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July 31, 2006

Another ‘Bad Press’ Day for the Arlington County Board

This morning’s Washington Times reports that “(a) prominent Arlington nonprofit organization that has received millions of dollars to administer federal Head Start child care services for low-income families has shut down after government auditors uncovered sloppy accounting practices.” Not just plain “prominent” either. The organization in question, ACAP, was born out of a $194,000 grant from President Johnson’s “Great Society,” according to ACAP. It’s not clear how current the page is, but this webpage shows the names of a current County Board member, a current School Board member, a Constitutional officer, and a circuit court judge.

The Times story quotes from the HHS IG audit report, noting there was “a failure to implement sound fiscal policies and procedures.” Further, the IG report “is demanding that the nonprofit group refund more than $340,000 for ‘unallowable or unsupportable costs.’ The Times also reports that ACAP “claimed $2.05 million in grant money in fiscal 2005 as the county’s Head Start program to serve 293 children at four sites.” The IG audit report is available here (requires Adobe).

Makes you wonder how much else an Inspector General would find in our "world class" community, as Arlington County's poohbahs bills itself.

July 29, 2006

Taxpayers Keep Getting Milked, and Milked, and Milked

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, recently wrote that “(a) recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) decision is the latest example of how a Depression-era program is not only woefully out of date, but is also damaging to the industry that it regulates.”

Schatz goes on to say, “Rather than allowing commerce between dairy farmers and dairy manufacturers to flow freely, the milk marketing orders devise and administer a raft of intricate regulations to govern the overall price of milk. The regulations undermine the most basic free market concept of negotiating contractual agreements between buyers and sellers. The milk marketing orders also impose one of the more illogical pricing mechanisms imaginable ─ “differential” pricing, which establishes varying minimum price for milk in different regions of the country, based, in part, on how far the manufacturing plants are from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.”

He concludes by writing “(t)here is no doubt that USDA’s recent politically-calculated maneuvers are damaging to the dairy industry. That is the bad news. The good news is that this case may help to demonstrate that it is time, after 70 years of government price manipulation, to get the government out of the milk business” Kind of like the Spanish-American War telephone tax that we growled about on June 4.

July 27, 2006

Rep. Jim Moran Batting '0 for 19' on Pork

Rep. Jim Moran (D), who represents all of Arlington County in Congress scored a perfect “0 for 19” in opposing Congressional pork, according to the scorecard being maintained by the Club for Growth. However, as Andrew Roth at the Club’s blogsite explains: “Thanks to Congressman Jeff Flake's 19 anti-pork amendments, we now have every House member on record regarding their positions on earmarks. Before now, House members have been able to avoid scrutiny because their pork was co-mingled with other projects and tucked into the dark corners of big spending bills. Or they were able to withstand the scrutiny because they were attacked as a whole chamber and not directly attacked themselves. But because of Flake's amendments, they were recently forced to cast up-or-down votes on specific projects. They could no longer deflect attention.”

Arlington taxpayers: be sure to ask Mr. Moran, the next time you talk to him, or write to him, why he enjoys pork-barrel spending!

More of Your Federal Tax Dollars Wasted

Today’s Los Angeles Times (free registration required) reports that “amid a surge in spending, $34.3 billion in contracts were mismanaged,” according to a report “prepared by staff of the House Committee on Government Reform. For example, the paper writes “a $1-billion Transportation Safety Administration contract with Unisys Corp. in August 2002 to upgrade computer networks, investigators said Unisys overcharged taxpayers by billing up to $131 an hour for employees who were paid less than half that amount.”

The newspaper also reports that TSA lied to Congress about the estimated cost, noting that “TSA staff had privately estimated the cost of the Unisys contract at $3 billion to $5 billion but told congressional officials it would cost $1 billion because the lower number ‘would be more palatable.’”

Question for Congress: how many heads in the Department of Homeland Security will roll as a result of this waste and mismanagement?

