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June 21, 2006

Watchdog Should Be in Your Mailboxes Soon

The Watchdog editor took the newsletter to the printer today, and it should be delivered to most members sometime next week. The Big Growler will return to growling next week.

June 19, 2006

Promise Her Anything, But Give Her a National Park

Yesterday’s Duluth News Tribune reported that an appropriations subcommittee chaired by Congressman Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) “created the First Ladies National Historic Site in his district in Canton, Ohio.” But it gets better. The paper also reports the historic site was his wife’s inspiration, and she “is the founding president of the nonprofit National First Ladies’ Library, which operates the historic site for the National Park Service” for which she receives no salary.

Here’s the kicker, dear taxpayers: “Over the years, Ralph Regula’s subcommittee has inserted more than $4.5 million in special “earmarks” for the first ladies site into federal spending bills. That includes $800,000 to buy a mansion that once belonged to President William McKinley and his wife and $2.5 million to help renovate a nearby bank building that his wife’s group owns.” Ah, the things that are done with taxpayers money. Sheesh!

HTs to Demian Brady at Government Bytes and Andrew Roth at Club for Growth.

June 18, 2006

LA Times Gets Close to Saying It’s OK to Waste Taxpayer Money

The Los Angeles Times wrote an editorial yesterday (may require free registration) that said, “FEMA did mismanage (hurricane) Katrina relief, but it’s wrong to blame victims for spending irresponsibly.” They admit that 16% of expenditures being improper is admittedly high for a federal aid program compared to such programs as food stamps (5.9%) or unemployment insurance (10.1%), and then go on to claim that disaster relief “comes at the price of reduced efficiency." The editorial closes by saying that “obsessing about the spending habits of refugees comes perilously close to blaming the victims.”

Hey, LA Times, how about the issue of personal responsibility?

June 17, 2006

“Spring Cleaning,” A Start, but Now Start Scrubbing

How’s this for the latest in wasteful federal spending? According to this press release from the office of House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), “Many American consumers faced higher energy prices when a flawed federal law forced a hydroelectric power company to spend $77 million to save twenty salmon. You’re reading that right: $77 million, or $3.85 million per fish. Another federal program paid people to plant trees. The cost to taxpayers for that boondoggle? $30 million.”

Those are just two of the more egregious examples in a new 61-page report (Adobe required), entitled "Spring Cleaning," that targets wasteful spending of the taxes paid by American taxpayers. The report highlights recent examples from House committee oversight hearings. While this effort is to be congratulated, how much waste, fraud, and abuse have yet to be uncovered?

June 16, 2006

Repeat After Me! Higher Spending Does Not Equal Higher Performance.

On May 16, 2006, Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services announced they had identified 12 Virginia school districts as “outperformers” for school year 2004-2005. To achieve that distinction, school districts must not only outperform their peers, but significantly exceed statistical expectations and do so consistently. In fact, 10 of the 12 districts achieved that distinction three consecutive years. The school districts, and the methodology used to select them, is available at S&P's SchoolMatters.com.

Below are the 12 school districts, including their cost per pupil, according to Table 15 of the Virginia Superintendent of Instruction’s Annual Report for FY 2005. The cost per student for these 12 school districts ranged from $7,224 to $9,672. By comparison, the Arlington Public Schools spent $16,984 per student, the highest in Virginia.

School District -- Cost per Student
Charlotte County Public Schools -- $8,123
Franklin County Public Schools -- $8,202
Halifax County Public Schools -- $9,094
Mecklenburg County Public Schools -- $7,793
Norfolk City Public Schools -- $9,076
Northampton County Public Schools -- $9,672
Patrick County Public Schools -- $7,784
Poquoson City Public Schools -- $7,224
Rockingham County Public Schools -- $8,435
Salem City Public Schools -- $8,386
Scott County Public Schools -- $8,104
West Point Public Schools -- $9,494

June 15, 2006

BRAC Task Force Presents Report to Arlington County Board

Over the next several years, the Department of Defense will vacate 4.2 million square feet of office space in Arlington. In fact, Arlington will lose almost 22,000 jobs, including 17,000 “direct jobs.” The task force was formed by the Economic Development Commission in October 2005 and endorsed by the Board in December.

This afternoon, the Board held a worksession with the BRAC Transition Task Force that lasted just over an hour and one-half. Much more information, including the task force’s report, various PowerPoint presentations, and meeting minutes, is available at BRACArlington, a website set-up by the county. Earlier this week, the Board announced a planning task force for Crystal City, according to this press release.

June 14, 2006

Katrina & Rita Relief – Not Millions, but $1.4 Billion was Bogus

Today’s New York Times reports that “(a)s much as $1.4 billion in government disaster aid to victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita – nearly a quarter of the total – went to bogus or undeserving victims, a new Congressional investigation concludes.” For example, “a man stayed more than two months on the government tab at a hotel in Hawaii that cost more than $100 a night. At the same time, he was getting $2,358 in government rent assistance, even though he had not been living in the property he claimed was damaged in the storm.”

