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November 30, 2006

Consider This!

On October 31 and again on November 9, we GROWLED about the so-called homeowner grants the Arlington County Board cooked-up two years ago as another way of showing how caring and compassionate they are. But as good liberals/progressives, they prove their compassion with the taxpayers’ money rather than with their own money. [see the November 28 GROWL]

In the two GROWLS about homeowner grants, we complained about the costly marketing efforts by the County Board to give away tax dollars. A full-page ad on page 19 of today’s Washington Post weekly “Extra” again plays cha ching with our tax dollars. Each of those full-page ads in the Post cost about $2,100 (somewhat less if they’re in the Arlington Sun-Gazette or Arlington Connection), and somewhat less because of discounts for repeating ads.

We understand the bureaucrats at Courthouse Plaza will spend about $30,000 this year “marketing” the homeowner grants. But consider that the taxes of about seven “average” homeowners will be needed to just push (i.e., the marketing) what amounts to “free money” to an expected 3,300 “needy” homeowners – if you have the chutzpah to call someone making as much as $77,000 “needy.”

If you think the homeowner grant program is a joke, call the phone number in the ad, or call the Arlington County Board at (703) 228-3130. And we don't make this stuff up, either. For proof, see page 244 of the county's adopted FY 2007 budget.

November 29, 2006

Gov. Kaine Starts Drumbeat to Raise Your Taxes

Gov. Tim Kaine (D) visited Northern Virginia yesterday according to reports in today's Newport News Daily Press and Leesburg Today (free registration may be required). According to the Leesburg newspaper, Kaine said he and his predecessor have "improved" VDoT, and progress has been made in linking transportation and land use decisions. However, Kaine said that without better investment, our problems will continue not to be solved.

The Daily Press article contained more detail on the expected battle in the 2007 General Assembly over the issue of taxes. For example, the newspaper reported that Kaine “thinks tax and fee increases are required . . . (but that) (c)onservative Republicans do not.”

It’s not clear how much the governor wants in the way of more money since the Daily Press reported, “The legislature has set aside $339 million for transportation projects, and healthy tax collections have given the state extra money on top of that.”

The framework for next year’s legislative political campaigns took shape yesterday as well when Gov. Kaine took a swipe at “Republicans who have signed no-new-tax pledges.” According to Kaine, “I don't think it's a rigid ideological principle that we should always reduce taxes . . . It's got to be a balance. You've got to find out what the needs are.

Guess our growling yesterday about those so-called "unmet needs" applies equally to the Arlington County Board and to Gov. Kaine.

UPDATE 11/30/06: The Washington Post also reported that in the “tour of Northern Virginia . . . by bus, rail and SUV,” Gov. Kaine (D) renewed a “push for transit funding.”

November 28, 2006

I'm Back!

My apologies for the lack of growling for the past several weeks. I also hope Arlington taxpayers enjoyed a Happy Thanksgiving.

Watchdog readers know one of our very favorite writers is Thomas Sowell. His column today at Townhall.com is nothing less than a “must read” in which he reviews Arthur Brooks’ book, “Who Really Cares.” He writes, “One of the most pervasive political visions of our time is the vision of liberals as compassionate and conservatives as less caring. It is liberals who advocate "forgiveness" of loans to Third World countries, a "living wage" for the poor and a "safety net" for all.

Sowell goes on to note:

But these are all government policies -- not individual acts of compassion -- and the actual empirical consequences of such policies are of remarkably little interest to those who advocate them. Depending on what those consequences are, there may be good reasons to oppose them, so being for or against these policies may tell us nothing about who is compassionate or caring and who is not.

He then goes on to cite example after example from Brooks’ book to demolish the liberal vision that it is they who are morally more compassionate with example after example. He even takes on the idealism of the young, noting that Brooks’ study “found young liberals to make the least charitable contributions of all, whether in money, time or blood. Idealism in words is not idealism in deeds.