July 24, 2006

Big Government and Big Business -- Partners in Plunder

The editorial in today’s Washington DC Examiner begins, “An incestuous web between big corporations and government regulators is sucking the lifeblood out of taxpayers and small businesses, according to a just-published book by Timothy Carney, a journalism fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute . . . Most of the billions government spends ‘for the public good’ eventually wind up in private bank accounts.” The editorial says that Carney explains that “(b)ig business and big government prosper from the perception that they are rivals instead of partners [in plunder],”

Virginians may find one chapter of special interest, i.e., “You Get Taxed, They Get Rich,” which examines “how former Gov. Mark Warner (D) pushed through the largest tax increase in the commonwealth’s history . . . (and) was helped by the state’s top business leaders, who themselves spent more than $7 million lobbying for higher taxes.”

Carney spoke at the Cato Institute earlier this month [podcast available]. The book is available locally at Olsson’s Books. Learn more about Carney’s views on the topic in the July/August 2006 Cato Policy Report. (requires Adobe).

July 23, 2006

Some Questions for the Arlington County Board’s Conservationists

Thomas Sowell’s column in Friday’s Washington Times is a must read for taxpayers who think the County Board spends too much on conservation projects, such as “green buildings,” “LEED certification,” or “smart growth” with far too little thought. Sowell writes, “When conservationists talk about "saving" this and "protecting" that, a logical question might be: Saving it from whom? Protecting it from whom? And why should the government force what you want on someone else who obviously wants something different, or there would not be an issue in the first place?”

He answers by writing, “Such questions almost never get asked. Nor do evidence or logic play much of a role in most conservation issues. Instead, we hear rhapsodies about "open space," sneers at "urban sprawl" and self-congratulatory phrases like "smart growth." Rhetoric has long since replaced reasons on this and many other issues.”

While Sowell focuses primarily on the San Francisco Bay area, there is some real wisdom in his column for the next time you’re confronted with the Board’s latest conservation scheme. [think lot coverage]

July 22, 2006

The Arlington County Board's 'Way' or the Highway?

As most Arlington voters know, all five members of the current Board are Democrats. However, for nearly a decade now, Arlington’s GOP has been allotted 20% of the seats on the many commissions and entities established by the Board. According to the Arlington Sun-Gazette, the arrangement was known as the “Eisenberg Amendment,” after former County Board member Al Eisenberg (D), who “helped make the deal with the Republicans.”

Apparently the Amendment is no more as the Board on July 11 refused to appointment two of the Republican members of their Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC). They also did not reappoint one Democrat to the Planning Commission. The Arlington Sun-Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey reported that the head of the local county said that “in the long run, local residents would be the losers in this grab for total control.”

Here is the Sun-Gazette’s original story. And the DC Examiner’s story by David Francis today.

July 21, 2006

Arlington County Officials Grow Government on Backs of Taxpayers

Arlington County prides itself on being a “caring” community. In fact, the term is included in the county’s vision statement. How caring, though, is a county that cares more about the size of its government than the financial health of its citizens?

Unfortunately, that’s the primary conclusion one arrives at when looking through the county’s budget books. In 1997, real estate taxes were $1,834 on the average single-family home. By 2006, the number has grown to $4,432, an increase of almost 142%. [these numbers appear on page 62 of the county’s adopted FY 2007 budget] On the other hand, personal income of Arlington residents has increased by approximately 54% during those 10 years. “Approximately” because exact numbers are not included with the graph I used to make that determination. [see graph of personal income in the “county profile” in section A of the county’s proposed FY2007 budget]

If the average real estate tax payment had grown at the same pace as personal income over the 10-year period, Arlington homeowners would have about $1,600 more this year to spend on their own health and happiness. Tell me who is greedy, Arlington's taxpayers or Arlington's local government?

July 20, 2006

Arlington County Board Engages in More ‘Redistribution of Income’

This time it’s the car tax. Remember the bumper stickers “Ax the Tax?” Well, it didn't get axed (at least not completely), and in Arlington County, it's going to take a bigger bite from your wallet.

Earlier this month, we growled about the Board’s methodology for distributing the state monies allocated for “car tax relief.” When they adopted the FY2007 budget and tax rates in April, they increased the car tax rate from $4.40 to $5.00, leaving staff the task of devising a methodology for distributing the state’s car tax relief. Rather than distribute the state monies on a fixed percentage basis like most other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, the Board applied it in a “highly progressive manner.”

