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July 31, 2007

Blogging During the Remainder of the Week

El Growler Grande won't be blogging for the next few days.

 

July 30, 2007

The Difficulty of Saying No When It’s ‘Free’

That’s essentially the bottom line for local governments on the receiving end of earmarks when they are represented in Congress by an appropriator, party leader, or committee chairman. At least that's the opinion of Jonathan Allen, who writes at CQPolitics:

“When the House divvied up more than $282 million in earmarks for schools, hospitals and social programs, the bulk of the money was directed towards appropriators, party leaders, committee chairman and tho9se most vulnerable in their re-election efforts, according to a CQ analysis of the bill.

“Of the top 150 recipients of earmarked dollars in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill, 145 fell into one of those categories. More than a third of the dollars went to the 66 members of the Appropriations Committee.”

Not surprising, but “earmarks follow politics (and) power.” For readers with only a “101” understanding of civics, be sure to read Allen’s entire report.

For the last two days, we’ve growled about earmarks going to Vienna, Virginia and Duluth, Minnesota – projects which should be the responsibility of local taxpayers, but which are paid for by all America’s taxpayers. The online Arlington Sun-Gazette reports today on Arlington projects initiated by Rep. Jim Moran, but paid for by all Americans. Examples include $200,000 for AHC, Inc. housing projects in South Arlington or $500,000 for traffic initiatives for Lee Highway, Columbia Pike, Arlington Boulevard, and Route 1.

Many Americans will remember the “New America” floor speech of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on January 4, 2007 when she said:

“The American people told us in the election that they expect us to work together for fiscal responsibility, with the highest ethical standards and civility.”

The Speaker also promised to “clean-up Washington and the fiscal mess” by “passing tough ethics reform . . . and restricting spending earmarks.” However, Mark Tapscott reports at Tapscott’s Copy Desk (both here and here) that:

“The Senate's two most visible and active supporters of genuine ethics and earmark reform aren't happy about what they see in the new bill crafted behind closed doors by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.”

Tapscott also reports that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), one of the two champions of earmark reform, issued a statement that began:

“There’s a lot of smoke and mirrors in the new ethics bill, but upon a close look its obvious that earmark transparency reforms have been eviscerated.  Senator Reid has given himself and a few committee chairmen the authority to determine whether congressional earmarks have been properly disclosed to the public.

“My office has confirmed this with the Senate Parliamentarian. Under this bill, the American people would be forced to trust Senator Reid (D-NV) and Senator Byrd (D-WV) – two of the biggest earmarkers in the Senate – to certify earmark disclosure.  This bill allows the fox to guard the henhouse and makes a joke of ethics reform."

As Tapscott concluded:

“Put another way – it’s all a charade.”

HT to Andrew Roth at Club for Growth. After urging his readers to be sure to read the entire Allen/CQPolitics post, Roth wrote, "The ugliness of the whole process is on full display."

July 29, 2007

Another Congressman, Same Pork-Barrel Spending

The latest tale in the ongoing saga of Congressional pork-barrel spending comes from Duluth, Minnesota. Friday’s Duluth News Tribune reports:

“Two school districts in Northeastern Minnesota will get Department of Education grants to update their libraries, U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar’s office announced Thursday.”

Yesterday, I growled about a $100,000 earmark U.S. Rep. Tom Davis stole from the American people to pay for sidewalks for the residents of Vienna, Virginia. The two grants procured by Rep. Oberstar will total $264,000 for staffing and book purchases, spending that should be paid for by the taxpayers of Duluth.

America’s Founding Fathers thought they had incorporated limits to government in the Constitution, but apparently, over the past century, the political elite have managed to erode those limits.

To see what the Founding Fathers intended, read what Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wrote in this collection of quotations maintained by Dr. Walter E. Williams, economics professor at George Mason University. While reading those quotations, note, too, that in the mid-1800’s Presidents Franklin Pierce and Grover Cleveland vetoed bills that didn’t meet the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.

So is the problem that members of Congress are not capable of reading or understanding the Constitution, or do they really consider themselves above the law?

July 28, 2007

Thrilled to Death? She Should Be!

The mayor of Vienna, Virginia says she’s “thrilled to death” because U.S. Representative Tom Davis (R-Virginia’s 11th District) plundered American taxpayers for $100,000 to help pay for sidewalks in Vienna. The online Fairfax Sun-Gazette reported yesterday:

“Vienna’s burgeoning sidewalk-construction program got a boost on July 24 when the U.S. House of Representatives approved $100,000 for these projects.

