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August 31, 2008

Comparing the Major Party Candidates

Peter Ferrara, who served in the administrations of President Reagan and the first President Bush, writes a commentary for Forbes magazine last Friday that “the contrast between these two candidates could not be greater.” Ferrara wonders “why on earth doesn’t (McCain-R) talk more” about his tax and budget proposals? For example, on corporate taxes, Ferrara writes:

“America suffers from the second-highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. American corporations face a 35% federal tax rate, averaging 40% with state income taxes. In contrast, the average corporate tax rate in the European Union has been slashed from 38% in 1996 to 24% today. Ireland has a corporate tax rate of 12.5%, which has caused per capita income to soar from the second lowest in the E.U. 20 years ago to the second highest today. Corporate tax rates in India and China are lower as well.

“How are American corporations supposed to compete? How are they supposed to provide good jobs at good wages while paying tax rates that are two-thirds higher than their competitors, and more?

“Mr. McCain addresses this problem directly by proposing to slash the federal corporate-tax rate from 35% to 25%. He also proposes immediate expensing for capital investment, which means that capital costs can be deducted in the year they are incurred, like all other business expenses, rather than spread over many years under arbitrary depreciation schedules.”

In wrapping up the commentary, Peter writes:

“Ironically, today it is the Republican John McCain who is proposing the tax policies of President Kennedy, which led to the economic boom of the 1960s, rather than the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Indeed, what Mr. Obama is proposing is the opposite of Kennedy's tax policies.”

Mr. Ferrara, who was a leader of the fight against the 2002 regional tax referendum in Virginia, also compares the two candidates’ positions on individual income taxes and spending. It’s an article well-worth reading.

HT: RealClearMarkets 

August 30, 2008

Thoughts About Arlington's Homeowner’s Grants

Steven Malanga has some excellent comments to make in today’s RealClearMarkets about those tax rebates that recently arrived in some mailboxes. He begins:

“The tax rebates contained in the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 were controversial because most economists doubted they would fire up the national economy enough to justify their cost.

“Less controversial, however, was the fact that once Congress and the President decided to go ahead with the program they made it means-tested, that is, they excluded high-earners based on a complex formula.”

According to Malanga, “federal politicians are learning from their state and local brethren.” For example, he writes:

“Politicians seem to love such programs so much they are even willing, paradoxically, to raise taxes to support them. New Jersey began a rebate program in the late 1990s when the state was running huge budget surpluses, using state funds to offset high local property taxes. But as Jersey’s spending rose and the 2002 recession cut tax revenues, the state raised dozens of taxes, including those on businesses and high-income earners. But it kept paying out the rebates, as politicians argued that in hard times the refund checks were even more important. Of course, the state eliminated those refund checks for high income earners, the very same people whose taxes it had raised to keep the state’s budget afloat in the first place.”

He later explains:

“Despite claims by their proponents, most property tax rebate programs don’t really subsidize working families anyway. Most are heavily oriented toward retired senior citizen homeowners, who are reliable voters, on the spurious notion that those on a fixed income are hurt most by such a ‘regressive’ tax. But income is a poor measure of household wealth. Although the typical over-65 household earns only half the annual income of a household headed by someone aged 35-44, senior households also have an average of three-times the assets of these younger families, and far fewer family members to support. Still, virtually all property tax rebate programs take tax money paid by our most productive workers and use it to relieve the burden of those who are no longer working, but who may have spent a lifetime accumulating wealth.”

In Arlington County, the Manager wrote in his letter introducing the FY 2006 Adopted Budget, that the Arlington County Board:

“Established a new homeowner’s grant program to provide $500 grants to households meeting certain income and asset requirements.”

All politicians may not be the sharpest tacks, but most seem to quickly learn how to redistribute taxpayers money. And in the case of the homeowner’s grants, Arlington’s panjandrums may have furthered the education of their federal brothers and sisters on the other side of the Potomac River.

August 29, 2008

A Bit of Wisdom From Fredric Bastiat

One of the all-time great taxpayer quotes has to be the following one by Fredric Basiat, the French, 19th century economist”

“Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”

I was reminded of it by this article posted at the website of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEE) by Sheldon Richman, editor of FEE’s The Freeman. In the article, Richman quotes from Bastiat’s The Law, which he consideres “the best antidote for the toxic demagoguery that issues forth from across the political spectrum.”