An article in the Alexandria/Arlington weekly section in today’s Washington Post discusses the Board’s decision, including a sidebar containing the car tax rates of the other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

For example, the owner of a $22,000 vehicle would have paid $339 (owner’s share only) in 2005, but the owner of a $22,000 vehicle in 2006 will be paying $610. Why? According to Arlington County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman (D), the Board wanted to “apply an equity principle to taxation.” Sounds like more socialism to us. Arlington taxpayers can read the entire Manager’s report on this, which was agenda item #69 at the Board’s July 8 meeting.

July 19, 2006

Sen. Robert Byrd: A Lifetime Legacy as the “King of Pork”

According to Citizens Against Government Waste. “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.” Whenever taxpayers discuss pork, one name immediately comes to mind, and that is Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), the state’s senior senator. Since CAGW began tracking pork in 1991, West Virginia has received $2.95 billion in pork. Twice since 2001, West Virginia has ranked 4th in pork per capita.

CAGW named him Porker of the Month for June 2006 “for his legacy as the “King of Pork.” Mr. Byrd today becomes the longest-serving Senator in U.S. history” although CAGW “dubbed him the “King of Pork” in 1999 when West Virginia became the first state to garner $1 billion in pork in the collective Pig Book database.”

What a legacy! CAGW’s “Byrd Droppings” has cataloged at least 33 projects in West Virginia that bear his name even though CAGW reports that “Federal law prohibits the naming of federal structures after sitting members of Congress.” Keep a look-out for those structures on your next visit to West Virginia.

July 17, 2006

With All Those Planners, and Arlington County Still Gets It Wrong

The Arlington Sun-Gazette will report in Thursday’s edition that the County Board approved additions to “a host of Arlington County government construction contracts.” Projects include the Shirlington Library/Theatre ($542,000), Trades Center in Shirlington ($500,000), the Shirlington Bus Transfer Station (original estimated cost $4.3 million; new estimate is $5.7 million), and Fire Station #3 (no amount reported).

The increased cost for the Trades Center was attributed to a design error, which county officials will try to recoup from the architect. As county budget hawk Bob Atkins might say, “Mistakes were made.” Perhaps the mistake too many Arlington taxpayers make is trusting far too much of their taxes to the local government poobahs in Arlington County?

More details on any of the above can be found in the County Manager’s “board reports” (items 30, 31, 33, 34, and 35) on the Arlington County Board’s July 8 agenda.

July 16, 2006

“Governor Kaine Went for the TV”

Kerry Dougherty, columnist for the Newport News Virginian-Pilot, took Gov. Tim Kaine (D) to the woodshed in her July 1 column. Seems the governor’s people managed to find $29 million, and “went on a statewide spending spree.” She wrote, “You’d expect that the transportation governor would want to earmark all the money for roads.” However, she immediately answers by writing, “You would be wrong. That’s not Kaine’s style. He wants to raise taxes for roads and use one-time funds to curry favor around the state.”

And about that TV? In trying to “make sense” of the Richmond situation, she used an example of what the average taxpayer would do with an unexpected bonus. Common sense would dictate that the crack in the house’s foundation be fixed first, and put off buying the new plasma TV. Politicians, however, think in terms of currying favor rather than taking care of the highest priority projects.

July 14, 2006

Spendthrift Congress: Proof is in the Voting Records

The National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) recently completed their annual analysis of the fiscal voting records of Congress. Their June 22 press release summarizes the voting record for 2005. It says, “The one-of-a-kind analysis . . . measures the dollar impact of all voting activity on the floor of the House and Senate, (and) shows that the average Representative supported five cents in federal spending reductions for every dollar of increases, while the Senate's ratio was just two cents on the dollar.”

NTUF adds: “VoteTally totals were nearly indistinguishable between Democrats ($178.1 billion) and Republicans ($168.3 billion) in the House, although party differences were somewhat greater in the Senate ($217.0 billion for Democrats versus $183.0 billion for Republicans).”

The press release provides a link to the entire policy paper (#159) as well as detailed reports for each member of Congress.

July 13, 2006

No Misuse? Then Why a Formal Settlement?

On Monday, July 10, we growled after reading that morning’s Washington Post story detailing the county’s “misuse” of federal dollars. At Tuesday’s recessed Arlington County Board meeting, the Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that top county officials “blamed the federal government, state government and local news media for leaving the impression that the Arlington County government has mishandled federal social-service funds.”