“The moneys were among $1.2 million  . . . for projects in (Davis’) district.”

She should be thrilled. Arlington taxpayers pay for sidewalks ourselves, as noted on this Arlington County webpage. Does that make Arlington County taxpayers a bunch of saps?

We’ve growled repeatedly about earmarks, the technical term for Congressional pork-barrel projects, which require little or no accountability. (including July 11, 2007, May 4, 2007, and June 10, 2006).

While on the subject of pork-barrel spending, we thank the National Taxpayers Union for their July 18, 2007 letter to U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) in which they endorse two Senate Resolutions, “which would strengthen earmark protections in the budget process,” and the Senator’s “steadfast efforts to make these a part of law.”

We also congratulate the folks at PorkBusters for their yeoman’s work fighting Congressional pork barrel spending. They’ve posted a list of 1,776 earmarks attached to the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations Bill. Arlington’s Congressional representative, Jim Moran is in 4th place on that list of 1,776 earmarks, sponsoring 40 of them.

If Congress can’t control its urge to use taxpayer money to buy votes through pork-barrel spending, there is little hope that it can ever begin limiting the growth of the rest of the federal budget. So write U.S. Senators John Warner and Jim Webb and Representative Jim Moran. Tell them the pork-barrel spending has to stop! And write or call South Carolina's Senator DeMint to thank him for his herculean efforts to reform pork-barrel spending. There are a few others, but Sen. DeMint is one of the leaders in the fight to reform earmarks.

UPDATE 7/30/07. The $100,000 earmark above for sidewalks in Vienna is not the only chunk of pork that Davis obtained for his district. There were a total of five earmarks totalling $1.2 million, according to this July 24 press release from Davis' office. All should be paid by local taxpayers rather than by all Americans.

July 26, 2007

Government Run Amuck?

State and local governments in Virginia have seemingly reinvented socialism. There can be a legitimate debate about government transferring wealth from the rich to the poor. However, when government taxes the poor to transfer their money to the rich, government has indeed run amuck.

Consider the family going to McDonalds for their weekly treat. In addition to the price on the menu, they pay a sales tax and in some jurisdictions they also pay a restaurant meals tax. Local governments need that money so they can transfer it to the wealthy. Don’t believe that government helps the well-off? Today’s Washington Post reports that Virginia now “subsidizes high-income home buyers,” and “may help Loudoun workforce.” According to the Post:

“Under the new program, individuals who make up to $108,000 and couples who make up to $135,000 may borrow up to $417,000, with the interest partly subsidized by the Virginia Housing Development Authority.

VHDA isn’t helping just the rich in Loudoun County, either. According to this press release (requires Adobe) from VHDA:

“Thirteen Northern Virginia housing organizations are receiving good news and much needed funding for first-time homebuyers. The Virginia Housing Development Authority recently announced that it is allocating $70.4 in low-interest financing to these groups to finance affordable homes in Northern Virginia . . . The organizations then combine a variety of local, state, and federal loan and grant programs to design a variety of financing options that meet the needs of buyers in their specific communities.”

The beef isn’t with encouraging citizens to act responsibility through ownership. As this Cato essay points out, "the concept of ownership is at the very core of the idea of personal responsibility." Rather, the beef is with the manner in which government redistributes wealth through subsidies, after taking out a hefty administration fee, of course.

July 25, 2007

Tell Congress to Stop Cultivating Bigger Government

According to the National Taxpayers Union, the current tax bill working its way through Congress “would cultivate bigger government.” NTU said yesterday:

Congress’s flawed Farm Bill Extension Act must be made fairer to taxpayers, consumers, and small businesses, and the “Fairness in Farm and Food Policy Amendment” is one tool that will help to sow the seeds of reform; that’s the message from the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU), which joined citizen groups from across the political spectrum at a Capitol Hill news conference today to call for careful consideration of the Amendment, sponsored by Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

Contact Senators John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D) and Representative Jim Moran (D), and urge them to support the Kind-Flake amendment.

July 24, 2007

Good, but the Price Isn't Competitive

That is the bottom line about the Arlington Public Schools in a Forbes magazine survey ($) as reported in this week’s Arlington Sun-Gazette and in the Alexandria-Arlington weekly section of the Washington Post.(story, which focused almost entirely on the Alexandria public schools and chart of America's 97 “best and worst school districts for the buck”).

