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July 31, 2008

Comments on Big Government

Earlier this week, I growled  that limited government is needed now more than ever. One of the “timely classics” in Foundation for Economic Freedom’s “in brief” today is an August 1990 essay by Robert Higgs, senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute. In  the introduction, he begins by writing:

“All but the few anarchists among us recognize that effective liberty requires some government, if only to define and protect rights to life and property. Beyond a point, however, bigger government begins to cut into our liberties; then the growth of government becomes synonymous with the sacrifice of liberty. In the United States, we entered this stage a long time ago.”

Higgs then charts the growth of our government. In the essay, he notes:

“When we say that government has grown, what do we mean? Government is not a single thing, measurable along a scale like inches of height or pounds of weight. The size of government can change in different dimensions, many of them incommensurable.

“One dimension of government is the burden of taxation. In the early years of the 20th century, federal, state, and local governments took in revenues equal to 6 to 7 percent of the gross national product (GNP). By 1950, revenues had risen to 24 percent of GNP. Over the past 40 years the tax proportion has drifted irregularly upward, and now stands at about 32 percent of GNP ”

Higgs asks whether America will see a shift away from big government, writing:

“The growth of government cannot continue forever. An economy totally dominated by government isn’t viable—even the Communists now recognize this. Eventually the government will eat up so much of the private sector that it will destroy the means of its own sustenance. At some point the balance of political power will swing away from support for bigger government in an effort to revive the dying goose that lays the golden eggs. If such reaction can occur in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it certainly can occur here.

“But that glorious day, in my judgment, is not yet in sight . . . .”

1990’s “big government” has certainly gotten bigger, and is headed higher, as shown in the following U.S. General Accountability Office graph: 

 
Will the nation’s voters choose more fiscal insanity in November? For the sake of future generations, let us hope voters choose wisely.

July 30, 2008

Stranglehold Of The Environmentalists

According to Reference.com:

“A chokehold or stranglehold . . . is a grappling hold that strangles the opponent, and leads to unconsciousness or even death . . . They are generally considered superior compared to brute-force manual strangling . . . .

“The word also refers to an occupied state where the occupiers severely prevent any kind of civil rights, quelling all opposition and/or resistance.”

That pretty much sounds like what the environmentalists and their friends in Congress are doing to the average individual American, not to mention what they are doing to the American economy. That certainly seems the view of Walter E. Williams in his Townhall.com weekly column. According to Dr. Williams, an economics professor at George Mason University:

“For several decades, environmentalists have managed to get Congress to keep most of our oil resources off-limits to exploration and drilling. They've managed to have the Congress enact onerous regulations that have made refinery construction impossible. Similarly, they've used the courts and Congress to completely stymie the construction of nuclear power plants. As a result, energy prices are at historical highs and threaten our economy and national security.

“What's the political response to our energy problems? It's more congressional and White House kowtowing to environmentalists, farmers and multi-billion dollar corporations such as Archer Daniels Midland. Their "solution," rather than to solve our oil supply problem by permitting drilling for the billions upon billions of barrels of oil beneath the surface of our country, is to enact the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandates that oil companies increase the amount of ethanol mixed with gasoline. Anyone with an ounce of brains would have realized that diverting crops from food to fuel use would raise the prices of corn-fed livestock, such as pork, beef, chicken and dairy products, and products made from corn, such as cereals. Ethanol production has led to increases in other grain prices, such as soybean and wheat. Since the U.S. is the world's largest grain producer and exporter, higher grain prices have had a huge impact on food prices worldwide.”

Williams concludes by saying:

“The thirst to wield massive control over our economy helps explain the near religious belief in manmade global warming and the attacks on scientists and others who offer contradictory evidence.”

If the environmentalists don’t have a stranglehold on Congress. the American economy, and America’s taxpayers, I don’t know what you’d call it. Apparently, they have total control of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. When challenged to explain why she would won’t allow a vote for more drilling for America’s oil, she said, according to Investors Business Daily:

"I'm trying to save the planet; I'm trying to save the planet," she responded. "I will not have this debate trivialized by (the Republicans) excuse for their failed policy."

July 29, 2008

Grading the Arlington Public Schools

The Education Intelligence Agency has finished posting current spending statistics for elementary and secondary schools by district for all states. The numbers compare the changes in enrollment, K-12 full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers, per-pupil spending, and per-pupil spending on compensation from 2001 to the 2005-2006 school year.

A look at the six school districts in Northern Virginia was somewhat surprising. Fortunately for Arlington County taxpayers, there was an actual decrease in enrollment of 2.16% while enrollment changes ranged from -4.69% for Alexandria to 48.74% in Loudoun County, and included a 4.69% increase in Fairfax County.

Surprisingly, the Arlington Public Schools had the lowest change in the number of FTE K-12 teachers, showing just a 0.16% increase. By comparison, the number of teachers in Fairfax Country increased 13.10% while teachers increased by 78.90% in Loudoun County -- both growing much faster than the growth in enrollment.

For the six school districts, however, Arlington had the highest per-pupil spending for FY 2005-2006 although the change since 2001 was only the third highest. The numbers for per-pupil spending and changes in spending for the six districts are:

                            Per-Pupil Spending    Change since 2001
Fairfax County                $11,909                31.77%
Prince William County       $9,253                33.23%
Loudoun County               $11,484                46.82%
Arlington County              $16,338                43.48%
Alexandria                      $16,052                 41.99%
Falls Church                    $16,130                 43.94%

For the record, Arlington’s cost per student has increased 16.6% since 2001 to $19,195  (in the Superintendent’s proposed budget for FY 2009). The CPI, according to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, has increased, by 12.5%, or 4.2% annually, by comparison for the same three years.

So while the Arlington School Board is to be complimented on holding the number of teachers under control, the School Board deserves no kudos at all for controlling the school spending. So a B+ and a C- averages to a C+.

July 28, 2008

More Spending Is An American Priority?

You have to be a bit leery of any bill calling itself the “Advancing America’s Priorities Act”  (S.3297), but doubly so when it carries this description by the Club for Growth:

“This bill is a hodgepodge of 35 different bills totaling more than $11 billion in new spending. At the very least, this bill deserves a deliberate debate and should be amendable. According to the latest news reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow neither.

“This bill contains such questionable programs like $17 million for the prevention of the interstate sale of monkeys, $1.5 billion for the largest earmark in the country that could force tax hikes in the DC metro area, and a greenhouse in Maryland. And yet, there will be no time to debate this bill or offer amendments to strike certain provisions of the bill or to offset its overall cost with cuts in spending elsewhere in the budget. Contrary to its name, this bill does not advance our country's priorities. Instead, it forces special interest goodies through the Senate without any meaningful consideration about its merits.”

