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August 30, 2007

How the Arlington Public Schools Use Your Taxes

Competition and the profit motive in private industry help consumers get the most product or service at the lowest price. A comparison of the 2007 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) report to the 2000 Metropolitan Area Boards of Education (MABE) shows just how insulated the Arlington Public Schools are from competition.

Consider the following numbers for the Arlington Public Schools:

Fiscal Year

Enrollment, K-12

School-Based Teachers

 

 

 

2000

16,645

1,677.7

2007

15,765

1,856.4

What a system! For 880 fewer students, APS gets another 178.7 teachers. Decreasing productivity and increasing teacher pay. Wow! Life for APS top management is indeed good because there is no competition. Granted, it didn't happen in one swoop, but the mumbers should be raising questions among Arlington taxpayers if not at the Education Center on North Quincy Street.

Both the June 2006 and June 2007 issues of the Watchdog newsletters contained graphs showing how county spending increased much faster than inflation. The October 2006 Watchdog also compared tax burdens of Northern Virginia jurisdictions. Those numbers showed that for FY 2005, Arlington had the highest tax burden among the four Northern Virginia counties. The large bite taken out of county budget by APS is one factor that results in Arlington County having the largest per capita tax burden.

(Note: MABE and WABE are one and the same entities.)

August 28, 2007

NVTA: Northern Virginia's Very Own House of Lords

Jeff Dircksen, blogging at the National Taxpayers Union’s blog, Government Bytes, writes the Washington Post is reporting:

“an Arlington County Circuit Court judge has ruled that the Virginia General Assembly can establish regional entities -- in this case, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority -- for the purposes of levying taxes”

Jeff also notes:

“Bob Chase, Director of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, calls the ruling "a good day for the people of Northern Virginia." Well, I suppose that's true, if your definition of a "good day" is a $300 million tax hike imposed by an unelected regional body.”

The Virginia Club for Growth’s has this take on the judge’s decision:

“If the Virginia Supreme Court doesn't overturn this decision on an expedited basis, Virginians will have done a full circle. We will become the subjects of unelected and unaccounted monarchs--only this time, the "monarchs" will be a bunch of do-good liberals and other profit-seeking businesses who plan on fleecing our wallets.”

I thought Virginia helped dump such British ideas as the “House of Lords” over 220 years ago.

August 27, 2007

In Arlington County Taxpayers' Future?

With the advent of the unelected and unaccountable Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the thought of whether Arlington taxpayers can look forward to such fiscal chicanery came to mind when I saw the story by Richmond’s NBC channel 12, which reported:

“Accusations of a major abuse of taxpayer dollars has been brought to light by Richmond’s city auditor . . . more than $170,000 was taken from the Richmond Behavioral Authority’s budget.”

The station did say the “Authority’s director and payroll coordinator resigned before the report was released” and "the investigation is ongoing."

Unelected and unaccountable government. Some of the things Northern Virginians have to look forward to. But will any roads get built?

August 26, 2007

Clueless in Richmond

Two stories on the front-page of the Metro section of today’s Washington Post raise the possibility that Virginia’s governor and members of the General Assembly do indeed suffer from cluelessness.

In one story, the Post suggests that lawmakers could snag themselves with the bad-driver fees that has led over 174,000 Virginians to sign an online petition opposing such fees even though the money will be used to fund transportation projects. The reporter, Jonathan Mummolo, identified a rather large number of General Assembly members, as well as Gov. Kaine (twice), who have been ticketed for speeding. Two of the legislators, in fact, represent Arlington County – delegates Adam Ebbin and Al Eisenberg.

In an accompanying piece, Marc Fisher writes:

Nobody in Richmond predicted that Virginians would rise up in a hot summer snit, cussing and seething over the injustice of spanking the state's most reckless drivers with big, fat fees.

“See, the politicians thought they were doing what they do best -- threading the needle of transportation funding to make no one very happy but keep the grumbling to a minimum and sort of get the job done.”

Fisher then describes the effort of one legislator who had interns scan all 174,000 names on the petition to identify the 750 in his district. In addition, Fisher writes that:

“It's not just politicians who got slammed. The AAA's longtime Washington area honcho, Lon Anderson, has been trying to calm members who are appalled that the drivers' lobby supported these fees. AAA has long opposed mixing policing with fundraising, but Anderson went along with this plan to avoid a gas-tax increase and get money for new roads.”