The Sun-Gazette quoted the County Manager saying: “There are no allegations of misuse . . . (adding that) “Arlington government was a victim of different interpretations of the rules.” If there were no misuse of federal funds, then why does an “information sheet” provided by county personnel state there was a “legal settlement” between the state and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services “resulting from disallowance of over $50M from improper claims for reimbursement of Title IV-E funds?”

The Sun-Gazette also noted that this was the second time this year that the county has run afoul of the federal government. Where’s the accountability? Is it possible Arlington has too many $100,000 poohbahs?

July 11, 2006

Assessments to Hold Steady. What About Tax Rates and Taxes?

The Washington Post reported on its front page today that “(t)he era of double-digit property assessment increases for Northern Virginia homeowners appears to be over. Government officials say a rapidly cooling housing market means residents can expect minimal growth in the value of their property this year, perhaps as little as 1 percent.” But, it then adds, “The flattening of the housing economy might be good news for some taxpayers but poses challenges for local governments.”

What worries those bureaucrats is that the revenue shortfalls will “sharply limit spending.” Gee, do you think they might have to find some way to be competitive like firms in private industry? That’s the problem with local government; they have no competition!

July 10, 2006

Beware the Strings Attached to “Manna from Heaven”

The Courthouse surely was abuzz this morning with the Metro section page 1 story by Annie Gowen in today’s Washington Post. Gowen writes, “Arlington and Fairfax counties could lose millions of federal dollars for human service programs after they and many other localities throughout the state misused foster care funds, triggering a federal investigation, officials said. Arlington will be hit harder than Fairfax, officials said, losing as much as $15 million . . . .”

Gowen adds, “A federal audit showed that cities and counties throughout Virginia were improperly diverting federal funds intended for foster care to similar but broader programs such as counseling and parent education.” According to one top county official, Arlington was “simply the victim of a state and federal feud over foster care eligibility”

After county officials signed a settlement agreement with U.S. Department of Justice over ADA violations several months ago, the buzz at the Courthouse must have been pretty loud. Besides, shouldn't $15 million get some new faces around Courthouse Plaza. A good job by Post reporter Annie Gowen.

July 09, 2006

Another Lesson in Trusting Politicians

In an editorial in last Thursday, the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, “In 2001, school and city officials (in Cleveland) promised active citizen oversight if voters would approve a $335 million (bond) levy. The taxpayers came through, but the politicians broke their promise by putting together an anemic body. Then, even that was allowed to fade away.” The body was a new Bond Accountability Commission.

Remember Ronald Reagan's words, "Trust, but verify!" They obviously apply to politicians, and not just international treaties.

July 07, 2006

Moment of Fiscal Sanity Strikes Arlington School Board

Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that “School Board members on July 6 slashed the amount of the proposed fall school bond referendum, a reflection of what board chairman Mary Hynes called a 'changing fiscal environment.' As a result, Arlington voters on Nov. 7 will be asked to approve $33.7 million in funding for school construction, far less than the $78.3 million first proposed by Superintendent Robert Smith. It will be the smallest school bond referendum sent to voters since 1996.” The APS press release is here.

McCaffrey quotes Ed Fendley, the School Board’s newest member: “Our debt ratios . . . are approaching the maximum level.” McCaffrey then writes, “Fendley said that piling up more debt than needed could later force the school system into a box from which it couldn't escape.” Board members Garvey and Wilson, especially, were not quite as understanding, however.

Congratulations, Mr. Fendley.

July 06, 2006

Will Arlington County Board Push Debt Limits

At its recessed meeting next Tuesday, July 11, the County Board is scheduled to make its final decision on the Fiscal Year 2007-2012 Capital Improvement Plan, and then set the bond language for the November 2006 bond referenda. In the County Manager’s proposed FY 07-12 CIP, debt service as a percentage of expenditures is expected to increase from its current 7.6% to 9.4% in 2010, and then drop back to 8.9% in 2012. Several years ago, the Board adopted a policy of limiting debt service to a maximum of 10% of expenditures. If the CIP is adopted as is, Arlington’s debt per capital will be $3,164.

The Cato Institute, in its July 2006 “Tax & Budget Bulletin” [Adobe required], notes that skyrocketing debt is not limited to the federal government, but extends to state and local government as well. According to the bulletin, state and local debt has increased from $1.19 trillion in 2000 to $1.85 trillion in 2005, an increase of 55%.