The National Taxpayers Union wrote an open letter to the U.S. Senate last week, noting that the bill “raises serious questions about how the Senate will proceed in the future.” Like the Club for Growth, the NTU opposes S.3297, which has been dubbed the “Coburn Omnibus.”

Today’s Washington Post carried a front page story about the villain in this story, well at least to the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid. According to the Post story:

“Using every parliamentary tactic at his disposal, Coburn has tied the Senate in so many knots that Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev) has decided on an extraordinary tactic: He will devote most of the Senate's time this week to breaking the one-man stranglehold.

“Rolling 35 bills into one omnibus package, Reid will try to leap all of Coburn's parliamentary hurdles at once and win approval for dozens of programs worth more than $10 billion.”

At least for today, the Senate came down on the side of taxpayers. In a story scheduled to be on page A3 tomorrow, the Washington Post reports:

“Senate Republicans yesterday blocked consideration of 35 bills that were rolled into one omnibus measure designed to overcome the objections of Sen. Tom Coburn (D-Okla), who has used parliamentary tactics to stymie dozens of pieces of legislation.

"Siding with Coburn, most Republicans voted against bringing up the omnibus bill, worth more than $10 billion, contending that it would take debate time away from energy legislation and efforts to bring down gasoline prices.

The vote (number 189, 110th Congress, 2nd session) to fillibuster (or, technically, to invoke cloture) was defeated 52-40 (60 votes were needed to begin debate on S.3297), according to THOMAS, the Congressional legislative information system. Virginia’s Sen. John Warner (R) was one of three Republicans who voted with 48 Democrats and one Independent to invoke cloture.

Take a few minutes to call and thank the Senators who helped Sen. Tom Coburn fillibuster S.3297. The phone number on Capitol Hill is (202) 224-3121.

July 27, 2008

Limited Government Needed Now More Than Ever

Anti-taxation and limited government are virtually the opposite sides of the same coin. While anti-taxation needs little clarification, the meaning of limited government is less clear. Fortunately, Dr. Israel Kirzner, professor of economics at New York University, writing in the November 1985 issue of The Freeman. provides us with:

“the single goal and raison d’etre of limited government in the Misesian system: The pragmatic lessons of economic science, joined with a passionate regard for individual freedom, point unequivocally to the (classically) liberal system of private ownership of the means of production.” (emphasis in the original)

In a paper adapted from a speech at Hillsdale College in January 2008 by Charles Kessler, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and published in the March 2008 issue of Imprimus, Kessler says, “Utterly missing in this election season is a serious focus on limited or constitutional government.” He then goes on “to talk about seven proposition related to the problem of limited government in our day.”

A new study, “The Economic Case for Limited Government,” by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity “finds that larger levels of government spending are associated with slower growth and economic stagnation” In commenting on the study, Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute says:

"Regardless of their political affiliation, politicians in Washington behave as if bigger government is desirable. Yet this means economic stagnation. This new study shows that a limited government is the route to more prosperity."

Sven Larson, the study’s author, writes in the executive summary:

“The burden of government spending in the United States has grown considerably since 2000, but this is just the calm before the storm. Thanks to unchecked entitlement programs, America is at risk of becoming an uncompetitive European-style welfare state. Total government spending already consumes about one-third of national economic output, with the federal government spending $2 for every $1 spent by state and local governments. If left unchecked, however, the federal government's budget will metastasize, growing from about 21 percent of GDP today to nearly 40 percent of national economic output after the baby-boom generation retires.

“Instead of allowing government to grow, policy makers should focus on how best to shrink the public sector. Academic research clearly shows that government spending - once it reaches above the level needed to finance core responsibilities such as the rule of law - hinders economic growth by misallocating labor and capital. Indeed, there is even a well-established relationship, illustrated by the Rahn Curve, showing how larger levels of government spending are associated with slower growth and economic stagnation. Researchers do not agree on the precise number, but there is general agreement that the growth maximizing level of government is between 15 percent of GDP and 25 percent of GDP, far below current levels.”

Larson goes on to say, “For much of its history, America had a tradition of limited government,” but shows in the following chart that federal government spending is climbing to “European levels unless entitlement programs are reformed.”

 

July 26, 2008

Yogi Berra & The U.S. Congress

It’s a shame no one asked Yogi for his thoughts about the U.S. Congress. Someone wise enough to say, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it,” would certainly be able to give meaning to the latest BillTally report from  the National Taxpayers Union. According to the NTU:

“Lawmakers in the first session of the 110th Congress introduced more savings bills than recent Congresses, but for each single step toward fiscal responsibility with a bill to reduce the federal budget, Representatives and Senators introduced 22 bills and 30 bills, respectively, to increase it.”

The NTU’s Demian Brady, who authored the study, may have been tempted to repeat Yogi, but instead, Brady said this about the analysis:

"Although there are some signs that more lawmakers in the 110th Congress are seeking out ways to trim expenditures, these steps have been halting and erratic . . . The  majority of Congressional Members sponsor a mix of legislation that would, on net, result in new spending, thereby increasing the strain on the budget and the burden on taxpayers."

And just how much would the wishes of Members Congress cost Americas’s taxpayer?

“Excluding overlapping legislation, if the House passed all of the bills introduced in 2007, annual federal outlays would add a burden of $14,802 to every household (a $1.7 trillion increase overall). In the Senate, all non-overlapping bills would pile an additional $9,857 on every household (a $1.1 trillion total increase).”

Use both "related links" at the bottom of the press release to look at the entire report and its many appendices. The results for Arlington’s three Members of Congress were (dollars in millions):

                            Increases    Decreases    Net

Sen. John Warner      $11,448        $0           $11,448
Sen. Jim Webb          $6,806      <$240>       $6,566
Rep. Jim Moran         $116,527    <$2,103>    $114,424

July 25, 2008

Your Job Is To Do What?

We’ve growled numerous times about Congressional pork, technically known as earmarks, so you know what we think of it. Well, for his “opposition to an earmark ban and defense of earmarks,” Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Rep. John Mica (R-FL) their July Porker of the Month. CAGW cited Mica for the following statement from the Orlando Sentinel:

“There’s no way in hell I would support banning earmarks … That’s our job, getting elected and making decisions. Yes, there are bad earmarks, like there are bad members of Congress. And what you do is get rid of them.”

CAGW points out: “Earmarking is not Congress’ ‘job.’”  The press release announcing Mica’s selection says:

“Before the 1980s, Congress would fund general grant programs and let federal and state agencies select individual recipients through a competitive process or formula.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees named specific projects only when they had been the subject of hearings and approved by authorizing committees.  Members of Congress with local concerns would lobby the president and federal agencies for consideration.  The normal budget process, which is aimed at preventing abuse and allocating resources on the basis of merit and need, has become a sideshow in the scramble by individual appropriations committee members to pick winners and losers based on seniority.”