In the article, Richman provides “some gems" from The Law that are particularly apt as the campaigns heat up.” He introduces the last “gem” (with the Bastiat quote in italic):

“Finally, Bastiat demolishes the welfare-state assumption that people are incapable of running their lives without meddling coercive government to help them, but are qualified to elect their "leaders."

“The people who, during the election, were so wise, so moral, and so perfect, now have no tendencies whatever; or if they have any, they are tendencies that lead downward into degradation....

“If people are as incapable, as immoral, and as ignorant as the politicians indicate, then why is the right of these same people to vote defended with such passionate insistence?”

The article is well-worth reading as the political campaigns go into overdrive next month.

August 28, 2008

Much Ado About Something

A part of each year’s Arlington County financial statement (the Comprehensive Annual Financial Statement) is a page containing “fund balances, governmental funds and other component units” for the “last ten fiscal years.” In addition to providing various reserved and unreserved amounts as well as a “total general fund balance,” page 168 of the Fiscal Year 2007 CAFR shows the unreserved amount is significantly larger than the reserved amount.

The Revenues & Expenditures committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation reported on these fund balances earlier this year in their report on the FY 2009 budget. In fact they said they were pleased that:

“the County has finally recognized the true nature of the unreserved fund balances, i.e., that they are discretionary funds that can be allocated for virtually any purpose.” Further,  the committee noted “the General Fund Balance has grown from” $62 million in FY 2003 to $115.5 million at the end of FY2007.”

The CAFR table includes one other piece of valuable information, i.e., the “general fund balance as (a) percentage of general fund expenditures and other financial uses. Because each CAFR lists the balance for only the past ten years, we looked at the FY 2001 CAFR to pick-up three additional years (unfortunately, the "look-back" in the 2001 CAFR only went back to 1995). For the fiscal years 1995 through 2007, the average general fund balance was 9.18%, and ranged from a low of 5.80% in 1999 to a high of 13.49% at the end of FY 2007.

The source of the growth in the general fund balance percentages becomes clear, however, when you compute the average balance percentage for two sets of years:

  • 1995-2000 = 7.17%
  • 2001-2007 = 10.91% 

So thanks to the skyrocketing residential assessments from the first part of the current decade, the county has been able to build up a slushfund. The county may have designs for that money, but remember whose money it really is. Much ado about nothing? We think not!

August 27, 2008

More on Arlington County Budgeting

Ten days ago, we growled that five county departments had exceeded their budgets in Fiscal Year 2007. Moreover, we showed that between FY 2003 and FY 2007, one department had exceeded its budget in each of those five years and three had exceeded their budget in at least three of those five years. All that despite the admonition from the auditors each year that “Management will ensure these departments develop better budget estimates in future years.”

The five departments that exceeded their FY 2007 budgets did so by a total of $2.4 million, or 2.2%.

A further look at Exhibit S-9 in the FY 2007 CAFR, the source for the FY 2007 “actual” and “budget” numbers for each department, shows eleven departments underspent their budgets by at least $1.0 million, or a total of $54.4 million. The average was 8.3%, and ranged from 2.2% and 28.6% in the county; on the schools side, the range went from 1.6% for the operating fund to 47.9% for PAYGO capital.

We congratulate the County Manager and the director of the Department of Management & Finance for assuring that so many departments control their budgets. However, it seems that if departments are counseled to “develop better budget estimates” for going over-budget by 2.2%, the departments that are “under-budget” by 8.3% should also be counseled about “better budget estimates.”

If departments are able to justify their budgets to the Manager and the County Board, fine. However, significant under-budgeting suggests the Manager and the County Board are not seriously "scrubbing" the Manager’s proposed budgets when they are released in February each year. Or is such significant under-budgeting deliberate in order to provide the County Board with an opportunity to be "generous" and spend “one-time funds" at the end of each fiscal year? Inquiring taxpayers’ minds would like to know.