“FEMA also provided cash or housing assistance to more than 1,000 prison inmates, totaling millions of dollars; one inmate used a post office box to collect $20,000 . . . In another case, 24 payments, totaling $109,708, were sent to a single apartment, where eight people each submitted requests for aid eight times, each time using their own Social Security numbers.”

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the fraudulent payments could range from $600 million to $1.4 billion, but the most likely amount was $1 billion, or 16% of the $6 billion of aid that was distributed. Sheesh! GAO report (full report and one-page highlight; both require Adobe).

June 13, 2006

Earmarks: Thomas Jefferson Warned About Them, Too

The editorial in today’s DC Examiner points out, “Earmarks are nothing new . . .Indeed, a 1796 letter written by Thomas Jefferson to James Madison warned about a ‘scene of eternal scramble among the members, who can get the most money wasted in their State ... .’”

Then it continues: “Earmarks — and the political corruption they represent — would make a perfect campaign issue for an opposition party intent on recapturing Congress this year. Unfortunately, Democrats like (Sen.) Reid and (Rep.) Moran don’t see anything wrong with the shoddy practice itself — just the fact that the Republican majority is in a position to dole out most of the pork, not them. Instead of promising to shut down the all-you-can-eat buffet, Democrats would just serve a different set of diners.”

The editorial ends by saying that “earmarks themselves won’t disappear until voters demand a permanent end to such wanton gluttony at their expense — and then back it up at the ballot box.”

June 12, 2006

Does Arlington County Have a Permanent “Get Out of Jail Free” Card?

Today’s DC Examiner reports, “Despite having already borrowed $11 million over the past 16 years to build a new fire station for the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department, Arlington County has failed to start construction and will seek Tuesday to borrow an additional $13 million to keep the project going. The county issued bonds to raise money for the station in 1990, 1994, 2004 and 2006. Numerous delays have kept the project from moving forward, and more money must be borrowed to complete it.”

Moreover, the paper adds that “Cherrydale is not the only bond-supported project with problems. An additional $8 million for Westover Library was requested in Arlington’s 2007 Capital Improvement Plan. This is on top of the $4 million raised in a 1998 bond issue. Construction has yet to begin on the library.” The Examiner quoted Wayne Kubicki, a fellow member of the County’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, who said that projects are often placed on the ballot before they “are fully thought through.”

Different rules must apply to government than to private industry. When top Enron officials were found guilty of similar flimflamery last month, their top officials are getting set to do hard time in the slammer. Will Arlington voters hold the Arlington County Board accountable come November?

June 11, 2006

A Budget Milestone for Arlington County? Drum roll, please!

Remember it this way, local government in Arlington County will spend $5,000 for each man, woman, and child living in the county. How’s that, you say? On Tuesday evening, the Arlington County Board will almost surely approve an amendment to the FY 2007 budget they adopted on April 22 that will push the “total budget” above $1 billion. According to the County Manager’s report for item 22 (text, attachment – both require Adobe), which was on the Board’s so-called “consent agenda,” the resolutions “reflect final changes approved by the School Board subsequent to the County Board’s adoption of the FY 2007 budget.

Why the drum roll, though? Assuming the Board approves the Manager’s recommendations, the “total budget for county and school purposes” will be $1.003 billion. With the county’s population at very close to 200,000, that means local government in the county is spending $5,000 per man, woman, and child. Is that enough government? No wonder people jokingly refer to Arlington County as the “peoples’ republic!”

For a bit more perspective on the meaning of Arlington's $1 billion budget, consider the economy of El Salvador, a country of 6.8 million people, has an estimated (2005) per capita gross domestic product of $4,700, according to the CIA World Fact Book. It seems an especially poignant comparison since Arlington took the first step last week to establish a Sister City relationship with San Miguel, that country's second largest city.

HT to budget hawk Bob Atkins.

June 10, 2006

Vote for Me, “I’ll Earmark the _ _ _ _ Out of It.” Porks ok for My District.

At last night’s Arlington County Democratic Committee’s Jackson-Jefferson Dinner, according to Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun-Gazette, Moran said “that while he in theory might oppose the fiscal irresponsibility of “earmarks” - funneling money to projects in a member of Congress's district - he understands the value they have to constituents. “When I become chairman [of a House appropriations subcommittee], I'm going to earmark the shit out of it,” Moran buoyantly told a crowd of 450 attending the event.”

According to his bio, Jim Moran (D), who represents Virginia’s 8th district – includes Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, and parts of eastern and northern Fairfax County – was a founding member of the New Democrat Coalition, “a group of moderate House Democrats who focus on strengthening fiscal responsibility, education and economic competitiveness.” He is serving his 16th year in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Growls has a record of opposing Congressional pork-barrel spending. See here and here, among others. In addition, Porkbusters provides more on the fight against pork-barrel spending.

To contact Rep. Moran, click here; the page includes the phone numbers to contact him that way.

June 09, 2006

How does the Arlington County Board Justify This?