Who has been “fanning the fire” then? They’re blaming it on bloggers such as your humble scribe. And, oh, if you haven’t signed that online petition, yet, please do so! Oh, and for information to contact the governor or your legislator, visit Ticket the General Assembly.

August 25, 2007

Arlington County Needs Another Government Entity? Not!

The Arlington Sun-Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported on Tuesday, August 21, that:

“Proponents of the creation of a quasi-independent county housing and redevelopment authority appear to have garnered enough support to send the matter to a countywide referendum, but may have missed their chance - just barely - of getting the measure on the November ballot.

"Supporters of the idea have assembled the required 100 petition signatures that the Code of Virginia requires to bring the matter to referendum.”

McCaffrey also reported:

“The push for a referendum appears to be the work of ArlingtonGreens, of which Reeder is a member. Josh Ruebner, the party's candidate for County Board, has endorsed the idea for a referendum.”

The following day, August 22, McCaffrey reported in the online Sun-Gazette that:

“County Board members have put the brakes on consideration of a referendum to create a quasi-independent housing and redevelopment authority.

“Board members on Aug. 21 opted not to discuss the matter, in public or private, an action that likely pushes back a referendum until 2008.”

The Sun-Gazette reported, Arlington voters “soundly rejected” such a referendum in 1982. Even Board chairman, Paul Ferguson commented wisely, “We are not in favor of creating a new bureaucracy.” Wise words, indeed. [We will keep ACTA members update here and in more detail in coming issues of The ACTA Watchdog newsletter,]

August 23, 2007

Once Again: Ordinary Services at Extraordinary Prices

When we learned earlier this month that Arlington had the highest per capita taxes in Northern Virginia, we repeated what we've previously growled which is that Arlington has ordinary services, but the price in taxes and fees paid is extraordinary.

We were reminded of that when today’s Washington Post reported that Arlington Public Schools (APS) was just one of many Virginia schools that fell short of meeting its so-called Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) targets. According to the Post:

“Tighter federal testing requirements for students with limited English skills fueled a growth in the number of Virginia public schools that failed to make adequate progress in the past academic year, according to scores the state released this morning.”

The Post went on to report that APS, specifically, went from having 9 of 30 (30%) schools failing to make AYP in the 2005-2006 school year to having 14 of 30 (46.7%) schools failing to make AYP in 2006-2007. By comparison, all of Virginia’s schools went from 22% to 26% in making AYP. But top management of APS said they are not to blame. A report in today’s online Arlington Sun-Gazette included this quote from the Superintendent:

“Subjecting students who cannot read English to a grade-level reading test serves no valid educational purpose and leads to frustration,”

APS has a one-page summary (requires Adobe) showing individuals schools making AYP.

If not for the fact that APS is the high cost provider of K-12 services in Virginia (at least in comparison to Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties), we might say the cause was that APS schools were underfunded. But when the $18,563 cost-per-student for APS is several thousand dollars more than in those other counties, that argument becomes stale. Arlington taxpayers have another example that we get ordinary services at extraordinary prices.

August 17, 2007

El Growler Grande is Taking a Few Days Off

I should be back early next week.

August 16, 2007

Hey, It’s Just Another $125 Million a Year From Taxpayers

The Virginian Pilot has two stories today on Democrat Gov. Tim Kaine’s plan to expand pre-kindergarten “education.” (one posted this morning and a second one posted later today). According to the newspaper:

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine today will ask Virginians to support an unprecedented expansion of pre kindergarten education for low-income 4-year-olds, an initiative that could cost the state $75 million annually by 2012.

“The governor's plan calls for adding about 17,500 children to an existing pre kindergarten program, bringing the total number of youngsters receiving free services to 30,000 in five years, according to documents obtained by The Virginian-Pilot that outline the initiative.”

The costs are more, though, according to the newspaper:

Once the expansion is complete, Kaine estimates total pre-K costs to the state of $125 million a year. Kaine's plan does not offer free or subsidized services for middle- and upper-income families.

Not to worry though according to lobbyists for Virginia’s school boards and the teachers’ union, respectively:

Frank E. Barham, executive director of the Virginia School Boards Association, said the group supports expanding pre kindergarten, as long as it doesn't interfere with funding for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“He worried that giving state money to private child care providers may make parents agitate for vouchers. "You may be creating a situation where you're going to have to fund everybody, public and private," he said.

“Robley Jones, director of government relations for the Virginia Education Association, said the state should be able to afford the relatively small amount requested for prekindergarten, as well as public school needs.”