August 26, 2008

Proof Of An Improving Economy

An editorial in today’s Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) argues that the economic pie is indeed getting bigger. They begin:

“According to the latest data from the Internal Revenue Service, average adjusted gross income in 2006 hit $58,029 in 2006 dollars. It was the first time that average income had exceeded the peak year of 2000, the year before incomes began to decline. The average income in 2006 was 1.2%, or $739, higher than in 2000, when incomes were swollen by capital gains from a roaring market, and $1,369 over the 2005 average.”

The editorial explains why average income dropped from 2000:

“A stock market crash and the 9/11 attacks hit incomes hard, as did a series of Fed rate hikes. The effects of the resulting slowdown continued until Bush's economic policies, especially his tax cuts, kicked in.”

IBD includes the following graphic based on IRS data:


Tax cuts do help grow the economy. The problem with the federal budget is the inability to control spending. IBD concludes:

“Thanks to a growing economy, Americans' real disposable income has increased every quarter but two from the beginning of 2003, when Bush's policies started going into full effect, to the first quarter of 2007. Some of the growth was remarkable, including a 7.5% jump in the fourth quarter of 2004 and a 6.3% increase in the third quarter of 2003.”

 

August 25, 2008

"Tell It To The TEL"

Norm Leahy, a taxpayers friend and regular blogger at Tertium Quids, has a column posted at Bacon’s Rebellion in which he responds to remarks by the chairman of the Virginia House of Delegates’ Appropriations Committee. Leahy writes:

“The red ink is rising around Virginia ’s budget. Politicians are scrambling for items to trim and pare, while others are clucking their tongues in self-satisfaction.

“They have no right to do so. Behind every budget crisis, including this one, there is a bipartisan gaggle of pols who gleefully voted to increase spending, even when prudence and common sense, dictated that a bit of restraint was in order.”

The solution to control Virginia spending is a tax expenditure law (TEL), according to Norm Leahy, who wrote:

“TELs generally work around a couple of principles: Spending increases are limited to some combination of inflation and population growth and any excess revenues are rebated to the taxpayers. These are tough laws, designed to keep politicians on a very short budgetary leash. Because they tend to take a lot of the fun out of being a legislator, politicians generally oppose them, as do the numerous interest groups and associations dedicated to milking the public purse.”

In his column, Norm provides a link to a June 2005 study published by the Virginia Institute for Public Policy (VIPP). Additionally, VIPP has two shorter papers, called Virginia Viewpoints:

  • In “Spending Reform, Not Tax Reform,” Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R) writes: “It is historically undeniable that, as a group, politicians cannot be trusted with taxpayers' money. Given the opportunity, they will spend it all, and then pawn whatever they can lay their hands on to spend even more.” He then goes on to advocate for a TEL.
  • In “Increase Spending, Raise Taxes? Been There, Done That.” economics professor Richard Vedder says “Virginians should be wary of so-called tax reform.” Specifically, he writes: “Literally dozens of studies show that there is an inverse relationship between the overall tax burden and economic growth - higher taxes, lower growth. This relationship holds for different areas, time periods, and ways of measuring growth.”

The process does indeed need fixing as we growled on March 10, 2008. As Virginia's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) noted in their 2007 update on state spending:

"Adjusting for the effects of inflation and population growth, the budget increased by 38 percent, and average  annual increase of 3.7 percent" over the past ten years.

Taxpayers should demand a tax expenditure limitation law from their legislators in the Virginia General Assembly.

UPDATE (8/25/08): By the way, if the politicos think it's important to spend in excess of the TEL, the voters have to approve any increase in a referendum. 

August 24, 2008

A Tale of Two Counties

Today’s tale of two counties (Arlington and Fairfax counties) begins on page 176 of Arlington County's Fiscal Year 2007 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). The page contains Table I, which is one of two tables designed to help readers “assess the affordability of the County’s current levels of outstanding debt and its ability to issue additional debt in the future.” Let's look at the two:

  • Arlington County: For Fiscal Years 1998 through 2007, Table I includes the population, total assessed real estate value, net bonded debt, and net bonded debt per capita. Over the 10-year period, Arlington County’s net bonded debt per capita increased from $1,790 to $2,924, an increase of 63.4%.
  • Fairfax County: By comparison, page 230 of Fairfax County’s FY 2007 CAFR shows the comparable numbers for net per capita debt in Fairfax County increased from $1,506 in 1998 to $1,972 in 2007, an increase of 30.9%.