Besides, “(e)armarking invites corrupt behavior.” as CAGW points out. Makes one wonder just long  it been since Rep. Mica read the U.S. Constitution? Taxpayers would like to know!

P.S. The phone number on Capitol Hill is (202) 224-3121 if you’d like to call Rep. Mica’s office.

July 24, 2008

More Detail on Who Pays Federal Income Taxes

On Monday, we growled about the meaning of 'fair share' after reviewing the IRS data for the percentage of federal income taxes paid by percentile groupings. If the data wasn’t sufficiently detailed  for you, a report (Fiscal Fact No. 135) from the Tax Foundation may be more to your liking. Two of the tables were:

  • Table 2 lists the number of federal individual tax returns filed with positive AGI for the years 1980-2006. For example, in 1980, there were 932,000 filers in the top 1% of AGI, but by 2006, the number of filers in the top 1% has grown to almost 1.4 million.
  • Table 7 provides the AGI of taxpayers in various income brackets from 1980 to 2006. In 1980, for example, the “dollar cut-off” for the top 5% of taxpayers was an AGI of $43,792. By 2006, the cut-off or minimum AGI for the top 5% of taxpayers was $153,542. For those in the top 25% of taxpayers, the cut-off point in 1980 was an AGI of  $23,606 and in 2006, the cut-off or minimum AGI was $64,702.

Anyone wishing to crunch numbers, there is an (.xls) spreadsheet as well as links to several other analyses.

For taxpayers who listen to the political panjandrums who sing the siren song of taxing the rich, beware the cut-off for the top 50% of taxpayers in 2006 is only an AGI of $31,987. Those folks may want to check the AGI number on their last federal tax return; they may be surprised to find themselves among the rich.

July 23, 2008

If You Can’t Believe the Auditors . . . .

The U.S. General Accounting Office released a report (requires Adobe) today in which they “substantiated” allegations that auditors of the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), which is under the U.S. Department of Defense, “did not meet professional standards.” As a former auditor in the federal government, those professional standards, called generally accepted government auditing standards, or GAGAS, are the holy grail for auditors:

“These standards provide guidelines to help government auditors maintain competence, integrity, objectivity, and independence in their work.”

As GAO notes, DCAA “plays a critical role in DOD contractor oversight by providing auditing, accounting, and financial advisory services in connection with the negotiation, administration, and settlement of contracts and subcontracts. DCAA also performs audit services for other federal agencies, as requested, on a fee-for-service basis.”

In the report, GAO began their conclusions on page 65 by saying:

“In the cases we investigated, pressure from the contracting community and buying commands for favorable opinions to support contract negotiations impaired the independence of three audits involving two of the five largest government contractors. In addition, DCAA management pressure to (1) complete audit work on time in order to meet performance metrics and (2) report favorable opinions so that work could be reduced on future audits and contractors could be approved for direct-billing privileges led the three DCAA (field audit offices) to take inappropriate short cuts— ultimately resulting in noncompliance with GAGAS and internal DCAA (Contract Audit Manual) guidance.”

If you prefer the journalism versions of the report, the Washington Post weighed in first, followed by Forbes magazine although several other news sources have since posted stories at Google. Seems a few people at DCAA deserve time in the pokey.

July 22, 2008

Bureaucrats Acting Badly With Tapxyaer Money

Blogging at Tertium Quids today, Brian Gottstein writes that “another transportation gaff will cost Virginia taxpayers, specifically noting:

“Poor planning by Virginia's transportation bureaucrats has led to a gaff that will likely cost taxpayers many millions more than initially projected (so, what else is new?), and we may be obligated to pay for that gaff for the next 40 years.”

Speaking of bureaucrats and other elected officials, WMAL reported today that: “Virginia transportation officials celebrated the start of construction (today) with a symbolic groundbreaking atop a parking garage overlooking the state's busiest road.” Here is a portion of what the Washington Post reported on Sunday:

“But under an agreement Virginia signed with the private companies building high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway, the state could be liable for millions of dollars a year if too many carpoolers, who will be exempt from tolls, use the lanes.
“The carpool subsidy is in addition to the $409 million that taxpayers are investing in the $2 billion, 14-mile project, expected to break ground next week.
“Under the 80-year contract signed in December, when gas prices were much lower, Virginia officials insisted that carpools of three or more people and buses be allowed to use the lanes for free and offered to reimburse 70 percent of the tolls carpoolers didn't pay.
“At the time, transportation officials estimated that the provision would cost the state $1 million a year. The carpool subsidy will continue for 40 years or until the builders make $100 million in profits, according to the contract between Virginia and Transurban, an Australian company, and Flour Corp. of Texas. The subsidy kicks in when carpools exceed 24 percent of the traffic on the lanes.”

What happened? According to Brian:

“Apparently these officials were the only people in the country who could not predict that gas prices would go up, even though this is a trend that has been going on for the past several years.”

And the tax-and-spend crowd in Richmond wonder why some taxpayers are leery of letting more money accumulate in the hands of the transportation bureaucrats? By the way, it would be the unelected Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) that would be spending much of our money.

July 21, 2008

What Does ‘Fair Share’ Really Mean?

Last week, the IRS released their annual data about the percentage of federal income taxes paid by percentile groupings. Despite the claims of liberal/progressive Washington politicians that the rich don’t pay their ‘fair share’ of income taxes, once again the facts don’t support the charges of the tax-and-spend, income redistribution politicians. As the Wall Street Journal began an editorial today:

“Well, the latest IRS data have arrived on who paid what share of income taxes in 2006, and it's going to be hard for the rich to pay any more than they already do. The data show that the 2003 Bush tax cuts caused what may be the biggest increase in tax payments by the rich in American history.”

The Wall Street Journal concluded the editorial, saying:

“The way to soak the rich is with low tax rates, and last week's IRS data provide more powerful validation of that proposition.”

The editorial is well-worth reading in its entirety. If you don’t have the time, the Wall Street Journal included the following chart to support the key point of the editorial:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Taxpayers Union has the data for tax year 2006 posted in a bit more detail than does the above chart. In addition, NTU provides charts for each year back to tax year 1999.

July 20, 2008

More Subsidies for the Arlington Arts Crowd

In the October 2007 issue of our newsletter (requires Adobe), The ACTA Watchdog, we pointed out that in FY 2006, Arlington County spent $3,936 per capita compared to Fairfax County ($3,409), Loudoun ($3,215) or Prince William ($2,860). One reason for the disparities may be the generosity to “the arts” displayed by the five panjandrums on the Arlington County Board.

Item 31 on the Board’s agenda on Saturday, July 19, 2008, was the Manager’s recommendation the Board allocate $279,000 in “financial support of Arlington arts organization and artists as recommended by the Arlington Commission for the Arts.” The money had already been appropriated in the FY 2009 adopted budget.