Rather than comparing school districts based on SAT test scores, Virginia’s SOL test scores, or on the number of Advanced Placement tests, the Post explained how Forbes compiled their list of 97 school districts, thus:

“Forbes used research compiled by the Tax Foundation and came up with a list of 775 jurisdictions in the country with populations greater than 65,000 and the highest average property taxes. The magazine then narrowed the list to 97 jurisdictions in which more than 50 percent of school spending is funded through property taxes.”

In the Washington DC region, Montgomery County was #5, Fairfax #28, Arlington #64, Washington DC #96, and Alexandria #97. To understand what Forbes meant by “bang for the buck,” just compare Montgomery (where spending per pupil was $8,824 in 2004) and Arlington ($11,855). However, Montgomery had a college entrance exam score of 1,101 compared to Arlington’s 1,085 and a graduation rate of 91.4% compared to Arlington’s 81%.

As the Arlington Sun-Gazette reported:

“Critics who have contended that the Arlington public school system spends too much and delivers too little now have some additional ammunition.”

ACTA has been saying for many years, “Ordinary services at extraordinary prices.” To put it somewhat differently, paying for a Cadillac, but getting a Chevrolet in the deal. Certainly not a bargain for taxpayers!

July 23, 2007

How Magnanimous When It's Taxpayers Money

I never cease to be amazed at how compassionate politicians can be with other peoples’ money. This time it’s the nation’s governors, or at least those who spent the weekend at the Great Lakes resort in Traverse, Michigan, at the annual meeting of the National Governors Association.

According to Stateline.org:

“behind closed doors, a top issue for governors was the stalemate in Washington, D.C., over the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), which technically expires this fall unless Congress acts. NGA calls SCHIP reauthorization its No. 1 health care priority for the 110th Congress.

“Governors are unanimous in their support for the renewal of SCHIP,” New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) told Stateline.org.

“A measure moving in the Democratic-controlled Congress would authorize a $35 billion increase over five years for SCHIP, up from its current $5 billion a year. President Bush has proposed setting aside $10 billion — an amount critics say would be insufficient to maintain the current 6.6 million children in the program. Bush has threatened to veto the bill, arguing the bipartisan measure would too greatly expand a government program. The president also opposes the bill’s reliance on a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes, to $1 a pack, to pay for the program’s expansion.

“NGA would neither support the Democratic proposal nor criticize the president’s veto threat but restated the “urgent need” to renew and provide more money for SCHIP, according to July 22 letters to the White House and Congress. The governors declined to specify a dollar amount they would like Washington to set aside for SCHIP.”

An article in the July 1998 issue of the Freeman from the Foundation for Economic Freedom discusses how SCHIP evolved from the strategy in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Health Care Task Force, i.e., “a ‘kids first’ strategy which could be implemented through Medicaid was the backup option in case the larger plan failed.”

The Heritage Foundation published this WebMemo, which discusses “the phantom economic benefits of SCHIP expansion,” including:

“adults and children in wealthier families – those with incomes as high as 400 percent of the federal poverty level in some proposals.”

Do any of the political elite ever stop to think about who pays for all the entitlements? Or, are taxpayers indeed America’s “forgotten man,” as Amity Shlaes explains in her new book?

July 22, 2007

It's Not Only Driver Abuse Fees, But Abuse of Taxpayers

Tuesday’s Washington Post reports that the “driver abuse fees” passed by the 2007 Virginia General as part of the Comprehensive Transportation Funding and Reform Act is becoming an “election weapon.” With all 140 members of the General Assembly up for reelection in November, the Post reports:

“many lawmakers say they are being deluged with comments from constituents opposed to the fees, which are aimed at drunk and reckless drivers.”

Publius II has a column at Bacon’s Rebellion explaining that these “needlessly harsh” abuser fees are nothing but a cover for higher taxes. In a Q&A format, he concisely explains what they are and how they originated.

The Post also reported the unelected Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) filed a suit in Arlington Circuit Court on July 13 asking it “to quickly rule on the authority’s right to raise taxes across the region. That will be an interesting decision since this article in the DC Examiner on July 20 reports that “NVTA’s authority to raise taxes appears illegitimate. According to the Examiner:

“As Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, points out, the Virginia Constitution requires approval of any such regional entities “by a majority vote of the qualified thereon in each county and city which is to participate in the regional government . . “

When “bitter political rivals who are fighting for control of the General Assembly” (Gov. Tim Kaine (D) and Speaker of the House William Howell (R)) join together, you know that taxpayers better batten down their wallets. And that is just how the Washington Post reported on Friday, saying the two are mounting a “joint defense of (the) new fees.”