Don’t you just love how considerate some politicians and lobbyists are with taxpayers’ money? We say "some" since the Pilot's reporters sought out only Republican lawmakers for comment, and they "voiced concerns Thursday about the cost" of" of the "proposal to expand pre-kindergarten education." Reporters didn't seek comment from Democrat lawmakers.

August 15, 2007

Lawsuit Against Arlington Schools Dropped; Taxpayers Lose

David Schultz of the Arlington Connection reports in this week’s paper that:

“A group that seeks to support former homosexuals dropped its lawsuit against Arlington Public Schools last week after the School Board changed its policy on distributing materials to students.”

So how did the taxpayers lose? Schultz concludes his report saying:

“Even though the case was in the courts very briefly, Arlington Public Schools still incurred $13,542 in legal fees, according to Erdos. The lawsuit did not cost PFOX any money, however, because the Center for Law and Religious Freedom represented them on a pro bono basis.”

Well, not exactly! In an e-mail exchange with school officials, ACTA learned that while the settlement involved no financial payment to the plaintiff, the County Attorney defended the case “with the assistance of outside attorneys.” School officials “expect the cost to be approximately $22,000, which includes payment for assistance with the court case as well as substantial assistance to revise the School Board’s Printed Materials policy.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported this as an AP dispatch on August 7, 2007. Details of how the lawsuit came about, and why taxpayers are the losers, are in the two newspaper reports.

August 14, 2007

Their Way or the Highway?

The DC Examiner has already posted this AP story written by Bob Lewis and bylined Richmond that describes a press conference held in Richmond this morning. According to Lewis:

“Anti-tax activists behind a wide-ranging court challenge to the new transportation funding law on Tuesday called for punishing Republican lawmakers who supported the measure, even if it means backing Democrats this fall.”

These four excerpts from Lewis’s report are the most interesting:

  • “’So who's the winner politically in all of this? I would say Gov. Kaine and the Democrats,’ said John Taylor, president of Tertium Quids, an organization of anti-tax libertarians and conservatives who advocate cutting government.”
  • “Robert K. Dean of the Virginia Beach Taxpayer Alliance said members of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, who endured hours of invective during public hearings last week, should ‘tell General Assembly members who voted for this horrible piece of skullduggery to go back to their drawing boards and start all over.’”
  • “Former state GOP chairman Patrick M. McSweeney, the Richmond attorney who filed the 13-count lawsuit, dismissed the need for $1 billion under the new law to address an estimated $100 billion in long-term transportation needs. Public investment in transportation should be secondary to private initiatives such as toll roads, he said.”
  • “House Republican Leader H. Morgan Griffith of Salem, a key supporter of the law, described Tuesday's speakers as ‘purists, and they want us to do everything their way.’”

John Taylor, though, has the ‘money’ quote, according to this news release posted at Virginia New Source:

“My goodness. In the last five years the federal budget has grown by a trillion dollars. In the last decade the Virginia budget has grown by 120 percent. In communities across the commonwealth, property taxes are growing by double-digit percentages. And yet, despite this explosion in spending and taxing, according to the politicians the problem we face in Virginia is that we do not have enough layers of government, we do not have enough layers of taxation, and we do not have enough unelected taxing authorities.” Taylor concluded, “Politicians will continue to try to bleed us dry until we put an end to it. We should do that now.”

Taxpayers can contact their General Assembly delegates and senators at Ticket the General Assembly.

August 13, 2007

Proving Dick Armey Correct

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) once said, “Three groups spend other people’s money: children, thieves, politicians. All three need supervision.”

A recently completed study of school finance lawsuits by the Tax Foundation, announced in this press release, certainly proves Armey correct on the need to supervise politicians. The study:

“reveals that lawsuits targeting 'inequitable' or 'inadequate'  school funding have failed to produce long-term increases in school spending, but many have produced long-term tax increases.”

According to Chris Atkins, author of the study:

“Higher tax rates appear to be the only enduring result of these school finance lawsuits. This research questions the conventional wisdom that you can sue your way to a better school.”

Are you supervising your legislators -- federal, state and local? You can access the entire study from the link in the press release.

August 12, 2007

It’s More Than Just The “Abuser Fees”

A report by Matt Sabo in today’s Newport News Daily Press reminds us the abuser fees, which have been much in the news lately, is just one way the 2007 Virginia General Assembly had for plundering Virginia taxpayers to pay for transportation. Sabo notes that come April (January for Northern Virginians and the NVTA):

“a pocketbook-lightening set of fees - including a 5 percent tax on vehicle repairs - is scheduled to go into effect in the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority's realm.