That higher debt per capita in Arlington County means not only a higher cost of debt service, but also means that taxpayers money goes to paying off debt rather than providing county services. Something to remember when voting for the bond referenda in November, too.

To find out just why debt per capita has increased more than twice as fast in Arlington County as in Fairfax County, you may want to ask the Arlington County Board where the phone number is 703-228-3130, or use the contact information in the right column.

August 23, 2008

The Benefits Of Lower Tax Rates

A new analysis, Fiscal Fact 141, published by the Tax Foundation this week reports that:

“Recent research on President Bush's tax relief in 2001 and 2003 has found that the lower tax rates induced taxpayers to report more taxable income. In particular, the reduction in the top two tax rates induced taxpayers to report more taxable income—an increase in the size of the tax base—to such an extent that this positive behavioral response likely offset roughly 25 percent to 40 percent of the static revenue loss of lowering the top two tax rates. This research illustrates that, while the lower tax rates have not paid for themselves, they do provide important economic benefits and can expand the tax base to such an extent that they cost the federal government substantially less revenue than the casual observer might think. Moreover, this research may provide valuable insights into the harmful effects of high tax rates as the Presidential candidates' tax plans are evaluated.”

The Tax Foundation analysis also reminds us that:

“Absent any action by the Congress, the top tax rate will rise back to 39.6 percent after the 2001 and 2003 tax relief sunsets at the end of 2010. Understanding the effect of the lower tax rates enacted in 2001 and 2003 will help us evaluate the likely effects of proposals to roll back the lower tax rates or let them rise back to their previous levels.”

Sure is a reminder that our vote in November is indeed important.

August 22, 2008

Principle Over Personality

At Tertium Quids last Friday, Norm Leahy links to a video of an outstanding speech by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R). Norm comments that Gov. Sanford:

“makes a lot of points here that could be, and should be, made in Virginia -- not the least of which is that principles count more than personalities. If only he'd run for president....”

The video is well-worth the time it takes to watch it. After watching the video, you are likely to agree with Norm’s assessment. Sanford’s small government principles seem to have confused Josh Goodman, however. Blogging at “Ballot Box,” Goodman writes:

“the Democrats I spoke with started to sound like a broken record. They all criticized Governor Mark Sanford. And they all called him the same thing: a libertarian.

“It's not just Democrats, either. Sanford is a member of the Republican Party, but you'd hardly know from talking to a lot of people in South Carolina. Newspaper columnists and political scientists often describe him as a libertarian.

“To a point, all of these people are simply trying to describe Sanford's philosophy. I also get the sense, though, that Sanford's critics use "libertarian" as a pejorative term.”

Here is what Goodman is trying to figure out:

“What I can't decide is whether this line of attack is effective. The issue here is bigger than just the governor of South Carolina. Democrats have struggled to find an unflattering one-word description of Republicans. Could "libertarian" do the trick? . . . Republicans have succeeded in branding "liberal" as a derogatory term, while Democrats have been unable to give "conservative" negative connotations. As a result, Democrats end up spending a lot of time explaining why being a liberal isn't a bad thing or (more often) explaining why they're not actually liberals.”

Goodman ends up writing:

“Sanford, for one, doesn't seem too worried about the term. "I'm an unabashed conservative," he told me, "and sometimes accused of being a libertarian, to which I say, 'I'm guilty, I love liberty.'”

Sure explains why Norm wrote, “If only he’d run for president . . . .”

For more on why those who believe in liberty and limited government are so enthusiastic about Gov. Sanford, visit the National Taxpayers Union website and use their search facility.

August 21, 2008

The Price of ‘Civic Charisma’ In Arlington County

Years ago, a friend introduced me to the term ‘Arlogance,’ a combination of Arlington and arrogance. I’m reminded of it when I see Arlington’s panjandrums using terms like ‘caring community’ or ‘world-class community.’ Now comes ‘civic charisma,' which surfaced at an Arlington County Board worksession on Tuesday on the future of Wakefield High School. According to a story posted today at the online Arlington Sun-Gazette:

“As School Board members and their County Board colleagues prepare for a Sept. 12 meeting on the future of Wakefield High School, a new phrase has entered the discussion: “civic charisma.”