Will all that money being plundered from Northern Virginia and Tidewater taxpayers be enough? Not if you read this article in Friday’s DC Examiner. For further details see the July 13 and July 19 NVTA press releases about the taxes/fees approved by the Authority and the bond validation suit. Remember, it’s not just those abusive driver fees. There's also the sales tax (technically called a grantor's tax) when you sell your home; the rate is 40 cents/$100 of valuation. There are registration fees, and you’ll now pay a sales tax on the labor charges when you get your car repaired.

What happens to all those other taxes you pay? Unable to control spending on special interests, the General Assembly just watches as spending increases faster than inflation and population increases would justify. Thus, the need for more taxes and fees from you and me.

Fight back! Sign the online petition opposing the abusive driver fees. Over 148,000 Virginians have now signed it. And write or call Senators Ticer and Whipple and Delegates Brink, Eisenberg, Ebbin, and Englin. America’s citizens. If you need their e-mail addresses or their phone numbers, contact ACTA’s president. Deluge your senator and delegate with calls, letters, and e-mail!

July 20, 2007

Taxes Irritating To Norwegians Now!

On Tuesday, Norway’s Aftenposten reported:

“Norwegians have long accepted high taxes to finance their social welfare state, but a new survey indicates rising dissatisfaction and, in some cases, outright hatred of some taxes that are viewed as way too high and unfair.”

The newspaper also reports that growing numbers of Norwegians:

“are publicly complaining about sky-high taxes on everything from cars to fuel to consumer goods.”

With taxes and fees causing a glass of house wine to cost $16, or a gallon of gas to cost almost $9, or “more than double the price of a car itself,” is it any wonder that citizens of one of the world’s most heavily taxed nations finally rise up and say enough is enough?

 

July 19, 2007

Congress and "The Sugar Racket"

Did you know that Congressional action, or perhaps inaction, keeps “domestic sugar prices two or three times higher than world prices?” Chris Edwards, Director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute explains in the June 2007 Tax and Budget Bulletin:

“Federal sugar policies confer benefits on a small group of sugar growers, but they damage consumers and U.S. food companies. Congress has provided a sweet deal for sugar growers since it imposed import tariffs on sugar in 1789. Controls on domestic sugar production date back to the Jones-Costigan Act of 1934.

“When the Republicans controlled Congress, they shied away from reforming sugar policies in the 1996 and 2002 farm laws. The majority Democrats now have a chance to show that they are different. By reforming sugar policies, they could cut food costs for average families, make U.S. manufacturing more competitive, and end unfair benefits for a small group of wealthy sugar barons.”

Edwards cites a recent study by the Commerce Department of the economic effects of federal sugar policies. For example, "(S)ugar costs are a major reason some U.S. sugar-using businesses are relocating abroad." He sums up the big question that taxpayers should be asking their Congressional representatives thus:

“Given the negative economic and environmental effects of U.S. sugar programs, why do they persist? Because Congress often decides to confer benefits on a favored few at the expense of the general public.11 In this case, the favored few really are few—about 42 percent of all sugar program benefits go to just 1 percent of sugar growers.”

Congress has many ways of taxing us. Taxes are only one of them. Tell them to fix the sugar racket in the farm bill now moving through Congress!

July 16, 2007

Arlington County's Poohbahs Can Waste Your Taxes, but . . . .

If yesterday’s GROWLS raised your blood pressure, this AP report from CBS News may elevate it permanently. According to the news report:

“After nearly two years, thousands of truck miles and $12.5 million in storage costs, a cold relic of the flawed Hurricane Katrina relief effort is going down the drain.

“The federal government is getting rid of thousands of pounds of ice it had sent south to help Katrina victims, then north when it determined much of the ice wasn't needed.”

FEMA tried donating the ice, but “had no takers,” according to AP. Maybe they should have tried calling Al Gore; he could have sent it to Greenland to help keep the glaciers from melting.

HT Virginia News Source.

July 15, 2007

You Know Your Taxes are Wasted When . . . . .

