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December 31, 2007

Arlington Taxpayers: Hold Onto Your Wallets!

This morning’s Examiner newspaper advises “Northern Virginians (to) brace for seven new taxes, fees.” Dan Genz reports:

“More taxes and fees will hit Northern Virginia residents and business Tuesday under an effort to improved the region’s overwhelmed transportation system.

“Taxes on hotel rooms, car rentals, property sales and car repair(s) all will increase, while fees on car registrations and inspections are set to climb . . .”

But how will Northern Virginia taxpayers hold members of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority accountable for the $335 million that will fall into the coffers of the unelected NVTA?

Thankfully, Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William):

“is challenging the plan in court, saying the transportation authority has no constitutional right to levy taxes.”

Want to know how the unelected NVTA is accountable? Ask Arlington County Board member Chris Zimmerman, who is the current NVTA chairman.

December 30, 2007

Getting Caught With Your Hand in the Cookie Jar

The headline in the Sunday, December 17, 2007 Washington Post noted the Arlington County Board delayed a tax vote because residents were unaware of the the county’s “plan to finance drainage system repairs.” Kirsten Downey of the Post wrote:

“Facing a citizen revolt, the Arlington County Board delayed action yesterday on a tax on residents to be used to rebuild the county's old storm-water drainage system. After putting the tax idea on a fast track, the board voted unanimously to hold a public hearing in March to allow for more debate on how the work can be financed.

“Many county residents said they did not realize that a tax was being considered until it was discussed last month near the end of a board meeting.”

Downey included portions of the testimony of two speakers, which explains what brought some residents to speak to the Board:

  • "They suddenly introduced it in the dead of night on Nov. 27, and they were ready to pass it on Dec. 15," said Larry Mayer, president of the Arlington County Civic Federation.”
  • “Roye L. Lowry, a county board member in the 1960s, said he opposed the tax, calling it "a poor idea that would complicate our tax system." He said that it was time for the county to examine its primary financial obligations, such as retiree health benefits, before taking on other expenses. “Political and economic uncertainties are affecting every level of government," Lowry said. "It's time for a gut check."

Super Arlington taxpayer watchdog, Wayne Kubicki, suggested that deferring a vote until March 2008 would be “mere window-dressing,” and his suspicion was confirmed by Board member Barbara Favola (D) who:

“suggested that the board will eventually approve a way to pay for the drainage system repairs. "It's important we have a dedicated source of revenue. . . "

If a core governmental service such as stormwater drainage needs a “dedicated source of revenue,” then let’s dedicate portions of the real estate property tax for parks, recreation, health, welfare, police, fire, etc. What distinguishes a drainage system for having a dedicated revenue source?

The online Arlington Sun-Gazette also reported on the delay of the tax vote. The resolution (requires Adobe) passed by the Civic Federation is here. County Board agenda item 31 (and supplemental report) can be accessed here.

December 08, 2007

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse in Another Government Program

Wednesday’s Washington Post carried a front-page story of a “costly (loan) program for rural businesses yields dubious results” in the United States Department of Agriculture. The newspaper writes that "the loan program has endured nearly $1.5 billion in locsses while backing almost $14 billion in guarantees to private banks." It gets worse, though, since the article notes, "Actual losses are almost surely higher." According to the Post:

“More than three decades after the loan program was created, USDA officials still don't know whether it works. Funds have gone to firms that have hired foreign workers instead of Americans. Millions more have gone to failing and bankrupt businesses. Most of the jobs are not new. Many are low-tech and low-wage.

“In addition to the loan program, the USDA has handed out almost half a billion dollars in rural development grants to businesses and nonprofits since 2001.”

What’s frustrating is that once again, we have presidential candidates offering yet more government programs in exchange for our votes. It’s not as if this is the only government agency or program infused with waste, fraud and corruption. What taxpayers need to be asking is why anyone should be taking these candidates seriously?

HT to SwineLine from Citizens Against Government Waste.

December 07, 2007

Taxes, Regulations Subsidies “Not Answer for Energy Security”

The Congress seems headed to passing legislation that will slap “Big Oil” with more taxes, more regulations, and artificial mandates such as setting percentages of electricity to be produced by alternative methods or standards that would not result in less energy usage.

On Monday, the National Taxpayers Union sent a letter to all Members of Congress urging that any energy legislation avoid “taxes, regulations, and subsidies” as ways to achieve energy security. NTU repeated the advice of 234 economists who 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."

Then on Wednesday, NTU issued this press release, which addressed a “new direction” from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). In the press release, NTU emphasized that:

The legislation, unveiled yesterday, would unwisely penalize oil companies, impose harsh mandates on the auto industry, and heavily regulate private utilities -- all of which ultimately will hinder new developments in energy technology and hurt consumers.