“That's what architect and county government consultant Roger Lewis said should be the final outcome of the Wakefield design process, speaking during an Aug. 19 work session with County Board members.

“The work session was designed to prep for the conference with the School Board, as both sides stake out positions on the design of Wakefield's reconstruction. It gave County Board members both an overview of general design concepts, and specifics on the Wakefield site.”

Some in the county question just how much ‘civic charisma’ is worth. The Sun-Gazette also reported:

“Beth Wolffe, who chairs the schools committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation and is a former School Board candidate, had a different take on the new process.

“Wolffe voiced concern that, in their zeal to create a visual statement, self-appointed county architectural gurus may forget the main purpose of the school.

“It must first serve the instructional needs of students,” she said.

“The school's current cost is estimated at upwards of $170 million, but could run to more than $200 million if spending gets out of hand or construction costs continue to soar - making the Wakefield project twice as expensive as the reconstructions of Yorktown and Washington-Lee high schools.

“How much extra is the County Board or School Board prepared to spend for what this architect calls 'civic charisma'?” Wolffe asked. “If it's cheap, fine. If it's another $5 million . . . that's not so good.”

Just how much will the latest version of Arlogance cost? Inquiring minds want to know. Should you care to voice your concern, the phone number of the Board Office is 703-228-3130.

August 20, 2008

Small Favors on Congressional Pork

A new analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense, published August 18, shows:

“lawmakers are showing (a) slight restraint in writing the earmarks in the FY 2009 spending bills, according to an analysis by Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS). The House has increased the number and value of earmarks at about the same rate.  The Senate has cut earmarks by 16% in the spending bills in terms of total dollars. The analysis is based on all the bills that have passed full committee and are awaiting action in both chambers.”

Unfortunately, TCS concludes their analysis by saying:

“There are twelve final spending bills for the federal government. So in turn, there are 24 final House or Senate bills. Congress has only released 15 of those bills. With so many bills not considered, including the Defense spending bill that includes more earmarks than each of the House and Senate passed bills, much can still change. And that assumes that the spending bills will move under relatively regular order.

The slight progress made on reducing the total costs of earmarks will be eliminated the longer we wait to pass the 2009 spending bills. The most likely scenario is a major omnibus spending bill during the first days of the 111th Congress. So any earmark reductions we are seeing in August are likely to be negated by an avalanche of earmarks that always accompanies major omnibus spending bills.” (emphasis added)

For further details, including access to the earmarks database, visit the link in the first line of the post. After you blood pressure goes up a bit, call Senators Warner (R) and Webb (D) and Representative Jim Moran (D) to cut the pork entirely. The phone number on Capitol Hill is 202-224-3121.

August 19, 2008

“Do Nothing Congress” Earns “Porkers Of The Month”

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) announced last week they have have:

“named Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) its August Porkers of the Month for leading a do-nothing Congress into a five week vacation.”

In justification of naming the leaders of the House and Senate, CAGW wrote:

“Congress left for its traditional August recess after accomplishing nothing.  Of the 106 bills enacted since January, 94, or 89 percent were to name government buildings or lands, extend or make technical corrections to existing laws, or passed either by unanimous consent or with less than 10 dissenting votes.  The accomplishments included “Frank Sinatra Day,” National Plumbing Industry Week,” and “National Day of the Cowboy.”

“The deadline for passing the 12 annual appropriations bills has been deliberately ignored.  Only one of the bills has passed the House, and only four others have been approved by the House Appropriations Committee.  In the Senate, nine have been approved by the Appropriations Committee but none have reached the floor.  There are two reasons for this failure to act.  First, the Speaker and Majority Leader appear to be waiting for the presidential election to decide what to do with these bills, hoping that the winner in November would favor higher spending and more earmarks.

“Second, the moratorium on offshore drilling expires on September 30, and it is usually renewed through the appropriations process.  However, both Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid are opposed to lifting the moratorium.  Rather than allowing a vote, they shut down Congress.  House Republicans took to the darkened House floor, demanding that Congress go back into session and hold an up-or-down vote to lift the drilling ban.

“The Speaker’s first response was to continue her taxpayer-financed vacation to promote her new book . . . .”

Public servants, eh? By the way, should you care to call either "leader," the phone number on Capitol Hill is 202-224-3121.

