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November 30, 2007

Arlington County Board’s Appetite for Your Taxes Continues

Tuesday evening marked perhaps the most important milestone in the Fiscal Year 2009 budget cycle as the Board provided their budget guidance to the County Manager for preparing the budget the Board will approve in April 2008. The Arlington Sun-Gazette begins their report thus:

“The Arlington County government is anticipating $31 million in extra revenue in its next fiscal year, but that won't be nearly enough to cover the government's expenses without tax increases or belt-tightening.

“That, to sum it up, is the early assessment of County Manager Ron Carlee, whose fiscal 2009 budget forecast went to County Board members on Nov. 27.

“For now, Carlee is predicting a $17 million shortfall even with a relatively bare-bones budget package.

“It is a very preliminary look, and if recent history is a guide, it may prove an overly dramatic view of a looming fiscal crunch. But it is the official starting point of the fiscal 2009 budget process, which will continue in February when Carlee presents his billion-dollar county spending proposal to board members.”

The newspaper also reported that Wayne Kubicki, Republican and former member of the County Board’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission:

“said it would soon be time for the County Board to get serious about how it spends tax dollars.”

Specifically, Kubicki said:

“There must be priorities in our billion-dollar budget . . . Most folks would put education and public safety at the top. Let’s see what staff thinks is at the bottom of that billion-dollar pile, and let’s talk about them.”

Taxpayers can read the entire County Manager’s report to the Board detailing specific buduget guidance; it is agenda item 37 (requires Adobe).

November 29, 2007

Squeezing Me Softly

Wondering why the Arlington Public Schools budget seems at times to be on auto-pilot? Look no further than the wonkish “planning factors.” Because they are so workish, the need for transparency and clear justification is even greater.

Planning factors are the primary determinant of the APS budget. They should ensure parents of APS students that resources for schools in one section of the county are equitable with other schools in the county. For example, each high school is assigned one principle and an assistant principle for each additional 450 students. Except for some minor adjustments, the budget for each high school is provided one classroom teacher for each 23.4 general education students.

A search of the APS website identified no policy or procedures for making adjustments to the so-called “planning factors.” Yet they always seem to be adjusted, and invariably in favor of a larger Arlington public school system. There is little evidence that changes are supported by studies or other rigorous analyses.

During this evening’s School Board meeting, staff reported on class size for the 2007-2008 school-year (agenda item 2.D.). The report included planning factor changes from FY 2004 to FY 2008. A few of those changes included:

  • FY2004: Maximum class size for grade 1 reduced from 24 to 23 and for grades 4 and 5 from 28 to 27. Class size in grades 4 and 5 reduced from 25 to 24 students. Class size in kindergarten reduced from 24 to 23.
  • FY 2005: Class size in kindergarten reduced from 23 to 22 except for Arlington Traditional School which remains at 23. Montessori (3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) class sizes reduced from 23 to 22.
  • FY 2006: Formula for middle school gifted teachers revised from 0.50 to1.00. A new planning factor added to provide one reading teacher per sixth grade team in each middle school and 0.5 for the HB Woodlawn Program.

Similar changes were made in FY 2007 and FY 2008.

To their credit, the minutes of the July 2, 2007 School Board/staff retreat shows “the staff allocation process based on the use of planning factors” was discussed. In addition, the Superintendent “proposed that for FY 2009, staff develop recommendations for changes to planning factors.”

Without transparency and lack of clear justification, the planning factors can become yet another way for squeezing a few more dollars out of Arlington taxpayers. With a highest in the commonwealth cost per student of just over $18,500, there needs to be a lot of transparency and justification for the major factors driving the school budget.

November 28, 2007

Raising Your Taxes In the Dead of Night

More than 10 years ago, avid “Board Watchers” advised me to be alert to the end of each Arlington County Board’s meetings. Under “additional items,” the Board often takes up items that may be potentially controversial. Very often, even county activists will have left the Board room. Last night was one of those nights.

After the Board adopted amendments to the Arlington County Code to allow the Board to increase taxes for “certain commercial and industrial properties in Arlington County for transportation purposes,” which was authorized by the 2007 Virginia General Assembly’s infamous HB3202 legislation, the Board took up one of those “additional items.”