You may not attend any theatrical shows during the year, and you may not even enjoy theatre. However, the County Board makes sure that Arlington’s arts crowd likes your tax dollars. Most of the recipients of your tax dollars this year received less than $8,000, but the County Board was especially generous with tax subsidies to three arts organizations:

  • Arlington Arts Center -- $20,426
  • Classika-Synetic Theatre -- $50,000
  • Signature Theatre -- $50,000

Whether you are a low-, a middle-, or a high-income taxpayer, you helped subsidize “the arts” in Arlington whenever you eat at McDonald’s or pay property taxes on your Arlington real estate. And you've been helping since the early 1990s when the Board adopted their "Policy for the Support of Arts Organizations and Artists."

July 19, 2008

Arlington County Board Approves ADU’s 4-1

After a couple years or so of moving below the radar, and then being “floated” by the County Board’s Housing Commission in January, the County Board voted today to sanction so-called accessory dwelling units (Board agenda item #47). In an online news report posted this evening, Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun-Gazette wrote:

“County Board members on July 19 voted 4-1 to support a scaled-back proposal that will legalize accessory-dwelling apartment units in single-family neighborhoods, but caps the number of units that can be approved each year.

“The vote wrapped up an often cantankerous, six-month community debate, and came at the tail end of a seven-hour hearing in which critics of the accessory-dwelling proposal significantly outnumbered proponents.

“That lopsided ratio of opponents to supporters may have been the key factor why board members agreed to limit the number of accessory units approved each year to just 28. The number was chosen because it has long been the government's rather loose estimate of how many homeowners will come forward each year to seek to create accessory units.”

We growled about this on July 7, 2008, as well as pointing taxpayers to an online petition concerning  the “legalization of Accessory Dwellings” that they could sign if they thought the Board's action “would negatively affect the residents of Arlington.” The  petition garnered 584 signatures. As McCaffrey noted in his report, even the Board’s various commissions had trouble reaching agreement.

One Arlington sage noted this comment by Board member Chris Zimmerman, “I know a lot of folks are against it, but let's just at least go ahead and give the AD proposal a try." A second sage observed that the Board attempted to please most parties with the ADU package by including all sorts of bureaucratic requirements and limitations that would limit the number of units directly and raise the cost and hassle of creating one.

So goes the Arlington County “sausage factory” in Room 307 at Courthouse Plaza. Will Arlington taxpayers eventually pay the price for the Board's actions today?

For further information, visit the Civic Federation’s webpage on accessory dwelling units. The Arlington County Republican Committee developed a short Issue Brief to bring together a lot of information into just two or three pages. Finally, there is the county’s official press release.

July 18, 2008

Another Lesson for the Arlington Worthies?

We’re not aware of any plans by the Arlington County Board to request authority from the Commonwealth to impose a county income tax. But we shouldn’t forget that the District of Columbia has long wanted to impose a so-called “commuter tax.” Consequently, a study (Fiscal Fact No. 133) released last Friday by the Tax Foundation is worth reading since it explains the pernicious negatives of local income taxes. According to the Tax Foundation:

“Local income or wage taxes can be a part of a sound tax system, particularly if revenue is used to reduce other taxes that may do more economic harm. Using local income tax revenue to reduce corporate income taxes or property taxes can still produce a friendly tax climate.

“However, local-level taxes on wages and income are clustering in areas with poor business tax climates. Philadelphia is one of just six of America's twenty largest cities by population that impose a city- or county- level tax measured by compensation, be it a tax on wages, earned income, or occupational privilege. (The others are New York City, Detroit, Indianapolis, Columbus (OH), and Baltimore. It should also be noted that Washington, D.C., while imposing a state-like income tax on its residents, has long sought to impose a "commuter tax" on nonresident workers, but is prohibited from doing so by federal law.”

And what advice does the Tax Foundation offer county and city legislators? They write:

“Cities and counties should be cautious when imposing local-level taxes on wages, income, and occupational privilege. First, officials should consider whether the tax is worth the compliance costs imposed on workers and businesses.”

An informative table of local wage, income and occupational privilege taxes is also provided, which explains why it’s better to live on the Virginia side of the Potomac River than on the Maryland side. For example, every Maryland county imposes a county-wide income tax, ranging from 1.25% to 3.20%.

July 17, 2008

Congress Working For You? Not Yet!

Earlier this week, we offered kudos to President Bush for withdrawing the executive ban on offshore drilling, but then growled that Congress needs to “drill here, drill now” if taxpayers hope to see lower gas prices. As the National Taxpayers Union noted on Monday:

"The pressure is now on Congress to stop stonewalling domestic production . . .  Though the President's action was important, exploration cannot begin until Congress removes its restrictions. Americans should contact their representatives and urge them to follow the President's lead on this critical issue."

The Heritage Foundation issued an informative and timely “backgrounder” this week, entitled “How Rising Gas Prices Hurt American Households.” Their conclusion, in part, says:

“Americans are now facing the prospect of even higher prices at the pump. While there are many other economic influences on household expenditure, personal savings, personal disposable income, and total employment, the Heritage analysis simulated the dynamic movement of these variables in response to movements in the retail price of gasoline.”

“The results of the analysis show that households react by using personal savings in the short term. This reduction in assets slows other spending, leading to slower growth in purchasing. On the supply side, businesses experience higher production costs while demand for their goods is lower, causing them to adjust their employment downward. Individuals, too, may begin to adjust their work choices as longer commutes make working outside the home less beneficial. These two effects reduce overall employment.”

Heritage provides several useful tables and charts, including the following chart showing how higher gas prices will lead to job losses:
       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taxpayers need to contact Senators Warner and Webb, or Congressman Jim Moran to be sure their voices are heard that America needs to "drill here, drill now." The phone number on Capitol Hill is 202-224-3121.

July 16, 2008

Remainder of the Year is Yours

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) defines the Cost of Government Day (COGD) as “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.” according to this report from Americans for Tax Reform.

For 2008, COGD falls on July 16, and ATR writes:

“Cost of Government Day for 2008 is July 16. Working people must toil on average 197 days out of the year just to meet all costs imposed by government. In other words, the cost of government consumes 53.9 percent of national income.”

And trends since 1977? Here’s what ATR has to say:

“Cost of Government Day falls four days later in 2008 than last year’s revised date of July 12.  In 2008, the average American will have to work an additional 17 days out of the year to pay off his or her cost of government compared to 2000, when the COGD was June 29.

“In fact, since 1977, COGD has fallen later than July 16 in only four of those 32 years - in 1982 and 1983, and in 1992 and 1993. The driving factor for this development is the fact that all components of the cost of government – federal spending, state and local spending, and regulation – are now increasing faster than national income.