August 18, 2008

Time to Stop Beating That Dead Horse

When the Arlington County Board adopted the FY 2008 budget in April 2007, the Board approved “a new, dedicated residential utility tax on electricity and natural gas consumption, capped at a maximum of $3 per month for each utility” so the Board could pay for its “major environmental initiative to reduce County-wide carbon emissions, Arlington Initiative for Reducing Emissions (AIRE) (that) is being implemented in FY 2008,” according to page 5 of the county's FY 2007 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR).

So most Arlington residents are being taxed $72 a year so the County Board can bow to  the anthropogenic global warming alarmists, not to mention the scheme it concocted to subsidize owners of Prius and similar “clean emission vehicles.”

The global warming horse isn’t dead yet, but it seems to be on its last legs. According to a recent issue of Energy Times (HT August 16 newsletter from the Science & Environmental Policy Project):

“Measurements by four major temperature tracking outlets reported that world temperatures dropped by about 0.65° C to 0.75° C during 2007, the fastest temperature changes ever recorded (either up or down). The cooling approached the total of all warming that occurred over the past 100 years, which is commonly estimated at about 1° C. Antarctic sea ice expanded by about 1 million square kilometers – more than the 28-year average since altimeter satellite monitoring began.”

The article also reports:

“Based upon current solar data, the Russian Pulkovo Observatory concludes that Earth has passed its latest warming cycle, and predicts that a fairly cold period will set in by 2012. Temperatures may drop much lower by 2041, and remain very cold for 50 to 60 years.”

Doug Ross @ Journal says, “Believers in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have some ‘splaining to do” while presenting a number of graphics showing that Arctic sea ice has “increased by approximately 30%.” To compare daily sea ice in 2007 and 2008, see this graphic:

And, according to an article linked at the blogsite maintained by Senator James Imhofe (R-OK), “a new poll suggests public concern over (global warming) has ebbed since last year.” Finally, from Astute Bloggers and Canada Free Press comes news that global warming alarmist Richard Littlemore conceded defeat in a radio debate with the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a global warming skeptic. To hear the debate, visit Liberty News Central.

Something to remember the next time we’re paying our utility bills. And just so members of the Arlington County Board can feel good that they are doing something to help the planet.

August 17, 2008

Reading the Fine Print

I’m not sure how many copies of Arlington County’s annual financial statements (formerly known as the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or simply the CAFR) that are mailed to citizens each year, but whatever the number, it may not be enough. Taxpayers who have not seen a CAFR can take a look at one online at the Department of Management & Finance’s website.

There is a lot of information in the CAFR, and as a pundit might say, “the devil is in the detail.” And real detail are the “notes” to the financial statements. For example, Note 2, Legal Compliance, on page 66 includes the fact that spending is controlled at the department level, but five departments in FY 2007 “exceeded the level of control,” i.e., they spent more than was budgeted. The last sentence in the second paragraph each year provides that “Management will ensure these departments develop better budget estimates in future years.”

That would be all fine and dandy if that was a “one-time” occurrence. A look through Note 2 in the most recent five CAFRs shows that county management is not doing a very good job at “ensuring development of better budgets.” Several departments seem to overspend their budgets every fiscal year (number in parentheses is the number of times over-budget in the last five years):

  • Commissioner of Revenue - 2005
  • County Attorney (3) - 2004 + 2005 + 2006 + 2007
  • County Board Office (2) - 2004 + 2007
  • County Manager Office - 2004
  • Department of Public Works - 2003
  • Electoral Board (3) - 2003 + 2004 + 2005
  • Fire Department (3) - 2005 + 2006 + 2007
  • Human Resources (Personnel) - 2004
  • Management & Finance - 2003
  • Office of Support Services - 2003
  • Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs - 2007
  • Sheriff (5) - 2003 + 2004 + 2005 + 2006 + 2007
  • Treasurer (2) - 2003 + 2004

Exhibit 5 on pages 50 and 51 compares budget and actual amounts for each department for FY 2007. Below are the “final” budget, actual, and “variance” for each of the five department (in $1,000) that exceeded their budgets in FY 2007:

                                     Budget         Actual        Variance

County Board             $    882     $     918        <$   36>
County Attorney         $  1,673     $  2,105        <$  432>
Sheriff                         $31,822     $32,845        <$1,023>
Fire                              $40,468     $41,312        <$   844>
Parks, Rec & CA          $32,077     $32,147        <$    70>

Don’t you wish you could run your family finances like the county does? And, oh, by the way, while management has an opportunity to explain why these five departments were unable to control their urge to splurge in a required section called “management discussion and analysis” (pages 30-39, FY 2007 CAFR), they simply refer readers to Exhibit 5. And why hasn't the Sheriff been able to learn those better budgeting techniques? Inquiring minds, however, would like an explanation.