Environmentalists may be preventing exploring for more oil, e.g., in Alaska at ANWR, or the use of nuclear energy, but don't blame the 'tree huggers' this time, though. Tim Carney writes in today’s DC Examiner that the energy bill before Congress is splitting ‘Big Business.’ He writes:

“Prospects aren’t good for enactment of major energy legislation aimed at “greening” America’s power and transportation sectors, and much of the media are portraying it as a win for big business over environmental groups.

“That explanation is half right: The energy bill’s problems are largely due to opposition by utility companies, but the lobbying effort on the other side has been equally driven by big business seeking profits.”

Write Congress (the following links will take you to their webpages where you can write directly to your representatives.

December 06, 2007

Just How Many Perks Do Arlington County Employees Want?

This week’s Arlington Connection reports on the County Treasurer Frank O’Leary’s plan to help solve the affordable housing problem. According to the Connection’s David Schultz:

“O’Leary’s plan calls for half of those reserve funds – $30 million – to be reinvested in local banks that would then issue the funds as discount-rate mortgages to County employees. The mortgages could only be used for the purchasing of a home in Arlington.

“All those employed by the County, including public safety officers and school employees, would be eligible for the mortgages as long as they were an employee in good standing. The mortgages would cover up to $417,000 of a home’s value and would feature interest rates well below what the current market is offering.”

County and school employees are already eligible for so-called Live Where You Work grants, which the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board started dishing out several years ago. And according to the FY 2008 report (requires Adobe) of the Washington Area Boards of Education, Arlington school employees have the costliest benefits of the region’s school districts.

Besides, it’s not like taxpayers who subsidize those benefits don’t have the same problems finding and paying for affordable housing. ACTA's president is quoted in the story.

December 03, 2007

“Don’t Tax the Charmin”

At least in Pennsylvania. According to this Associated Press report in last week's Philadelphia Inquirer:

“A western Pennsylvania woman won $100 plus court costs after she sued Kmart for twice collecting sales tax on a nontaxable necessity: toilet paper.

“Mary Bach, of Murrysville, said Kmart offered to settle the case out of court before a Thursday hearing at which a Monroeville district judge sided with her. But the settlement required her to sign a confidentiality agreement, which would have defeated the purpose of her suit, Bach said.

“’I want consumers as they shop during the important holiday to be aware of what is and what isn’t taxable,’ Bach said after the verdict. “I would lose my ability to spread that message if I were gagged.”

Thank you, Mary Bach!

HT: Jeff Dircksen for blogging the story at the National Taxpayers Union’s Government Bytes.

December 02, 2007

Latest Congressional Porker Named

In a November 15, 2007 press release, Citizens Against Government Waste named their latest Porker of the Month. According to CAGW, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) was cited:

“for airdropping a $3 million earmark for the First Tee golf program into the fiscal 2008 Department of Defense Appropriations Act conference report. First Tee’s mission, according to its website, is “To impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that promote character development and life-enhancing values through the game of golf.”

“Even a pork-happy Congress that inserted 2,074 pork projects worth $6.6 billion into this year’s defense bill initially rejected Rep. Clyburn’s earmark.  According to a November 10 McClatchy Newspapers report, “Clyburn said Friday he had to add the money to the defense spending bill in the conference committee because ‘it didn't make the cut’ earlier.”

Since 2003, First Tee has received $7.5 million in taxpayer earmarks even though it has Fortune 500 corporate sponsorships as well as some of golf’s “heaviest hitting organizations,” including the PGA, LPGA, and the USGA. Can't stand the waste of your tax dollars any more? Complain to Rep. Jim Moran, Arlington's Congressional representative!

December 01, 2007

The $95.4 Million Question

For taxpayers not old enough to remember, there was once a TV game show called “The $64,000 Question.” The roots being in the 1940’s CBS radio quiz show “Take it or Leave it,” and with inflation we get to $64 Million.

 

This morning, the Arlington Sun-Gazette reported on the results of the FY 2008 WABE results (Washington Area Boards of Education), comparing financial and related data for Washington area school districts. The Sun-Gazette highlights such data as:

  • Cost-per-student: Alexandria, $19,341 (up 6.1%), Arlington, $18,563 (up 3.3%), and Fairfax County, $13,407 (up 4.3%).
  • Enrollment: Arlington, 18,517.

Now take the difference in cost-per-student between Arlington and Fairfax County ($18,563 - $13,407 = $5,156) and multiply it times the number of Arlington students. The result is $95.4 Million. The question that Arlington taxpayers should be asking members of the Arlington School Board and the Superintendent:

just how does the Fairfax County Public Schools educate an equivalent number of their kids for $95.4 million less than does the Arlington Public Schools?

After all, the average SAT score for students in the Fairfax County Public Schools is 1,639 while it is 1,623 in the Arlington Public Schools. The newspaper does provide a hint, however, although it's far from a complete answer, by noting that Arlington has the highest teacher salary in the region as well as the highest maximum teacher salary and the highest total benefits. And, yes, I'm aware there are some Arlington citizens who think taxpayers should spend more on public education.

 

(For a look at the entire WABE report, it is posted on the APS website.)