington’s per pupil spending had remained at 67.5% above the state average, the school budget for that last year could have been reduced by $27.6 million, or about a 5-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate. For the average residential homeowner that would have equated to a reduction of close to $200 in their real estate tax bill.

May 13, 2006

Fairfax County Kids Win Team Math Competition

Kudos to the four Fairfax County middle school kids for winning yesterday’s MATHCOUNTS national competition in Crystal City. According to the MATHCOUNTS homepage, it “is a national math enrichment, coaching and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory.” Today’s Washington Post provides the names and other details. There was also an individual competition in which the second-place finisher was home-schooled.

Here's a sample question, which the Post provided: "What is the sum of the first 40 positive odd integers?" The answer is 1,600.

May 12, 2006

Another “Class Warfare” Editorial from the Washington Post

Not sure about the meaning of the word cant? You can look it up at Dictionary.com, or you can refer to this editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post on the latest federal tax cuts working their way through Congress. One definition of cant is jargon or the “special terminology understood among the members of a profession, discipline, or class but obscure to the general population.” In the case of the Post editorial, it would be the language of the political left. For example, talking about a “windfall for the rich" or describing a tax cut as being “larded up.”

Apparently, the editorial writers at the Post don’t want to confuse themselves with the facts, either. For example, they note that “(n)early half of the benefits from extending the cuts on capital gains and dividend income would go to households with incomes of more than $1 million.” If they bothered looking up who pays income taxes, they would find it’s some of those same people who will receive much of those tax cuts. See, for example, these National Taxpayers Union’s tables of who pays federal income taxes.

Since the editorial writers cite the left of center Urban Institute-Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, it appears they were not at all interested in facts.

May 11, 2006

Expensive, and Getting More So -- Arlington Public Schools CIP

According to the Schools capital improvement plan (CIP) for FY 2007-2012, which the Superintendent presented to the School Board a week ago, Arlington voters have approved $375 million in bond referenda since 1988. Despite that, the capital spending plans shows that the replacement cost of the three high schools is rapidly approaching $100 million each. The plan expects the 2006 school bond referendum will request voters to approve a $78.3 million bond. Plus $95.8 million in 2008 and $60.2 million in 2010.

Seth Rosen, reporter for the Arlington Connection, writes in this week’s issue: “The hike in construction prices "is a major concern," School Board Chair Dave Foster said. “It makes us prioritize, threatens to delay some projects and eats up a bigger percentage of the operating funds, deflecting money from day to day priorities.”” Rosen notes the debt is approaching the county’s guideline that restricts debt service to 10% of the operating budget. He then quotes School Board member Mary Hynes, “We are bumping against these ratios the county has laid out to ensure we keep a triple-AAA rating from the bond houses.”

How quickly would Arlington County lose its AAA bond rating if we relied on the political elite to control its desire to spend?

May 10, 2006

Arlington County & Those Who Care

Arlington County's political elite like to refer to the county being a "caring community." It's even embedded in Arlington’s so-called vision, which is posted on the county’s homepage. It even appears in large print on the second page of this year’s budget book – immediately following a picture of the five Board members on the first page. Several years ago, a member of the County Board even asked the County Manager to provide him a list of spending that would show that Arlington is, in fact, a caring community. Obviously, he never bothered looking through the county budget.

We were reminded of all that when we saw Walter Williams’ latest column in which he asks “What human motivation leads to the most wonderful things getting done?” A hint: it ain’t government! Nor charitable organizations. According to Dr. Williams, professor of economics at George Mason University, “results motivated by charity and selflessness pale in comparison to other motives behind getting things done.” He then goes on to applaud free markets and the role of the profit motive. Will the county's political elite learn from the lesson in economics? Don't hold your breath!