After reading this report in today’s Washington Post about an “art work” on a median strip in Rosslyn, there is no question that Arlington taxpayers have entrusted the Arlington County Board with too much of our money. Here’s how the Post’s begins the report:

“Normally if you lined up empty water bottles on a Rosslyn median strip, you could be fined as much as $2,500 for littering. But in one case Arlington County paid $50,000 to have hundreds of bottles arranged into a piece of public art that looks like a field of luminescent cattails.

"The installation is at one of Rosslyn's busiest intersections: the exit of Arlington Boulevard where Fairfax Drive, Fort Myer Drive and North Lynn Street all intersect. The piece consists of plastic columns on a grid, ranging in height from 5 to 13 feet and held aloft by metal reinforcing rods, with used water bottles -- culled from country government offices -- perched atop each stalk. At night, LED lights powered by a single solar panel illuminate the bottles -- a no-emissions form of power that inspired the work's name, "CO2LED.”"

Thank goodness, the “field of bottles,” as the Post refers to it, is temporary. It would be better if the Arlington County Board’s spendthrift ways were equally temporary?

Addendum: Before the arts crowd attacks us for being anti-art, let me be clear. It's not the arts that is wrong, but the fact the Arlington County Board plundered $50,000 from Arlington taxpayers to pay for it. If the arts crowd wants to erect such "art work" and is willing to go out and raise the funds needed, they'll get no objection from me. It's when you get the greedy hand of government to reach into the pockets of taxpayers that I object.

July 14, 2007

Tell Congress to Enact Permanent Ban on Internet Taxes!

As virtually every taxpayer knows, politicians will find a way to tax just about anything. The internet is no exception. Unfortunately, the current ban on internet taxes expires in November 2007. The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has started a campaign to get Congress to ban taxes on internet taxes for good.

 

NTU has produced a short video explaining the importance of permanently banning internet taxes and an action page where you can urge Senators Warner and Webb and Congressman Moran to support the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act of 2007 (H.R. 743 and S. 156). To watch the video ot to send a message click here! (access to the video and action page will be near the bottom of the page)

 

July 12, 2007

Time for I&R in Virginia?

Yesterday’s Washington Times reported the unelected Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) was expected “to approve seven taxes and fees” this evening. Oh yes, most of Northern Virginia’s 16 Grand Solons on the NVTA are correct to point out that they’ve been elected, but that’s in their own jurisdictions. But how do taxpayers in Arlington hold NVTA members accountable? Sure, a member of the Arlington County Board is on the NVTA, but the sovereign citizens of Arlington didn’t elect him to the NVTA – only to the County Board.

So, is it time for Initiative & Referendum (I&R) in Virginia? Perhaps Arlington citizens need to look for advice to the citizens of Washington State? Last Saturday’s Seattle Times reported:

“An initiative intended to make it tougher for the Legislature to increase taxes, and for state agencies to increase fees, appears headed for the November ballot.”

Seems it may be time for the citizens of Virginia to take back the state from the political elite, or at least put them on a much shorter leash.

July 11, 2007

Both Virginia Senators Approve of Pork-Barrel Spending

At least that’s “the bottom line” from a new earmark reform index created by Mark Tapscott of the DC Examiner in an editorial yesterday. According to the index Senators John Warner (R) and Jim Webb (D) “are adamantly opposed to reforming their appropriations perks, no matter what the public says.”

The index looked at how senators voted on 12 key earmark reform opportunities (five of the votes were pre-2007, which means that Sen. Webb's record counts only seven votes). Tapxcott, the newspaper’s editorial page editor, began the editorial thus:

“Congress appears headed to approve a record number of earmarks (accesses an Excel spreadsheet created by the Examiner) in 2007, despite the fact that last November angry voters registered their disgust with the practice by electing Democrats who pledged a new era of transparency in government spending.”

Warner voted for three of the reform opportunities, and ended up with a score of 24.9 while Webb has an index score of 0.0. Tapscott explained the index results like this:

“The results make clear that Senate opposition to earmark reform crosses party lines and includes a clear majority of 72 members who scored less than 50 in the index. Most of the 72 scored lower than 40, meaning they voted for earmark reform three or fewer times out of 12 selected chances.”

Overall, the average score for the Senate was only 30.6. The average among Democrats was 14.3, but Republican partisans have little to cheer about because the GOP average was only 43.9. Eight of top 10 scores were compiled by GOP senators, while eight of the bottom 10 scores were compiled by Democrats.”