According to Wednesday’s DC Examiner, “The Arlington County Manager’s Office, in a report on the proposed 2007 budget, warned that homeowners are shouldering much of the real estate tax burden, as home prices are outpacing office space prices.” That wasn’t a real surprise to most Arlington taxpayers since we bear the complete cost of the Arlington County Board.

But the Examiner also reported, “County real estate tax revenue more than doubled from approximately $165 million in 1995 to an estimated $420 million in 2007, according to Arlington budget projections and financial records.” According to my calculator, that’s a 155% increase in 10 years. At the same time, inflation was only 25.5%, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the view of most taxpayers, then, I'm sure, the County Board raised real estate taxes six times faster than inflation.

The County Board likes to talk in terms of such progressive shibboleths as social justice, but it is apparent that social justice is not a concept applied to taxpayers.

June 06, 2006

Need for Accountability and Transparency of Federal Grants

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has sponsored S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act that would “create a publicly-available website that would list every entity receiving federal grants or contracts and the totals awarded for the last ten fiscal years,” according to this letter to Sen. Coburn. The letter adds that “(s)uch a website would entail very little cost and would greatly increase transparency in the distribution of government funding.” The federal government provides about $300 billion annually to about 30,000 entities.

The lead signatory was the National Taxpayers Union, and included such leading citizen organizations as the Project on Government Oversight, American Conservative Union, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and Citizens Against Government Waste. ACTA also signed the letter. As noted in the letter, “At last, those who most deserve to know about this process – the American people – would have the tool they need to conduct their own evaluations of Washington's priorities.”

June 05, 2006

K Street, Congress, and Lobbying

Saturday’s New York Times takes an indepth look at the career of one Congressional staffer turned K Street lobbyist, Letitia White, a former staffer for Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-California). The article is linked to this post at Government Bytes, the blogsite of the National Taxpayers Union, by John Berthoud, NTU’s president.

Berthoud puts the NY Times article into perspective when he writes, “This is the type of incestuous, big-government stuff that so infuriates conservatives across America. Republican politicians on the Hill and their allies in cushy lobbying firms just don't get it. They rant that all the recent Congressional scandals are unfairly tarnishing them. Supposedly, the difference between Duke Cunningham and most Members of Congress is black and white. The truth is that the difference is probably a very slight shade of grey (at most) . . . Sadly, too many people come to Washington to do good and they end up just focusing on doing well. Count Mr. Ashdown among those of us who remain committed to doing good. As for Ms. White, judge for yourself.”

Re: the mention of Mr. Ashdown. He is vice-president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, and his analysis, as mentioned in the NY Times story, “identified earmarks in the current fiscal year benefiting more than two-thirds of Ms. White’s 53 clients.” Reporters may call them earmarks, but taxpayers know them as pork-barrel spending.

June 04, 2006

Federal Government Acknowledges End of Spanish-American War

Yes, we know, the Spanish-American War began and ended in 1898. However, the telephone tax, which Congress passed to pay for the war has continued to this day, as explained in this 1999 issue brief produced by the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. However, according to John Berthoud, NTU President, in this May 25, 2006 NTU press release, “Americans will be thrilled to learn that the Treasury has finally chosen to wind down the government’s unseemly game of dialing for tax dollars.”

Would Benjamin Franklin now be willing to modify his famous saying, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes?”

June 03, 2006

Arlington School Board Defers Capital Spending Decisions

Ryan Self of the Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that “(w)ith government revenue projections seemingly tightening by the day, School Board members and Superintendent Robert Smith have taken their Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) back to the drawing board.” School Board members were scheduled to make a final decision at their June 1 meeting. According to Self, “The school system's policy is to have debt payments not exceed 10 percent of all expenditures, and the latest recommended plan would have payments very close to that threshold in coming years.”

You can read the Schools CIP at the APS website. You can write to School Board members.

June 01, 2006

Porkers, Your Tax Dollars, and the “Railroad to Nowhere"

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has just selected Mississippi Senators Thad Cochran (R) and Trent Lott (R) as their “Porkers of the Month for adding $700 million for the “railroad to nowhere” to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2006 (H.R. 4929) . . . The “railroad to nowhere” is one of dozens of earmarks tacked onto the Senate bill, including $3.9 billion for agricultural subsidies, $500 million for a corporate welfare bailout of Northrop Grumman, and $6 million for two Hawaii sugar plantations. It comes on the heels of the controversy over the $223 million “bridge to nowhere” for Alaska in the 2005 highway authorization bill.”

CAGW adds, “The railroad controversy arose after Hurricane Katrina destroyed a portion of the CSX rail line in Mississippi. CSX spent $300 million to fix the line and a company spokesperson said, “There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.” The $700 million would be spent to divert the tracks a few miles to the north, making way for U.S. 90 to be rebuilt along the rail bed. Sens. Cochran and Lott say the switch is necessary for safety reasons and to protect the track from future hurricanes. However, The Washington Post reported that “much of the rail line along the Gulf Coast would remain in hurricane danger, and the proposed rerouting would affect only a small part.” Read the remainder of the CAGW press release.

Imagine what our taxes would be if Congress followed the Constitution, and the Arlington County Board funded only core services?