“This increase in the cost of government stands in sharp contrast to at least two periods in the past thirty years: COGD fell sharply from a high of July 20 in 1992 to June 29 in 1999 and 2000. In addition, COGD declined from a record high of July 23 in 1982 to July 3 in 1989. Both of these declines resulted from a combination of restraining the growth of federal spending while the economy was booming and rapidly increasing national income.”

In addition to calculating the tax and regulatory burdens, the report delves deeper into several topics, thanks undoubted to Peter Ferrara who was responsible for the research and analysis. Those topics include interstate migration and America’s entitlement crisis.

Did America’s Founders have all this government in mind when they declared the nation’s independence?

July 15, 2008

Greens and Your Liberty

On his show on WMAL radio (630 AM) this evening, Mark Levin read portions from an opinion piece by Brendan O’Neill in today’s Guardian newspaper of how "environmentalists want to curb our freedom far more than the government's anti-terrorist laws ever will." Following are several paragraphs from Mr. O’Neill’s column:

“Imagine a society where simply speaking out of turn or saying the "wrong thing" was openly discussed as a crime against humanity, and where sceptics or deniers of the truth were publicly labelled "criminals", hauled before the press and accused of endangering humanity with their grotesque untruths.”

    <snip>

“Surely no one would put up with such a society? Yet today, all of the above things are happening – under what we might call the tyranny of environmentalism – and people are putting up with it.”

“In the current debate on liberty, we hear a lot about the attack on our democratic rights by the government's security agenda, but little about the grave impact of environmentalism on the fabric of freedom. It seems to me that green thinking – with its shrill intolerance of dissenting views, its deep distaste for free movement and free choice, and its view of individuals, not as history-makers, but as filthy polluters – poses a more profound threat to liberty even than the government's paranoid anti-terrorist agenda.”

    <snip>

“But perhaps the main way that environmentalism undermines the culture of freedom is by its ceaseless promotion of guilt. In the environmentalist era, we are no longer really free citizens, so much as potential polluters. We are continually told – by government, by commentators, by radical activists – that everything we do, from wearing disposable nappies to using deodorant to allowing ourselves to be cremated, is harmful to our surroundings.”

Read O’Neill’s entire column to better understand how many in the environmental movement are helping to destroy our freedoms and liberty.

HT to the Mark Levin Show and bloggers at National Review Online.

July 14, 2008

Hey Congress: It's Drill Here, Drill Now!

Kudos to President Bush for lifting the presidential ban on offshore drilling. According to a story posted this afternoon, the Washington Post reports (article + video) that earlier today the President:

“lifted a presidential ban on offshore oil drilling on the outer continental shelf that was implemented by his father, escalating a confrontation with Democrats in Congress over how to cope with soaring gasoline prices.

“Lifting the executive moratorium has no immediate practical effect, because Congress enacted its own prohibition on offshore drilling in 1981. It would have to be rescinded for exploration to proceed.

“In a Rose Garden statement at the White House, Bush argued that allowing drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines would ease pressure on oil prices by increasing domestic production.”

In a statement from the Republican Study Committee, Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said:

“Our energy problems are all about supply and demand, and as prices at the pump continue to soar, we must continue to take steps to increase the supply of American-made energy.  In addition to our deep sea resources, I hope that we take the legislative steps necessary to further increase production of American energy by lifting restrictions on exploration for energy in the intermountain West and in arctic Alaska.

“We must also work to reduce in the number of boutique fuels and expand the America’s domestic refining capacity.  We also need to emphasize the importance of renewable energy and alternative technologies like coal to liquids, which are clearly the future.  These common sense actions would increase global energy production and immediately send price-reduction signals to the futures markets.”

In other news reporting, the New York Times said the President is “hoping to prod Congress to act to clear the way for exploration along the country’s coastline in response to soaring energy prices.” Not unexpectedly, the Boston Globe reports New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation is “divided along party lines . . . on offshore oil drilling.” However, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) makes what has to rank among today’s dumbest statement of the day, saying:

"We need leaders who will stand up for the American people instead of standing up for the oil companies."

What we need, Rep. Shea-Porter, are leaders who care more about the burdens of the American people such as the price of gasoline. That, Ms. Shea-Porter, involves first and foremost drilling for more oil. Whining about releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or cracking down on speculators or calling the President’s action “a political stunt” will not do a thing to increase the supply of oil and lower prices at the gas pump.

In case the three previous news reports don’t provide you with enough quotes of why something cannot be done, here is one other from the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal today:

“The president is trying to make this a political gimmick, and we’re trying to figure out a way to do something about these (gasoline) prices,” Reid said. “And we are interested in increasing domestic production but we want to be realistic as to what expectations should be.”

July 13, 2008

Reform Entitlements to Control Spending

According to the Heritage Foundation’s 2008 federal revenue and spending book of charts, “entitlement reforms are needed to control spending.” They go on to explain:

“If tax revenues are kept near historical levels but entitlement spending remains on autopilot, federal spending will soar to nearly 80 percent of GDP over the long term, while interest payments alone will exceed 40 percent of GDP. Within two generations, total spending will be 42 percent of GDP. To prevent the economy from reaching this unsustainable point, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security must be modernized so that they do not impose such a tremendous burden on future generations.”

For our tax-and-spend political overseers, the following chart shows “spending as a percentage of GDP under (Congressional Budget Office) alternative baseline” for 2000 until 2050 (see the book of charts at the above link to see the full chart, which runs to 2082):

         

July 12, 2008

If The “Bush Tax Cuts” Expire

With less than four months until America’s voters get to choose their next president, one issue they will undoubtedly focus on is taxes. We growled on June 28, 2008 about the cost of the promises made by the two presidential candidates. Even worse, is that one party has promised to allow the so-called “Bush tax cuts” to expire. In the latest issue of the Hoover Digest, two renowned economists argue that:

“Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would wreak havoc on our economy—while doing virtually nothing to shrink the deficit.”

As a bit of background, Cogan and Hubbard write:

“The tax code changes enacted in 2001 and 2003 are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. If they do, statutory marginal tax rates will rise across the board, ranging from a 13 percent increase for the highest-income households to a 50 percent increase for lower-income households. The marriage penalty will be reimposed and the child credit cut by $500 per child. The long-term capital-gains tax rate will rise by one-third (to 20 percent from 15 percent), and the top tax rate on dividends will nearly triple (to 39.6 percent from 15 percent). The estate tax will roar back from extinction at the same time, with a top rate of 55 percent and an exempt amount of only $1 million. Finally, the alternative minimum tax will reach far deeper into the middle class, ensnaring 25 million tax filers in its web.”

Two comments in the article are all one needs to know about the future tax burdens and America’s economic future if these tax cuts are allowed to expire.