Incidentally, the four senior solons of the Senate were near the bottom of the barrel, according to the index:

“Among Senate mucky mucks, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scored 16.6, and Deputy Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill., 24.9. Both Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Deputy Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., scored 24.9.”

Remember the earmark index when you’re at the polls in November!

July 10, 2007

Lifting the Burden of Government

According to the latest analysis by Americans for Tax Reform, tomorrow, July 11, marks Cost of Government Day for 2007. Per ATR, it’s “the date of the calendar year on which the average American worker has earned enough gross income to pay off his or her share of spending and regulatory burdens imposed by government on the federal, state and local levels.” The components include not only federal spending, but also federal regulations, state and local government spending, and state and local regulations.

There are two significant trends, according to ATR. They are:

“Cost of Government Day falls two days later in 2007 than last year’s revised date of July 9th. In 2007, the average American will need to work an additional 11 days out of the year to pay off his or her cost of government compared to 2000. Slower economic growth, a recession, the war, Hurricane Katrina, increased spending and corporate scandals were responsible for the dramatic increase from June 29th in 2000 to as high as July 12th in 2005."

“Consistent with historical changes in the index, as the economy expanded, the cost of government declined due to lower levels of spending and higher incomes of workers. However, the drop in the cost of government was short lived and the index increased by two days in 2007. The increase in the index is tempered by slowing national income growth despite significant spending growth.“

While the COGD both nationwide and in Virginia is July 11, the cost of government could be worse. In Connecticut, it’s August 2 this year while in Arlington’s neighbor, the District of Columbia, COGD is July 24. But Virginia’s burden could be much less, e.g., in Alabama and Oklahoma, the COGD for 2007 is June 22. Remember that when you are in the voting booth in November!

July 09, 2007

Doing What It Does Best

Do what you ask? The redistribution of taxpayer money by the Arlington County Board, of course. The July 9 headline in the online Arlington Sun-Gazette’s perhaps said it best: “C. Board Doles Out Annual Arts Grants.” Guess if you’re getting subsidized, then you on the dole.

It could have been worse, however, since the county’s Arts Commission received 40 applications for $547,500, but “approved” only 30 for a total of $279,000.

So there is no misunderstanding, we’re not opposed to the arts, just the subsidies, which government plunders from hardworking taxpayers.

For a list of the artists or arts groups that received a government dole, see the Sun-Gazette article and/or the Manager’s report to the County Board for agenda item 31 of its July 7 meeting.

July 07, 2007

Ah, Those Wonderful, Forthcoming Government Bureaucrats

An internal audit of the “activity funds” at Churchill High School in Montgomery County found it short by “nearly $250,000," according to a report from WTOP radio yesterday, including serious deficiencies of internal controls. WTOP also reported that similar problems had been identified in two previous audits. Seemingly the school's top manager doesn't think any of this important since it took a year for the school to respond to the auditors’ 2005 report even though responses are due within 30 days.

Several of the more egregious audit findings, according to WTOP included:

  • Contracts for work on the athletic field was divided three ways, so that each amounted to less than $15,000 -- an apparent evasion of county bidding regulations.
  • A school employee holds the vending contracts for Churchill.
  • A school staffer was paid an $11,000 stipend, but it's not clear why.
  • Receipts and records of accounts were mixed -- activity for a school trip to South America came under the account titled "Spain Trip."
  • $17,000 for airfare for a trip to South America was put on a personal credit card, an apparent violation of Montgomery County Public Schools procurement policies.

The weekend edition of the DC Examiner reported (no link available) that although the report was dated March 8, the paper only obtained it just this week. Would an incident similar to this go unreported for four months by Arlington County's two local government bodies? Nah! Never!

July 06, 2007

U.S. Contributions to the United Nations

Nine countries (United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Spain, and China) contribute 75%of the UN’s regular budget. The U.S. assessment is 22%, which in 2005 was $439.6 million. By contrast, Saudi Arabia’s contrition is 0.713% while Cuba’s is just 0.043%. Those numbers come from EyeontheUN, a project of the Hudson Institute.

EyeontheUN also reports that “member states contribute to the peacekeeping operations budget and the cost of international courts and tribunals.” Member states “also make voluntary contributions to UN specialized agencies and subsidiary organizations.”