UPDATE (8/27/08): Variances corrected by +/1). 

August 16, 2008

“Party Like It’s 1773”

That’s no typographical mistake. Actually, the entire sentence splashed on the banner of the Boston Tea Party is: “Time to party like it’s 1773!” But, no, it’s not an invitation to dump a few boxes of tea into Boston harbor. And you may not believe in any part of their program. However, the party’s platform cannot be more clear:

“The Boston Tea Party supports reducing the size, scope and power of government at all levels and on all issues, and opposes increasing the size, scope and power of government at any level, for any purpose.” (emphasis added)

Now that would sure start reducing tax burdens. Ready for a second Boston Tea Party?

HT to today’s Chuck Muth’s News & Views, the newsletter of Citizen Outreach.

 

August 15, 2008

Are U.S. Corporate Taxes Too High?

Blogging at the Tax Foundation’s tax policy blog, Scott Hodge, the Foundation’s president, writes about a “blockbuster study” from economists at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that:

“studied the effects of various types of taxes on the economic growth of developed nations within the OECD and found that ‘corporate taxes are found to be most harmful for growth, followed by personal income taxes, and then consumption taxes.’”

The OECD “is an international organisation of thirty countries that accept the principles of representative democracy and free-market economy. It originated in 1948 . . . to help administer the Marshall Plan,” according to Wikipedia. Hodge goes on to write:

“The main recommendation of the study is that if countries want to enhance their economic growth they would do well to move away from income taxes - especially corporate income taxes - toward less distortive taxes such as consumption-based taxes. The key to creating a growth-oriented corporate income tax system is to impose a reasonably low tax rate with few exemptions.

“The study is particularly timely in light of the new OECD rankings of corporate taxes among the 30 OECD nations. It shows that the U.S. continues to have the 2nd highest overall corporate tax rate among industrialized countries. Only Japan has a higher overall rate.

“Worst of all, since nine countries cut their corporate tax rates this year, the overall OECD average fell by a full percentage point, from 27.6 percent to 26.6 percent. This means that the U.S. rate is now 50 percent higher than the OECD average. This should be a wake up call to Washington that our long-term economic health is in jeopardy as long as corporate rates remain so far out of step with our major economic competitors.”

Table 1 in the Tax Foundation’s review of the OECD (Fiscal Fact No. 136) compares the combined corporate income tax rates for 2007 and 2008. In addition, the following chart is from the the Tax Foundation’s review:


HT Carpe Diem  

August 14, 2008

More Fiscal Charts

On Tuesday, we growled about the Ross Perot website complete with a treasure trove of his famous fiscal charts. The Heritage Foundation also has a set of fiscal charts that focus on federal revenue and spending. In addition, they answer such questions as:

  1. Is the current path of the federal budget sustainable?
  2. Is it enough to just raise taxes to stop the entitlement spending tsunami?
  3. How are our taxes spent?

Following is just one chart, which shows that federal spending per household for the years 1965-2007 is near an all-time high. Data is inflation-adjusted to 2007 dollars:

 

Who can honestly say they are getting twice as many benefits as they did in 1965? Take a few minutes to study the other 40 charts in the set.

August 13, 2008

Then and Now

At the Arlington Sun-Gazette’s “Editor’s Notebook” blog today, Scott McCaffrey provides a “historical” comparison for teacher salaries” after researching their “local history” columns:

“This month back in 1968, for instance, the Sun reported that Arlington's maximum teacher salary for the coming school year would be $11,532.

How does that relate to 2008 dollars? Well, hopping on the Internet, I found an inflation calculator that converted that $11,532 to $72,941 in 2008 dollars. (Full disclosure: Since I couldn't use 2008 on the converter, I substituted 1967 for 1968 and then substituted 2007 for 2008. Close enough for government, and media, work.)