Arlington County bureaucrats have been toying with a rainwater tax since at least 2003 although they refer to it as a stormwater or sanitary district tax. The County Manager’s recommendation approved by the Arlington County Board last night, after midnight by the way, was:

“Advertise for a public hearing to be held on December 15, 2007, to amend Chapter 26 of the Code of Arlington County, Virginia, to impose a sanitary district tax rate in the amount of $0.014 per $100 of assessed real property value.”

At the time I write this, there is no link to the Manager’s report to the Board. When it becomes available, I will update this post. I do have an Adobe copy that I can share with you. (e-mail “timwise < @ > verizon.net”). Until then, you can check the November 27 meeting at this County Board webpage.

Time for Tea Party II?

Update (11/30/07): The Arlington Sun-Gazette has posted their story on proposed rainwaater/stormwater tax, and includes a couple quotations from ACTA's president.

November 26, 2007

Send It, They'll Spend It

In an op-ed in today’s Washington Times, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William and Fauquier Counties) provides electoral advice for his fellow Republicans. Essentially, his advice was to urge a return to more conservative government, i.e., less taxes and less government. In his own words, Lingamfelter’s said:

Republicans have wandered from the winning path ably blazed by Ronald Reagan and have paid a price.

Scott also wrote about the coalition built by former President Ronald Reagan – “conservative Republicans, Democrats, and independents.” He went on to write:

To that end, (Reagan) proposed a clear conservative course: a strong defense to protect America from our adversaries, a less burdensome government so free enterprise could thrive and lower taxes so that families could have a higher standard of living within a robust economy. In the wake of his success, the conservative coalition he built went on to elect Republican majorities in state legislatures around the country, including here in Virginia.

Sound advice indeed! By the way, the subject of this post is a take-off on a quote of retiring Virginia Delegate Vince Callahan (R-McLean) in the op-ed, which was:

“If you send it, we will spend it.”

November 19, 2007

Not Tomorrow. Reform Earmarks Now!

We have repeatedly growled about Congress’ practice of including earmarks for special interests in spending bills (including October 19, 2007 and July 30, 2007) because they are nothing more than Congressional pork – politicians using our money to buy votes to keep themselves in power.

Earlier this month, the National Taxpayers Union and other citizen groups and fiscally conscientious lawmakers gathered “to unveil a 10-part pledge for Members of Congress to actively oppose the practice of ‘earmarking.’” A portion of the statement from the NTU’s Pete Sepp included the following remarks:

"The Earmark Reform Pledge is one of the best ways to recognize lawmakers willing to keep their word to taxpayers ... and to sift out the others who are about nothing but words. It is a respectful pledge of allegiance to fiscal responsibility . . .

“So why aren't those who often complained the loudest about earmarking on the 2006 campaign trail lining up to sign the pledge? Good question, and it's one that will be answered in the next 12 months, before the 2008 election. Those lawmakers who truly care about this issue, on both sides of the aisle, on all kinds of Committees, and in all sorts of leadership roles should step up, pen in hand.

“The naysayers will complain that this pledge is 'simplistic,' and can't account for future circumstances. In reality, the 10 provisions of this plan are carefully considered, and taxpayers can only hope that years from now the pledge will be common budgeting practice. Until then, Americans deserve the protections of the Earmark Reform Pledge, signed, sealed, and delivered from 535 Members of Congress."

Ask Senators Warner and Webb, and Representative Moran to sign the Earmark Reform Pledge. None of the three are likely to sign the pledge, however, without a great deal of grassroots pushing. So visit their webpages, and urge they sign the pledge. Then ask your neighbors to also write them. The following links will take you to Members' webforms:

November 18, 2007

Income Mobility in U.S., 1996 to 2005

Between now and the November 2008 election, Americans will hear about John Edwards’ “Two Americas” (the rich and the rest of us) during the primaries or the general election in one socialist project or another from the liberals. Consequently, it behooves taxpayers to be prepared with the facts.

Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department released an “income mobility” study (press release and complete study (requires Adobe)). “The study examines income mobility of individuals over the past decade (1996 through 2005) using information reported on individual income tax returns.” According to the report summary:

“While many studies have documented the long-term trend of increasing income inequality in the U.S. economy, there has been less focus on the dynamism of the U.S. economy and t he opportunity for upward mobility. Comparisons of snapshots of the income distribution at points in time miss this important dimension and can sometimes be misleading.”

Several of the key findings include:

  • “There was considerable income mobility of individuals in the U.S. economy during the 1996 through 2005 period with roughly half of taxpayers who began in the bottom quintile moving up to a higher income group within 10 years.
  • “About 55 percent of taxpayers moved to a higher income quintile within 10 years.
  • “Among those with the very highest incomes in 1996 – the top 1/100 of 1 percent – only 25 percent remained in this group in 2005. Moreover, the median real income of these taxpayers decline over this period.”

Treasury concluded by noting, “The degree of mobility in the overall population and movement out of the bottom quintile in this study are similar to the findings of prior research on income mobility.” Afterall, don't most people just want the opportunity to advance. Want socialism, then move to Europe. Want even more socialism, move to the Scandanavian countries.

November 17, 2007

"More government means less energy, higher costs"

If you’re concerned about the price of gasoline and what $100 a barrel oil will do to the cost of heating your home this winter, don’t expect the big-government liberals in Congress to solve the problem. Pete Sepp, Vice President of Policy and Communications for the National Taxpayers Union, however has some advice for Congress. He writes in an op-ed in Thursday’s DC Examiner:

“Last month, the National Taxpayers Union brought together 234 economists — including a Nobel laureate and individuals from renowned institutions such as Harvard University and the University of Chicago — to sign an open letter urging lawmakers to oppose Congress’ disastrous approach to energy and tax policy.

“All of these distinguished economists reached the same conclusion: More taxes, regulations and subsidies will harm, not help, the future of American energy. Unfortunately, this poisonous formula is exactly what lawmakers have concocted.”

Sepp concludes by saying:

“In the coming weeks, members of Congress should pull the plug on this energy policy of more taxes, restrictions and handouts. As the economists concluded, “By easing regulatory burdens, ending distortions that divert productive capacity, and allowing the price mechanism to do its job, Americans will have far more energy security at a lower cost than any package of taxes, regulations, and subsidies could ever hope to create.”

Some good advice indeed, but don’t expect the big-government liberals in Congress to heed it unless they hear from enough of us taxpayers.

November 11, 2007

For Politicians, It’s All Just Funny Money

Last September, presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) proposed a $5,000 “baby bond” for every child born in America. Conservatives rightly scoffed at the idea, reported the Advertiser-Tribune in Tiffin, Ohio, and the Washington Post reports that Clinton has abandoned the idea. They even add that Bush Administration speechwriter Michael Gershon had advocated a similar idea.

Now comes information about real money from the U.S. General Accountability Office. In a new report (requires Adobe) they write that:

“federal debt managed by the (Bureau of Public Debt) totaled about $9 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2007. However, that number excludes many items, including the gap between scheduled and funded Social Security and Medicare benefits, veterans’ health care, and a range of other commitments and contingencies that the federal government has pledged to support. If these items are factored in, the total burden in present value dollars is estimated to be about $53 trillion. Stated differently, the estimated current total burden for every American is nearly $175.000, and every day that burden becomes larger.” (Emphasis added)

A news item from CNSNews.com about the GAO report says that about $2.22 trillion of that $9 trillion debt is held by foreign investors.

November 09, 2007

At Least a Few in Congress Care

The front-page of this morning’s Washington Times reported on the formation of a new Congressional caucus – Reagan21. According to the newspaper:

“Capitol Hill Republicans are invoking former President Ronald Reagan in their latest effort to strengthen their party's conservative credentials, forming a new caucus whose members must pledge to support limited government and to restore ethics in Washington.”

Every member of the House and Senate is eligible to join the group, but:

“lawmakers' memberships can be revoked if they are not actively promoting the group's agenda.”

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) was quick to note that “Republicans talk about fiscal restraint but don't have the record to back it up.”