May 09, 2006

Paying to Lobby Against Yourself, Redux

The July 2003 issue of our newsletter, The ACTA Watchdog (Adobe required) discussed the outrageous campaign of the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo), one of the County Board’s primary lobbying organizations in Richmond, to “educate voters about the need to raise taxes for K-12 education, state transportation, and public safety.” As we noted, the Arlington County Board spends over $34,000 annually for its VACo membership.

We were reminded of that Watchdog article informing ACTA members of such wasteful spending of Arlington taxpayers’ money when we saw a similar article in the Heritage Foundation’s Fall 2005 Insider magazine (Adobe required), which discussed lobbying efforts by the Texas Association of Counties and the Texas Municipal League. The article points out that “(a)llowing the government the authority to allocate taxpayer funds for lobbying transforms government from its appropriate role as a neutral policymaker into an advocate of certain policies and ideologies.” The author is one of three taxpayers who filed suit alleging that Williamson County “illegally expended funds to join an association that lobbies.” We hope they prevail!

May 08, 2006

History of Federal Taxation

Want to know more about a particular aspect of federal taxation? The Tax History Project is the place to look. It's a public service initiative of Tax Analysts, which they started in 1995. They've pulled together an Internet library of documents and other tax-related historical information. For example, there's an essay on the Boston Tea Party and a January 2001 Congressional Research Report (CRS) on the federal income tax. Whether you're fed-up with taxes, or just interested in learning the history of federal taxation, it's worth spending time browsing around the wealth of reading at the Tax History Project.

May 06, 2006

Arlington County Schools: Highest Cost, But What Are The Results?

The Arlington Sun-Gazette reports on the Arlington School Board’s approval of the FY 2007 Schools $398.3 million budget Thursday evening. The Sun-Gazette’s reporter, Ryan Self, asks, “What will it cost taxpayers to educate each of the school system’s projected 18,263 students over the next school year?” Acknowledging that “school officials don’t like it this way, the easiest calculation is to take the total adopted budget and divide it by the number of students,” and that number is $21,792 per student.

Arlington school officials report a number in their budget of $17,923, which is calculated according to the “WABE Method” to provide comparability across the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area (explained on page 51 of the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2007 budget). However, when debt service and other spending is included, total expenditures in the budget are $398.3 million. Future growls will address just what Arlington taxpayers are receiving for their tax dollars.

May 05, 2006

Where Much of Your Taxes Go: Arlington County's Public Schools

Three days ago, we growled that Arlington had the highest cost schools in Virginia for the 2003-2004 school year. That #1 ranking is likely to remain Arlington's. Last night, in a 4-1 vote, the Arlington School Board approved the FY 2007 budget that increases operating expenditures by 8.2% (staff report for agenda item E.1) even though enrollment will decrease by 148 students (0.8%), according to the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2007 budget.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor, the year-to-year inflation is 3.4% (CPI-U). In explaining his vote to fellow Board members, Dave Foster said, among other things, that he was concerned about the rate of growth in the school budget while Frank Wilson said he grew up poor and understands the value of a dollar. Libby Garvey said the Board was doing what the community wants. The previous week, we growled that we looked forward to the results of the school efficiency review when it is finally conducted. As explained in the Schools' press release, the School Board actually increased the Superintendent's proposed budget by $1.6 million.

May 04, 2006

Minimum Wages, Bipartisan Support, and the Facts

On Tuesday, the Arlington County Civic Federation welcomed the annual visit of Arlington’s General Assembly legislators. The budget impasse in the General Assembly, was obviously the topic du juor, and was covered by the Arlington Sun-Gazette.

Legislators addressed Federation delegates’ questions. For example, Del. Al Eisenberg (D) noted that he was a co-patron of HB 539, which was patroned by Del. Vince Callahan (R-McLean)., to raise the minimum wage in Virginia by stages to $8.15 by July 2008. However, the bill didn’t get out of the House’s Committee on Commerce and Labor.