“The new vehicle-repair tax has shop owners on the fringes of the authority's boundaries fretting they're going to lose business to shops in neighboring localities that don't have to impose the taxes and fees.”

That’s in addition to the sales tax (officially a grantors’ tax) homeowners will pay when selling their homes. If you haven’t signed the HB 3202 petition, please do so. Yesterday’s post also had the link to “Ticket the General Assembly” for contact information for your General Assembly legislators.

Tell your Virginia delegate and senator they need to control state spending. For example, the 2006 Update of the Review of State Spending (requires Adobe) from the General Assembly’s own auditors – JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee – reported that:

“Adjusting for the effects of inflation (which increased 27 percent between 1997 and 2006) and population growth (Virginia’s population grew 14 percent over the period), the budget increased by 25 percent, an average annual increase of three percent.”

Virginia taxpayers have already paid the taxes, but the politicians haven't learned how to control spending. And stop finding ways to satisfy each and every special interest. The U.S. Senate recently got the message on comprehensive immigration reform; let’s send a message to Virginia’s politicians, too!

August 11, 2007

Taxes and More Taxes, Fees and More Fees

The politicos of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority followed their Northern Virginia counterparts in approving the taxes and fees authorized by the 2007 Virginia General Assembly in HB 3202, according to this AP story in today’s Washington Times.

The AP reported that:

“A regional authority approved a set of taxes and fees yesterday to finance Hampton Roads transportation projects but delayed the effective date three months to give the General Assembly time to find alternatives to pay for the projects.

“A number of people had protested the package at two public hearings this week of the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority, a panel of 12 local elected officials the legislature empowered to levy the fees and taxes and build new regional roads.”

If you haven’t yet signed the online petition objecting to the “abusive user fees” that were part of the HB 3202 transportation funding package, please do so. Two grassroots activists have also set-up the website TICKET THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY where you can get more information, including links to the General Assembly where you can obtain contact information for your state legislators.

August 10, 2007

Is That Ethical?

Both the Washington Post weekly and the Arlington Sun-Gazette carried stories this week noting that some of Arlington’s taxicabs were going “green.” In fact, the story added that EnviroCAB is applying to operate a 35-cab all-hybrid fleet.

The intent, however, is not to growl about taxicabs or hybrids. In his Post story, Jerry Markon has this paragraph:

“”We’re trying to do our part to reduce global warming. Government should lead by example,’ said Arlington County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson (D), who then ended a telephone interview because, he said, he happened to be purchasing a (Toyota) Highlander Hybrid with his family.”

Let me understand this. In April 2007, the Arlington County Board, including Mr. Ferguson, approved a change in the personal property tax that exempted the first $20,000 of assessed value on hybrids from the car tax. For calendar year 2008, that’s an annualized savings of $569. And now Mr. Ferguson's tax bill will be reduced by $569 because of an action he took earlier this year. It’s nice being the king!

August 08, 2007

Just Why Are Arlington County Employees Special?

Arlington County and Schools employees are eligible for a “live where you work” grant if they purchase a home in the county. The authority was granted to the county by the 2002 General Assembly in HB 1078 patroned by Del. Bob Brink. That same year, a similar bill (SB 384, patroned by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple) was defeated in a Senate committee.

The Arlington County Board adopted (requires Adobe) the grant program in June 2002. Similar legislation by the General Assembly in 2004 enabled the Board to extend (requires Adobe) the grant program to employees of Constitutional Offices in June 2004.

Employees who qualify for the grants receive 1% of the sales price of the home they purchase. The county and schools each budgeted $60,000 for the grants when the Board first adopted this employee subsidy.

ACTA has questioned the grants in the past. A look at the county’s 2007 “profile” makes us wonder why Arlington’s two local governments think its employees warrant special treatment. One map on page 6 show the number of Arlington residents working in other jurisdictions while a second map shows the number of residents of other jurisdictions working in Arlington, according to the 2000 census. A couple of examples will show just how absurd the program is:

  • There were 1,230 Arlington County residents who worked in Loudoun County while 2,671 Loudoun residents worked in Arlington.
  • There were 20,476 Arlington County residents who worked in Fairfax County while 48,678 Fairfax residents worked in Arlington.

If Arlington’s two local government units are having trouble hiring employees, the way to correct that is by increasing salaries, or offering bonuses for special skills, rather than by offering special perquisites. Otherwise, it’s another case of “government by government and for government.”