The next time you hear the Arlington County Board talking about all those so-called unmet needs, tell them to read today's wisdom from Thomas Sowell.

November 14, 2006

Another Scam of America’s Taxpayers

The October 2006 issue of Wastewatcher from Citizens Against Government Waste discusses a flaw in the $3.7 billion federal Community Development Block Grant program. CDBG is a 1960’s Great Society program designed to help the poor, but has become just another way government has of redistributing the income of American taxpayers.

According to CAGW, “The Census Bureau counts low-income (less than $9,800 per year) students who do not live in dormitories as below the poverty line even if their parents pay 100 percent of their bills.” Consequently, “(c)ollege towns such as Columbus, Ohio; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Berkeley, California are counted as ‘poor’ . . . simply by the presence of cash-strapped college kids.” The result, says CAGW, is that the “wildly erroneous methodology helps relatively prosperous towns compete with impoverished inner cities and rural areas.”

CAGW notes that “HUD has sought to exclude the majority of off-campus students from poverty counts, but it falls to Congress to change the law that governs grant formulas. This is not an example of "mindless bureaucrats" but of mindless members of Congress failing to perform their oversight responsibilities.” Unfortunately, the inflated poverty data is not the only thing wrong with the CDBG program, either.

 

November 12, 2006

In Private Industry, They'd be Out of Business

A few simple calculations on page 374 of Arlington County’s FY 2007 Adopted Budget, which the County Board adopted last April, could virtually lead you to that conclusion. The information that follows on resident population, school enrollment, county employees, and school employees was taken from the table on page 374. We computed the residents or students per employee.

Profile

FY 1998

FY2007

Resident Population

186,693

203,227

County Employees

3,442.8

3,766.7

Residents per Employee

54.23

53.95

 

 

 

Student Enrollment

18,342

18,252

School Employees

2,810.7

3,259.2

Students per Employee

6.53

5.60

Based on the above numbers, county employment grew slightly faster than resident population. If the ratio of residents per employee had remained constant from 1998 to now, there would be just over 19 fewer employees.

The picture on the school side is entirely different, however. School enrollment remained essentially constant, but the number of school employees increased significantly. If the students per employee ratio had remained constant in the Arlington Public Schools, there would be 464 fewer school employees to be paid by Arlington taxpayers. One way to look at the schools employment growth is that while enrollment was essentially constant, school employees increased by 16.6%. Assuming an average salary of even $50,000 per employee, those 464 employees are costing Arlington taxpayers over $23 million – over 4 cents on the real estate tax rate.

Arlington County taxpayers should be asking some serious questions of accountability of their School Board members!

 

November 11, 2006

Election Was "No Mandate for Bigger Government"

The National Taxpayers Union reports that “(d)espite the GOP's loss of the House, Democratic gains in the Senate and the defeat of several tax limitation measures on state ballots, most Americans who went to the polls yesterday voted to keep their pocketbooks closed.” According to NTU President John Berthoud. "Had Americans been able to use the write-in options for instructing candidates as well as casting votes for them, ballot-counters across the county would be seeing the same words over and over again: don't raise taxes, get a handle on the budget, stay out of trouble, and keep your hands off our property."

NTU’s “research found that GOP candidates who strayed from the principles of fiscal conservatism were more likely to alienate their base and be defeated.” Specifically:

“Of the 19 Republican House Members confirmed as being ousted from their seats at press time, just 2 were recipients of NTU's "Taxpayers' Friend Award" in 2005 for attaining a Rating score of at least 70 percent. The remaining 17 losing incumbents posted an average NTU Rating of just 56 percent last year, several points below the overall average for the GOP."

“The six Republican Senators (including George Allen . . .) who were defeated, by and large did not compile very good records on taxpayer issues. The defeated six on average scored 59 percent in NTU's Rating in 2005. The rest of the Senate Republican caucus averaged 70 percent. Only one of the defeated Senators (George Allen) scored higher than the average for the entire caucus.”