With a membership that includes Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) perhaps there is indeed hope that Reagan21 can help bring some fiscal restraint to a Congress where spending is out of control.

November 07, 2007

The Silver Lining in this Cloud

With Gov. Tim Kaine (D) leading the celebration in Fairfax County for the party seen by most as favoring higher taxes and bigger government, there is something for Arlington taxpayers to cheer about. According to the National Taxpayers Union's analysis of ballot measures:

"the results from ballot-measure contests show a clear tilt toward limited government. Tax increases failed in all of the states where fiscal policy issues were considered, while proposals to limit taxes scored victories in places as diverse as Texas and Washington.

"Whether they were asked to pay higher cigarette taxes for children's health programs or higher sales taxes for mass transit, the resounding answer from voters this fall was 'no'," said NTU Vice President for Policy & Communications Pete Sepp. "Tax hikes are rarely popular at the polls, but the electorate often went one step further by telling politicians to put government on a stricter tax-diet in years to come."

"NTU's researchers identified 29 measures in seven states that could have an impact on taxpayers (including Louisiana’s October 20 election)." Two examples are:

  • "Washingtonians opted to strengthen the state's requirement of a two-thirds legislative "supermajority" or voter approval of higher taxes, and called for the creation of a constitutional rainy day fund. Texans approved four separate measures affecting property taxes, including a limit on homestead assessments and an exemption for a vehicle used partly for business purposes."
  • "Tobacco tax increases continue to have less appeal than pundits claim. This year's defeat of a proposal to boost cigarette taxes in Oregon marks the third instance in two years that citizens rejected higher tobacco levies (in 2006, such increases failed in California and Missouri but succeeded in Arizona and South Dakota)."

Remind your elected representatives that despite what they may think, taxpayers aren't giving them a blank check -- whether they're on their way to Arlington's Courthouse or the Capitol in Richmond.

November 04, 2007

Budget ‘Shortfall’ in Arlington County?

A news item tucked inside the Examiner two weeks ago got far too little attention from Arlington taxpayers, despite the potential that  it may significantly affect them. The Examiner reported that “Arlington officials are projecting a shortfall of ‘several million’ dollars in Arlington’s 2009.”

While “(t)he exact size of the gap, or if there will be a gap, depends on what the county’s revenues actually are in fiscal 2009 compared to the operating budget the County Board approves for the next fiscal year.”

Additional information about that ‘gap’ should be available for County Board candidates to debate and discuss, along with the Board’s budget guidance to the Manager on the following year’s budget. However, for the past several years, the Board has chosen to defer that information until after the elections. Guess they don’t want to provide voters with too much information as they walk into the election booths.

November 03, 2007

Who You Going to Believe? A Politician?

Once again, some 2008 presidential candidates, not to mention the liberals/progressives in the Congress, are peddling their ‘tax the rich’ schemes. Not surprisingly, their rhetoric doesn’t match the facts, according to research reported in the November-December 2007 issue (Adobe required) of Tax Watch, the newsletter of the Tax Foundation.

In the president’s letter, Scott Hodge writes:

The latest data from the IRS refute the myth that “the rich don’t pay taxes.” While the incomes of top-earning Americans have grown since the 2001 recession, their share of the income tax burden has hit a record level of 39.4 percent of all income taxes paid. By contrast, during the last year of the Clinton administration—when America’s income tax was supposedly “fairer” due to a top tax rate of 39.6 percent compared to today’s 35 percent rate—the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers paid 37 percent of the tax burden.

"That means “the rich” today are paying two full percentage points more of the federal income tax burden than in 2000.

"At the other end of the income scale, the bottom half of taxpayers—those earning below $30,881—pay just 3 percent of the federal income tax burden. That’s nearly a percentage point less than they did in 2000, despite their share of the nation’s income being roughly the same as it was seven years ago.”"

Hodge also writes:

The data show that the federal income tax burden is now so tilted toward upper income Americans that the wealthiest 1 percent pay a greater share of the tax burden than the bottom 90 percent combined. That means the top 1 percent pay more than every American household earning less than $100,000 combined.

Tell that to the political elite running for office at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.