We were reminded of the bill by the column Dr. Walter Williams, economics professor at George Mason University, who explained in yesterday’s Washington Times why raising the minimum wage is "maximum folly." Dr. Williams cites a few statistics supporters of the minimum wage gloss over, e.g., “(w)orkers earning the minimum wage or less tend to be young, single workers between ages 16 and 25. Only about 2 percent of workers over 25 years of age earn minimum wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: 63 percent of minimum wage workers receive raises within one year of employment, and only 15 percent still earn the minimum wage after three years.” He also cites two surveys of academic economists who “agreed that increasing the minimum wage causes unemployment among youth and low-skilled workers. Thankfully, the vast majority of Virginia state legislators had the good economic sense to let HB 539 die in committee.

May 03, 2006

“From Limited Government to Leviathan”

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” So how has the federal government grown to its present size?

Roger Pillon, vice president of legal affairs at the Cato Institute, provides a concise answer in the Winter 2006 Cato’s Letter (Adobe required). In the conclusion, Pillon writes: “Vast numbers of Americans look to Washington for a rich array of “entitlements” that speak of nothing so much as the illusion of something for nothing. And politicians nurture that illusion, propelling us all in the downward spiral that Thomas Hobbes aptly called a war on all against all. Stated otherwise, as contributors to public largesse become fewer and recipients more numerous, the downward spiral becomes a death spiral. And we are headed in that direction as discipline continues to erode.”

The essay should be required reading by every member of Congress.

May 02, 2006

Arlington Public Schools Still Number 1 in Cost to Taxpayers

Virginia has 132 school districts. Information about their enrollment, per pupil spending, and amount per pupil spent on compensation was computed by the Education Intelligence Agency (Adobe required) based upon the Census Bureau’s latest Annual Survey of Local Government Finances – School Systems, March 2006. For the 2003-2004 school-year, 12 Virginia school districts spent $10,000 or more per pupil. Arlington ranked highest, spending $14,273 per pupil. It was followed by Alexandria ($13,730), Falls Church ($13,418), Surry County ($11,240), Bath County ($11,168), and Charlottesville ($11,163). The other six school districts ranged between $10,135 and $10,757.

Between school years 2000-2001 and 2003-2004, nine Virginia school districts spending per pupil increased by 20% or more over the three-year period, However, only two of them increased by 25% or more – Arlington County (25.34%) and Loudoun County (26.58%). When EIA computed the change in per pupil spending on compensation, however, the two schools’ positions changed places – Arlington County (34.51%) was higher than Loudoun County (26.35%).

For comparison, per pupil spending in the United States in 2003-2004 was $8,287, and increased by 13.77% over the three-year period. In Virginia, those numbers were $8,225 and 13.01%, respectively. With an enrollment of 164,235 in school year 2003-2004, Fairfax County has the largest school district in Virginia. Their numbers were $10,159 and 12.40%, respectively.

This is certainly one time when numbers speak louder than words.

May 01, 2006

Arlington County’s Revenue Sharing Agreement and Other Folly

An editorial in today’s Newport News Daily Press (may require free registration) says that for “an illustration of why pre-set revenue-sharing agreements are a truly bad idea, look no further than Hampton” where their school district receives 62% of city taxes. According to the editorial, “(i)t doesn’t make sense that at a time when the city is planning to lay off staff and cut services, including some that contribute to the quality of life, an arbitrary formula will force it to shift money to the schools – in the absence of a hard assessment of real need. And if real estate assessments rise, the schools may get even more.”

The newspaper concludes by noting: “The taxpayers of Hampton – and every locality – deserve leaders who will evaluate the totality of needs and allocate all the money available among them . . . Each year, the entire array of needs and revenues must be on the table, and elected officials must make the hard decisions that come with the job. They must not be in the untenable position of giving the schools money for which the schools have not presented a compelling case.”

Other resources: details on Arlington County’s revenue sharing agreement (agenda item F-1 – Adobe required); a growls from November 2005; and, a “pro vs. con” by the School Board candidates in the August 2002 ACTA Watchdog (requires Adobe).