  • “Letting the Bush tax cuts expire would drive the personal income tax burden up by 25 percent—its highest point, relative to GDP, in history.”
  • “As in the past, the economic damage caused by the tax increases and tax-avoidance behavior would prevent the promised revenues from being realized. At the same time, Congress would keep up its profligate spending.”

If your favorite tax-and-spend politician needs a picture, here is one graphic from the article:
         

July 11, 2008

It’s Good to be in Charge

Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) reported this week that committee chairman, U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) have scarfed up $122 million (almost 26%) of the earmarks in the FY 2009 Senate Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill. The bill contains 552 earmarks worth $471.4 million. According to TCS:

“Their states benefit from two of the largest earmarks in the legislation, including $30 million to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa for an interdisciplinary science and engineering teaching and research corridor and $20 million for Maryland and Virginia, to aid watermen in the Chesapeake Bay with new work opportunities, including but not limited to aquaculture, restoration and research.”

Taxpayers can read the TCS article for the other pork projects paid for by all Americans, but that will benefit the politically elite. Time for the revolution?

July 10, 2008

A Lesson for Arlington’s Worthies

Because of Arlington’s affluent economy and its location next to the nation’s capital, it’s highly unlikely that Arlington County would ever become the Baltimore of Northern Virginia. Nevertheless, a recent article about the city of Baltimore in the Wall Street Journal on the July 5, 2008 provides food for thought. The article by two university economics professors in the Baltimore area addresses the question of whether:

“Baltimore deserves the Third-World profile it has developed because it has expanses of crumbling, crime-riddled neighborhoods populated by low-income renters, an absent middle class, and just a few enclaves of high-income gentry near the Inner Harbor or in suburbs.”

They write that in the 1950’s Baltimore:

“was a prosperous, blue-collar city of about 950,000 with a median family income 6.6% above the national average. Back in the good old days, Baltimore had a smaller percentage of residents living in poverty (22.7%) than the nation as a whole (27.8%), and a greater percentage of families (23.1%) earning a middle-class income of at least $44,600 in today's dollars than the rest of the country (19.1%).”

Besides spending 61% more per person than the surrounding county, the city’s population today:

“is almost 50% smaller, and about 40% of families with children live at or near the federal poverty line. Among the country's 100 most populous cities, Baltimore ranks a shameful 87th on median household income.”

The professors then go on to explain why taxes are to blame for Baltimore’s rot, noting that:

“Politicians, in short, reason that because physical capital cannot typically be picked up and moved, it is immutable. Wrong. It depreciates. Fail to replenish or improve it, and it decays to uselessness.”

Let’s hope that Baltimore’s worthies learn the lessons the professors are teaching. In addition, Arlington taxpayers need to be ever watchful of where our political elite are leading the county.

July 09, 2008

Political Candor Needed

One of the few reasons to read the Washington Post is Robert J. Samuelson’s columns each Wednesday. Today, he laments the political myth that:

“elections allow us collectively to settle the "big issues." The truth is that there's often a bipartisan consensus to avoid the big issues, because they involve unpopular choices and conflicts. Elections become exercises in mass evasion; that certainly applies so far to the 2008 campaign. A case in point is America's population transformation. Few issues matter more for the country's future -- yet it's mostly ignored.‘

The second “big issue” that is not discussed is immigration. In conclusion, Samuelson writes:

“People complain about governmental gridlock. But what often obstructs constructive change is public opinion. The stalemates on immigration and retirement spending are typical. We avoid messy problems; we embrace inconsistent and unrealistic ambitions. We want more health care and lower health costs; cheap energy and less dependence on foreign energy; more government spending and lower taxes. The more unattainable our goals, the more we blame "special interests," "lobbyists" and other easy scapegoats.

“In this campaign, we have a candor gap. By and large, Americans want to be told what government will do for them -- as individuals, families, consumers -- and not what it will do for the country's long-term well-being, especially if that imposes some immediate cost or inconvenience. Grasping this, our leading politicians engage in a consensual censorship to skip issues that involve distasteful choices or that require deferred gratification. They prefer to assign blame and promise benefits. So elections come and go, there are winners and losers -- and our problems fester.”

While we might not agree with everything in the column, assigning blame and promising benefits sure seem to be standard political techniques.

HT Mark Levin Show 

July 08, 2008

A Warning About Raising Taxes

The Congressional Budget Office, according to this paper from the Heritage Foundation, is “Congress’ nonpartisan official ‘scorekeeper.’” Accordingly, they were “recently asked by Representative Paul Ryan (R–WI) to estimate the impact of raising marginal tax rates to pay for the projected huge increase in entitle­ment spending in future decades.” The CBO’s conclusion, reports the Heritage paper:

  • “Marginal tax rates for every bracket, along with corporate tax rates, would need to more than double.”
  • “These tax rates "would significantly reduce eco­nomic activity and create serious problems with tax avoidance and tax evasion," and such rates "would probably not be economically feasible.””

The paper’s conclusion, which was written by Hertigage’s VP for domestic and economic policy studies, is:

“The CBO's letter on the tax increases needed to pay for future projected entitlement spending is another dire warning to Congress that it should deal quickly with the unsustainable promises associated with the major entitlement programs. Already, three former CBO directors and many other budget analysts from across the political spectrum have urged a fundamental restructuring of these programs, both to avert an economic crisis and to avoid placing an unacceptable burden on future generations.

“Yet proposals abound in Congress and on the campaign trail to create new entitlements and to raise taxes to pay for them in addition to the steadily rising tax burdens built into current law. These new entitlements and proposed tax increases would be on top of the levels that the CBO's letter says would "probably not be econom­ically feasible."

“It is time for those who argue that we do not need to renegotiate the promises made in today's entitle­ments to explain to Americans that their children and grandchildren will face the huge marginal tax rates indicated by the CBO. It is also time for those who advocate increased spending commitments financed by increased tax rates to explain to the American people that future rates would be even higher under their proposals.”

Take some time, and read the entire “backgrounder.” When you’re finished, you’re likely to want to ask your favorite “tax-and-spender” in Congress what he or she is doing to bring entitlements spending for Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security under control.

July 07, 2008

Petition Re: Accessory Dwelling Units

After many months of wrangling in the community over Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), the Arlington County Board will finally hold a public hearing on changes to the county’s Zoning Ordinance on Saturday, July 19, 2008.

The Arlington County Civic Federation has devoted considerable time and resources to debating the merits of ADUs, including a wide-ranging survey. In the process, they’ve compiled an extensive set of resources on this issue, which you can find at this Federation webpage.

The topic has seen numerous letters to the editor of the weekly Arlington Sun-Gazette. It seems there isn’t a week goes by that there aren’t several letters on the Sun-Gazette’s editorial pages addressing ADUs.