August 07, 2007

Constitutionality of Transportation Taxes and Fees Challenged

Hugh Lessig of the Newport News Daily Press reports that:

“A group of conservatives has filed a sweeping constitutional challenge to the General Assembly’s transportation plan that seeks to gut the entire bill, not merely the abusive driver fees that have caused so much controversy.

“Filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court, the lawsuit challenges the power of the regional transportation authorities in Hampton Roads and northern Virginia to raise revenue through taxes and fees. It says only units of government should have that power, not regional authorities.”

Lessig adds: 

“If the lawsuit succeeds, it could torpedo the carefully crafted compromise that lawmakers of both parties held up as the centerpiece of the 2007 legislative session.”

A letter announcing that citizens had filed the constitutional challenge included this paragraph:

“The Virginia Constitution states, “No ordinance or resolution . . . imposing taxes . . . shall be passed except by a recorded affirmative vote of a majority of all members elected to the governing body. (Article VII, Section 7)”

Seems rather clear!

 

Virginia taxpayers owe a debt of gratitude to the 18 plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit.

 

If you haven’t signed the online petition opposing HB3202, the legislative transportation funding plan, please do so. Both the DC Examiner and the Washington Times covered filing of the constitutional challenge. For additional coverage, visit the Virginia Club for Growth.

 

August 06, 2007

So Much for Arlington County's 'Lowest Tax Rate'

When Arlington taxpayers complain about their taxes to Arlington County Board members, the usual mantra is that Arlington has the lowest tax rate in the region. Well, that may be true, but among the four counties in Northern Virginia (Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William), Arlington taxpayers have by far the highest tax burden of the four.

A project at Radford University’s Government and Nonprofit Assistance Center maintains a database of performance measures for Virginia governments, which enable one to compare both the financial and non-financial performance of Virginia’s local governments. Below are the comparative numbers for three performance measures:

  • County/Taxes/Debt/Net Expenses (all per capita)
  • Arlington/$2,628/$3,431/$3,715
  • Fairfax/$2,186/$4,278/$2,819
  • Loudoun/$2,164/$4,187/$2,958
  • Prince William/$1,444/$2,619/$2.001

Confront your favorite Board member with those facts. As we've said for many years, "ordinary services, extraordinary prices!"

August 05, 2007

Advocates of Plunder Again Looking to Virginia Taxpayers

Why should the needs of government take precedence over the needs of Virginia’s taxpayers?

The lead editorial in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch raises that question based on an analysis by the left-wing Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis and “whispers from the Kaine administration” of a possible $1.2 billion “shortfall” in the Virginia state budget.

The Institute’s solution? Of course, “the state should take a realistic look at its revenue structure.” The editorial rightly translates that into “raising taxes.”

Note this from the Institute’s report:

“State revenue sources are not keeping up with the natural growth of programs that serve Virginians.”

“Natural growth?” There should be “natural growth in government programs? What chutzpah of the left-wing to think that government programs should exhibit a "natural growth."

As British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli noted, “To tax the community for the advantage of a class is not protection, it is plunder.” Why can’t the leftists understand that? Do they even care?

August 04, 2007

Virginia’s New ‘Abuser Fees’ Law Takes Second Hit

Today’s Washington Times reports:

“A second judge in Virginia ruled yesterday that the state’s new ‘abuser fees’ program that singles out resident drivers is unconstitutional.”

The Richmond Times-Dispatch also reported this comment from the presiding judge:

“’I think it's unconstitutional,’ said (Judge Thomas O.) Jones, speaking from the bench. ‘I have no problem with [making that finding]. For me it's an absolute no-brainer.’”

According to the Washington Times report, “lawmakers who previously supported the (transportation finance) plan are calling on Mr. Kaine (Virginia’s Democratic governor) to call a special session to revisit the issue. Mr. Kaine, supported by Republican leaders, has denied the request.”

The office of Virginia Attorney General Robert McDonnell (R) released this press release, which included this:

“This office has stated that the transportation package passed by the General Assembly this session is constitutional. This office is statutorily obligated to defend the constitutionality of measures passed by the General Assembly, unless patently unconstitutional. As a matter of policy, I believe out of state drivers should be subject to the abuser fee law. The proper venue for such a change in public policy is the Virginia General Assembly.”

Taxpayers can fight back. Sign the Repeal the VA "Civil Remedial Fees" for Traffic Offenses online petition. Join over 169,350 Virginians in telling the Governor and the General Assembly to repeal these abusive fees now. Not during the 2008 General Assembly, but now!