 The NTU press release contains a great deal more information the results of both state elections and various ballot initiatives from Tuesday’s election, which you will want to read.

 

November 10, 2006

How Many Ways to Skin a Cat . . . Make That Reduce a Deficit

In a post-election analysis in today’s Washington Times, Cal Thomas wrote that “Republicans reverted to fear tactics about Democrats raising taxes: but added “Democrats probably will try to raise taxes (they call it "pay as you go").

Well, there is an easier ways to reduce a deficit, which is to cut spending. But do most people know where all the federal spending occurs? In this paper, Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation provides an extensive set of numbers and charts to answer that question. For example, even though revenues have increased by 109% and spending has grown at 97% since 1990, the deficit has increased from $221 billion in 1990 to $318 billion in 2005, including surpluses in 1998 – 2001. The biggest spending problem has been the growth in so-called entitlement spending, which have grown more than 132%.

Another way to look at how much is being spent at the federal level, Riedl shows, is the amount of spending per household. In inflation-adjusted terms, spending per household has grown from $20,000 in 1990 to almost $22,000 today. American taxpayers need to tell their members of Congress to cut the spending rather than raising taxes, or, if you prefer, ‘paying as you go.’

 

November 09, 2006

More “Cha Ching” from the Arlington County Board

Last week, we GROWLED about the County Board playing Robin Hood in reverse by plundering some Arlington taxpayers in order to redistribute the money to other, possibly better off financially, Arlington taxpayers. Part of that complaint involved the use of full-page ads in the Washington Post’s weekly “Extra” and the Arlington Connection urging Arlingtonians to apply for so-called Homeowner Grants.

 

Arlingtonians who opened the Post’s weekly “Extra” today were treated to more “cha ching” on page 19 – another full-page "cha ching" ad. ACTA members have also spotted similar “cha ching” poster ads in Arlington’s Metro stations.

 

In effect, the Arlington County Board uses the meals tax to plunder the earnings of workers treating their families to dinner at McDonald’s so the County Board can buy the votes of someone in a $1 million townhouse earning $77,000 a year. Amazing! Karl Marx would be proud!

 

November 08, 2006

Why Wasn’t This Information Available Before Yesterday’s Elections?

Two items were on the agenda of the Arlington County Board’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) this evening. First, staff briefed FAAC on the accounting closeout for FY 2006, which ended on June 30, 2006, and the resulting reappropriation into FY 2007. Staff then briefed FAAC about the budget guidance the County Board will provide the County Manager for preparing the FY 2008 budget. Although the Manager will not propose the FY 2008 budget until February 2007, there is a great deal of work for the budget staff to accomplish between now and February.

The two reports to the Board contain significant information that should have been at the core of the debates between the three County Board candidates who were on yesterday’s ballot. For example, the candidates should have debated their priorities for spending the projected additional revenues of $26.1 million the Board will have available in FY 2008. Despite that additional revenue, the Manager is projecting a deficit of between $19.4 million and $27.1 million that is expected to grow larger when retiree health benefits are added after completion of a compensation study. So even though residential real estate taxes have increased almost 114% since 2000, the County Board will need to increase the real estate tax rate from 4 to 6 cents, or more, next spring to cover that deficit.

All of the closeout and budget guidance information in the two reports to the Board may not be available for discussion with citizens during the candidates' campaigning, but two years ago when the Manager was preparing for the FY 2006, he provided his department directors and the Constitutional Officers with significant budget guidance on September 8, 2004. Such information should be available to candidates running for the County Board so that it can be discussed and debated by the candidates so that citizens are informed about the candidates positions on issues involving taxing and spending.

The two Manager’s reports to the County Board are not yet available at the Board’s webpage, but they are items 47 and 48 on the Board’s Wednesday, November 15 agenda. We will update this post when they are available.

UPDATE. November 9. We just checked the Board's agenda, and the "Board reports" for the FY 2006 closeout and for the FY 2008 budget guidance referenced above are now available (require Adobe).