ACTA has not taken a formal position on ADUs although if you get one next door, and your home’s value decreases in value, some might consider that a virtual tax. Consequently, ACTA members as well as non-members may want to sign the following online petition opposing ADUs:

No to Accessory Dwelling Units in Arlington, Virginia

You can also use the link in the right column to contact the Arlington County Board to voice your opposition, or you can call the Board office at (703) 228-3130.

July 06, 2008

Skimping on Maintenance, as Usual

At their Tuesday, July 1, 2008 meeting, School Board members learned that “school HVAC systems (are) in dire straits, according to a report in the online Arlington Sun-Gazette. The paper reported:

“The school system currently is two to three years behind in basic maintenance for heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. And the concerns are not limited to older schools, task force members said - even the new Washington-Lee High School is at risk.”

In summarizing the report of a HVAC task force, an engineer on the task force told the School Board, “You're spending $90 million on that building (i.e., the new Washington-Lee High School); you need to take care of it.”  The newspaper reported that School Board member Libby Garvey “said she was disheartened, but not surprised.”

In comments responding to the article, Wayne Kubicki wrote on July 2:

“This report is a real indictment of both School staff and every member of the School Board - seemingly going back many years.

“We have seen a rapid increase in per student spending - with the School Board even putting some of its yearly operating funds into the construction of new buildings, supplementing bond funds. Yet day-in, day-out maintenance seems to have been forgotten.

“New buildings mean ribbon cuttings, photo ops and re-elections. Unfortunately, maintenance brings none of these things.

“Interesting comments from Ms. Garvey - since a lot of this happened on her watch.”

We think Mr. Kubicki is being far too generous in his comments. A search of the school budgets for fiscal years 2006 through 2008 found only one somewhat major HVAC expenditure, which involved spending $600,000 for HVAC controls at Wakefield High School. And while the 2007-2012 CIP used words such as “substantial replacement” for major systems at TJ, Wakefield and Williamsburg, there was relatively minor spending for HVAC issues. In the FY 2009 budget, on the other hand, spending for HVAC issues jumps to $2.6 million. Consequently, Ms. Garvey’s surprise strikes us as rather unusual, too.

By the way, the cost-per-student referred to by Mr. Kubicki is $19,195, according to the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2009 budget.

Both the HVAC task force report (item D on the School Board’s July 1, 2008 agenda) and the budget documents are available at the Arlington Public Schools website.

July 05, 2008

Call Your Delegate

Delegate Robert G. Marshall (R) was the chief plaintiff in the case against the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA), which resulted in the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling that the General Assembly cannot delegate its taxing authority to unelected bodies such as NVTA. We growled about this on February 29, 2008. In an e-mail from Del. Marshall yesterday, he writes”

“Unless you contact House of Delegates members before July 9 you may be facing higher taxes and fees, not just from Democrats who want higher auto, sales, real property and gas taxes, but from Republicans too!”

He then goes on to say:

“Virginia’s families face falling home prices, increased real property taxes, skyrocketing gas and food prices, an 18 per cent electric rate hike for Dominion, a 6.4% monthly increase in natural gas prices, almost five decades of federal deficit spending, and a devalued dollar.

“Enough is enough.  Surely this is not the time for the General Assembly to be raising taxes and fees.

“If Virginia’s government cannot operate on 97 per cent of its $75.9 billion budget (2009-10), something is definitely wrong.  Three percent of that figure is $2.277 billion, or $1.14 billion that could be re-directed each year to fix roads and transit systems.

“No democrat (SB 6009) or republican (HB 6055) tax proposal pending in the General Assembly raises more than $1.1 billion a year.  Also, the Assembly should support changing work schedules or telework, use toll- and fare-supported transportation bonds, set up bio-fuel capture centers, permanently make state government more efficient and spend the savings on roads and transit.

“Here’s legislation pending in the House of Delegates to attack the problem without raising taxes:

    • HJR 6007:  Lock up the Transportation Trust Fund so transportation dollars are not diverted for other means.  Over the last18 years, more than $1.2 billion have been diverted to non-transportation uses. This must stop.
    • HB 6030:  Fund major transportation projects using bonds paid by tolls or rider fares; i.e., Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion, I-81 truck improvements (trucks pay tolls), the Tri-County (Prince William-Fairfax-Loudoun) Connector, expansion of commuter rail in Northern Virginia to Haymarket, buying more Metro subway rail cars, etc.
    • HB 6049: Allow naming rights for corporations and individuals willing to pay for building roads and other transportation projects, as is done for stadiums and school buildings.
    • HB 6031: Require all tractor-trailers (including those from out of state) to pay a per-mile road maintenance and damage charge now being passed on to other Virginia drivers.
    • HB 6032: Set up a permanent state oversight commission, similar to the federal cost-cutting BRAC Commission, to evaluate whether state holdings should be sold, to identify duplicate programs, and to cut unnecessary overhead while maintaining the same level of services.
    • HJR 6011: Stop burning food!  Request a waiver from the federal ethanol mandate.  Ethanol results in less mpg and increases food prices by diverting food to fuel.
    • HJR 6008:  Assess methane resources now being wasted in Virginia that could be converted to fuel for cars/trucks.
"Implement the 2002 Wilder Commission efficiency recommendations that were projected to currently save $1.1 billion annually without reducing services."

“Sadly, these and similar measures have been sent by Speaker Bill Howell to his Rules Committee, where he is simply sitting on them.  The result will be Democrat or Republican tax increases.  Let your elected officials hear from you.”

He also provides the webpage for contacting your state senator or delegate, or learning who they are. You can also see all the bills referred to the House Rules Committee for the special transportation session.

July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, America

Most Americans know that Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, but how many know the rich history of our founding document. PatriotPost.US says it best: “so many of the threads in our national history run back through time to come together in one place, in one time, and in one document: the Declaration of Independence.” Following is the introductory paragraph of a short history of the Declaration of Independence:

“Drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation's most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson's most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in "self-evident truths" and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country. We invite you to read a transcription of the complete text of the Declaration.”

To listen to some patriotic music while studying the history of the Declaration of Independence, Astute Bloggers link to five You Tube videos. And Thomas Sowell explains why patriotism is relevant in this IBD op-ed.

Finally, here’s a sampling of three editorials from today’s editions of the Washington Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. The Washington Times uses its editorial space today to reprint the entire Declaration of Independence. The Washington Post argues “the great American venture really” didn’t “get rolling” in “July 1776 in Philadelphia,” but rather “around Jan. 1, 1815 when Gen. Andrew Jackson was faced with the need to save the very important city of New Orleans from the British army.” In closing, however, the Post does point out that “the 1776 dream of liberty and independence . . . has remained the country's greatest motivational force.”