Several problems are cited by Chris Edward’s, Cato’s Director of Tax Policy Studies with such debt. For example, he says that “when politicians are given the power to issue debt, they have an incentive to issue far too much because it allows spending without the political constraint of having to tax current voters.” In addition, because of the interest that has to be paid it is more costly than pay-as-you-go financing. Edwards also notes the potential for corruption when mixing big government with big finance.

July 05, 2006

Virginia General Assembly Serves-up "Pork Pie"

Guess the Virginia General Assembly is just learning to be like their legislative colleagues in Congress, but the budget just passed in the 2006 General Assembly contains almost $37 million of pork, or bacon as its called in this editorial in Monday’s Newport News Daily Press. Heaven forbid, though, if we call it what it is. Virginia’s worthies in the General Assembly call it “aid to nonstate agencies” or “aid to the arts.” Whatever!

Some of the recipients? Virginia Air & Space Center in Hampton ($1 million); Peninsula Fine Arts Center ($500,000); Birthplace of Country Music Alliance ($600,000); and Metropolitan Sports Backers ($25,000). The Daily Press didn’t question the worthiness of the projects, but said it’s the wrong way to fund the arts and culture. The paper listed a number of reasons of what’s wrong with the process, but foremost was that the recipient(s) and amounts depend on whether a project "catches the eye of a legislator, and whether that legislator has the clout to deliver." They also noted it’s against the Constitution.

As we’ve noted before, virtually all of the arts are funded by the private sector, thus putting any taxpayer money spent on the arts into the “pork category.” Sheesh!

July 04, 2006

United Nations: Pushing for Global Taxation Schemes

A research paper last month from the National Taxpayers Union discusses the UN’s efforts to build on a resolution passed at its September 2000 World Summit “to eradicate third-world poverty.” In addition, “(i)t also created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight objectives that would work toward halving world poverty by 2015.” One of the tax schemes was a 0.7% tax on “gross national income” which several of Europe’s socialistic countries, e.g., Norway, Denmark, and Sweden, have already fulfilled. And of course, the French have proposed a global airline tax, which was scheduled to begin on July 1,

The various schemes beg the question of whether any can even begin to eradicate poverty. The NTU study notes, “Many third-world nations suffer from corrupt governments, a dearth of civil and political rights, and an absence of free markets . . . (the effort) would ultimately fail to address the long term causes of poverty in third-world nations. In fact, the World Bank’s Development Reports have consistently shown that free markets, not constant supplies of aid, are the fastest and most reliable means of placing developing nations on the track toward economic growth”

The NTU adds that giving the UN powers of taxation would be “a slippery slope away from state sovereignty and towards UN governance,” adding, "Thankfully, the Bush Administration has condemned recent international taxation schemes, including the 0.7 percent GNI tax, which could cost the U.S. $80 billion annually.”

July 03, 2006

Arlington County Board Set to Whack Taxpayers With Socialist Hammer

This week’s Arlington Sun-Gazette reports that “(m)ost owners of cars, trucks and SUVs in Arlington will pay more in personal property taxes on the vehicles this coming year, under a plan expected to be approved by the County Board on July 8. Under the proposal, made public by county government staff members last week, owners of vehicles assessed at more than $4,571 will pay more in taxes than they currently do, while those with vehicles assessed at less than $3,000 will pay no tax at all.”

According to Wayne Kubicki, who was quoted in the article, “’The proposed plan is a poor attempt to disguise a simple fact: this is another Arlington tax increase,” Kubicki said. “Many car owners will see their bills more than double; a full one-third will see their bills go up 77 percent or more.’” In a sidebar piece, the Sun-Gazette asked, “Hey, Wasn’t This Tax Supposed to Disappear?”

On April 22, the County Board raised the car tax from a rate of $4.40 to $5.00, but deferred a decision on the method for distributing the state's reimbursements to individual car owners. According to the Manager’s report (item 69, Board’s July 11 recessed meeting; Adobe required), he is recommending it “be distributed in a more progressive manner.” (emphasis added) Tired of the County Board gouging taxpayers another time? Use the link to the right to write to the Arlington County Board.