In July 2006, the Office of Management and Budget forwarded “a comprehensive report showing the total U.S. contributions to the United Nations systems” to Senator Tom Coburn’s Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, and International Security. The reports 65 pages show that contributions came from virtually all federal agencies with the State Department and “Other International Programs” providing over hall of the annual totals. From 2001 to 2005, the total federal contributions were:

Year/Amount

  • 2001/$3.18 billion
  • 2002/$3.93 billion
  • 2003/$3.84 billion
  • 2004/$4.12 billion
  • 2005/$5.33 billion

The EyeontheUN summary numbers are here. The OMB report to Senator Coburn’s subcommittee is here. The basic assessment is significant, but it pales in comparison to total U.S. contributions. On the effectiveness of the UN or its subsidiary organizations, we'll follow the adage of Fox News, i.e., we report, you decide.

July 05, 2007

Latest Batch of Congressional Porkers Named

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in government, recently named its June Porkers of the Month, “a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.”

According to their press release, CAGW:

“named all 18 members of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Porkers of the Month for rejecting every credible proposal for reform of farm subsidy programs, and instead unanimously voting to extend the current archaic, costly, and wasteful system.”

And what was the committee's response to CAGW’s decision? Believe it or not:

“Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) said, “I believe the work of the Subcommittee today was a step in the right direction.  The work we accomplished today reinstituted the safety net of the previous Farm Bill that many producers are comfortable with.”  Subcommittee member Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) suggested that his Agriculture Committee colleagues "circle the wagons" against reforms to the current system.

The special interests are pleased, however, as CAGW noted:

“Of course the farm lobby and subcommittee members are content with a continuation of the most expensive farm subsidy payments in history, which has cost taxpayers an average of $20 billion annually for the last five years.  Farm income is soaring along with land values, so only in Washington does it make sense to give farmers more handouts at the taxpayers’ expense.  Payments in the districts of the 18 subcommittee members totaled $10 billion from 2003-2005, according to the Environmental Working Group.”

Don’t be part of America’s forgotten taxpayers. Voice your outrage at this profligacy. Fight the special interests. CAGW conveniently provides links to each committee member’s official webpage. Citizens turned around the Senate’s amnesty bill; we can do the same with Congressional spending. Use the EWG data base to learn who is farming in your city or county. You wouldn't believe how many farmers there are in Arlington County, Virginia. And you thought there was no farmland left, eh?

July 04, 2007

Happy 231st Birthday, America!

Star Spangled Banner

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight'
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.
And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen, thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
'Tis the star-spangled banner: oh, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footstep's pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh, thus be it ever when free men shall stand,
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Power that has made and preserved us as a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust";
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Tune: Anacreon in Heaven

Written by Francis Scott Key on September 14th, 1814.

HT to PatriotPost.US for the lyrics.

July 03, 2007

A Little Fiscal Sanity Arrives in Arlington County!

In our June 15 newsletter, The ACTA Watchdog, we emphasized in our page 1 story that we were not looking for frugality from the County Board, but that a little fiscal prudence would be appreciated. We don’t know who the Board listened to, but we were pleased to read Maria Hegstad’s report in today’s Examiner. According to Hegstad:

“The Arlington County Board has requested suspending five schools’ construction designs amid concern that the county can’t afford all of them in 2008.”

Hegstad explained:

“The concern was that the schools’ anticipated $97 million request in 2008 would push the county debt level too close to limits, said Gus Vega, senior financial analyst with the county’s management and finance department. The county board is required to keep the ratio of general-obligation debt to income no higher than 6 percent. In the current fiscal year, the ratio is 5.3 percent.”

We suspected the School Board was moving too fast in its new construction program when the School Board established the Multi-Site Study effort as part of its most recent capital improvement plan last year. With the proverbial ball in the School Board’s proverbial court now, taxpayers can look to the School Board for the next move!

July 02, 2007

Welcome to Arlington. Now Feed the Meter!

Some Arlingtonians learned of the County Board’s edaciousness last week when they received their water and sewer bills. Today, they learned that higher parking meter fees are part of that edacity. On Saturday, the Arlington Sun-Gazette reported that county workers would spend the weekend “changing rates and stickers on approximately 4,100 meters in order to be ready for the change.”

According to the Sun-Gazette, parking meter fees brought in about $4 million last year, but the higher fees will bring in an additional $900,000 annually, an increase of almost 23%.

To learn about the other taxes and fees raised by the Arlington County Board on April 21, look through the “Board reports” for agenda items 32.A. through 32.U. The Board did not raise the real estate tax rate, but they plundered Arlington taxpayers nevertheless.