It’s hard to find any sense of patriotism in the Independence Day editorial of the New York Times, however. Titled “The Meaning of a Day, it begins: “It makes sense to think of the Fourth of July as the start of a season and not as a one-day holiday moored off by itself.” It ends even worse: “This is a good day to be sitting on an ice chest full of something cold to drink in your own backyard, watching the grill smoke and waiting for the fireworks off in the distance that say high summer has finally come. That’s how much better it is to be celebrating the Fourth of July than the Ninth of December or the Eleventh of February.”

It’s worth noting what John Adams, a member of the Committee of Five “appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence.” wrote to his wife, Abigail:

“It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews , Games, Sports, guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more. You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

UPDATE (7/5/08): Let me add the Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry, as a resource for this post if for no other reason than they point out that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were captured or imprisoned by the British for having signed it.

UPDATE (7/6/08): Visit this page at Wall Builders for a short video of the history of the Star Spangled Banner. Listen and watch a reading of the Declaration of Independence (6:04 minutes) via You Tube, with HT to Gates of Vienna and Redneck's Revenge.

July 03, 2008

So Transportation Is Just About Politics

That is certainly how one might interpret Tim Craig’s report in today’s Washington Post, which says:

“But 10 days into the special session on transportation -- legislators have been on vacation for six of those days -- it remains uncertain whether any solution will be found or whether the governor will score any of those political points.

“The General Assembly already has killed (Governor Tim) Kaine's proposal for a $1.1 billion tax increase to pay for roads and rail. It appears unlikely that the legislature will approve new statewide money for transportation, and the issue might not be brought up again until after the 2009 governor's race.”

“Kaine might think that voters will pin the blame on Republicans, but there is little in this session for Democrats, either. And by pushing the issue now, before achieving a consensus among legislators on how to proceed, Kaine might have guaranteed he will leave office without fulfilling one of his major policy goals.”

Craig then goes on to write about who hit who, and why.

At Tertium Quids, Norm Leahy writes, “The sources are chattering about what happened in the House regarding the gas tax hike and the prospects for HB 6055 -- the return of regional government + local taxes.” He’s most concerned, however, about HB 6055, which we growled about last evening. Norm writes:

“The bigger threat comes from 6055...what some are calling an utterly "stupid" move that, should it pass, will both alienate the Republican base and give Democrats the pleasure of killing it in the Senate.”

Stay tuned! The General Assembly special transportation session resumes on Wednesday.

July 02, 2008

Son of Frankenstein

That’s how James Atticus Bowden describes HB 6055, which is one of the remaining special transportation session bills in the Virginia House of Delegates. It is sponsored by Delegate Phil Hamilton (R-93). Briefly, HB 6505 would:

“Eliminates or replaces with state and local funds, fees and taxes, certain fees and taxes for Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads authorized pursuant to Chapter 896 of the Acts of Assembly of 2007 that are within the ambit of the Supreme Court of Virginia's decision on February 29, 2008, that they are unconstitutional.  The bill replaces the Hampton Roads Transportation Authority by transferring its duties to other entities.”

That Supreme Court decision overturned HB 3202. We growled about that decision when it was announced.

Now Bowden writes at Bacon's Rebellion of how things will work if HB 6055 (the son of Frankenstein, i.e., of HB 3202) works its way through the General Assembly:

“These politicians will have hundreds of millions of dollars from year one to hire staff, rent offices or build them, hire transportation, more legal services, pay for meals, run executive off-sites, conduct ad campaigns to re-educate the public, put in the latest IT equipment, provide security, hire lobbyists, conduct environmental studies, and, above all, pay six figure salaries to retired and failed politician friends as ‘consultants’.

“Eventually, huge contracts for the actual engineering will be awarded without accountability oversight or checks and balances or adjudication for disputes.

“The people who will make millions to billions in government contracts can afford to give tens of thousands of dollars to the politicians, or their friends or family or some other middle man. But, the corruption will be done the genteel Virginia way. No bags of money will change hands. Just the right folks will get the contracts. And there will be a lot of consultants – just the right folks again.

“English-speaking People have built roads, ports, canals, bridges, ferries, railroads, airports, tunnels and subways in Virginia without Regional Governments for 400 years.

“The People voted against Regional Governments with taxing authority in 1998.

“The People rejected Regional Government, the projects and the taxes like HB 6055 in 2002 over 2:1. Polls indicate The People in Tidewater are against it about 3:1 today.”

Norm Leahy at Tertium Quids questions why so much money is being directed to mass transit, saying:

“The romance between conservatives and the great, black financial hole that is rail is just incredible. I would expect anti-tax politicians to know of these shortcomings.”

Bloggers at Right-wing Liberal report today that the Prince William County Board of Supervisors will consider a resolution opposing HB 6055. Other legislative bodies are encouraged to do the same. ACTA members, and other taxpayers, are strongly encouraged to contact their representatives in the Virginia General Assembly (contact information here). The 140 legislators in the General Assembly need to hear from you.

July 01, 2008

Gasoline Taxes

With the Virginia General Assembly set to return to Richmond next Wednesday, July 9, to resume their special transportation session, it’s worthwhile to do a bit of homework. Last October, the Tax Foundation released a “background paper” entitled, “Paying at the Pump: Gasoline Taxes in America."

The Virginia Senate has a proposal on the table that would raise Virginia’s gas tax while the House of Delegates has a proposal that would authorize most of the fees and taxes that were declared unconstitutional because they would be imposed by the unelected Northern Virginia Transportation Authority. Consequently, it seems appropriate to do a bit of homework by looking at the paper by the Tax Foundation. Below is a portion of the executive summary from this policy study:

“Over the past century, Americans have witnessed a marked increase in mobility through safe and reliable roadways. This improved mobility has undoubtedly increased the overall quality of life in the United States. Gasoline taxes have provided the required funds to build the roads that brought America into the transportation age.

“Gasoline taxes are often mentioned as the best form of taxation from an economic perspective because they provide a system of road funding by simply charging road users when they fill up their tanks. This "user tax" adheres to what economists refer to as the benefit principle of taxation.

“Gasoline taxes have been in operation for well over 80 years in the United States. Unfortunately, the years of political pressure have eroded the original intent of gas taxes. In all too many instances, benefit-principle taxation has taken a backseat to political pandering. For instance, current federal highway legislation authorized over 6,000 earmarks from the highway trust fund. Some of these went to legitimate transportation programs, but others were earmarked for items such as the infamous "bridge to nowhere." Today, gasoline tax revenue is spent on everything from public education and museums to graffiti removal and parking garages.

“Not only do benefit-principle taxes represent sound economic policy—they are popular with American drivers as well. History has clearly demonstrated that the most popular gasoline taxes have been those which directly linked gasoline tax revenue with road spending. If gasoline taxes are to survive as the "best tax," the benefit principle must be enforced.”

The entire paper is worth reading, especially for Virginians, who will learn the state gas tax has existed since 1923 when it was established with an initial rate of 3 cents.