The maximum salary for teachers in the Arlington school system today is well over $90,000, so it turns out that pay in the profession has outpaced inflation pretty well through the past 40 years, at least at the top end if not at the bottom of the salary scale.

In the same edition, I discovered that Fairfax had set a salary of $6,700 for starting teachers in 1968. That converts to $42,378 in today's money. Starting teachers in Fairfax earn a little more than that amount when they start today, but not a whole lot more.

In that respect, it's mirrored a national trend: those at the top take the elevator, those at the bottom get the shaft.”

Scott's comparison of Arlington vs. Fairfax school spending is equally interesting. 

August 12, 2008

The Facts, Just The Facts

Many will recall the charts that Ross Perot used in his ads and speeches when he ran for president in 1992 and 1996. See, for example, this You Tube clip. Well, he’s back and he’s updated those charts. In fact, he has a website, PerotCharts.com, that is full of charts -- budget charts, healthcare charts, taxation charts, etc. They present the facts, just the facts.

According to David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General, “Ross Perot is the father of fiscal charts,” adding that the charts “will help Americans understand the serious fiscal challenges facing our nation. These new electronic charts will also serve to hold elected officials accountable while accelerating needed actions to help ensure that our collective future will be better than our past.”

One example of those charts shows the trend of federal spending is not sustainable. Just how unsustainable can be seen on the following chart:


A good starting point is the set of charts showing the “Challenges facing the United States of America," a set of 35 charts “designed to acquaint the concerned viewer with the situation in which the American people will find themselves in the very near future if we do not address these problems now." The charts can be set to run manually, or set to run automatically, accompanied by explanatory narration. As the last slide in the presentation concludes:

"Over time, our standard of living, our national security, our standing in the world and the value of our currency could all lbe threatened.

“The problems worsen each year as we stand by and do nothing. The sooner we confront these issues, the better.”

August 11, 2008

Maryland Politicians Turn Thuggish

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal says the panjandrums in Annapolis:

“are scratching their heads wondering what happened to all those chain smokers who were supposed to help balance Maryland's budget. Last year the legislature doubled the cigarette tax to $2 a pack to pay for expanded health-care coverage. Eight months later, cigarette sales have plunged 25% and the state is in fiscal distress again.”

The pols are worried that some of their smokers are shopping in Virginia where they can  save upwards of $15 a carton. As a result, the Journal notes the pols have:

“made it a crime for residents to carry two packs of cigarettes that weren't purchased in the state. In other words, the state says it's legal to smoke, so long as you use cigarettes that the government can tax and thus become a financial partner in your bad habit. But if you dare to buy smokes across state lines, you can be fined.”

Betsy, an Advanced Placement history and government teacher in North Carolina comments:

“I thought that one of the motivations for our federal Constitution was to prevent one state from taxing another state's imports into that state. Barring those purchases entirely is an astounding reach of state power.”

Carpe Diem provides this Econ 101 lesson:

If you tax something you get less of it, especially if perfect substitutes are available nearby (like cigarettes in Virginia). Q: Do politicians just not understand simple economics, or do they understand it, but ignore it for political purposes? 

HT Government Bytes and Club for Growth.

August 10, 2008

A View of Arlington County Spending

After taking a look at how state revenue affects the county budget, on Wednesday we growled about specific sources of county revenues. Today, let’s take at per capita county spending in comparison to the same functions in Fairfax County. The numbers are for Fiscal Year 2007, and come from the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts’ Data Point webpages.

                                                  Arlington      Fairfax
                                                  Per Capita    Per Capita

General Government             $  171.59      $  122.42    
Judicial Administration              67.96          37.68
Public Safety                               826.94         554.15        
Public Works                               286.91        159.77
Health and Welfare                     668.60       448.52
Parks and Recreation                  265.86        138.52
Community Development           107.79        135.48
Education                                     1,785.91     2,052.20

Total Expenditures                    $4,181.55   $3,648.74

County elected officials have argued in the past that such comparisons as above are akin to comparing apples and oranges. There undoubtedly is some of that, but there are real reasons for some of the differences. For example, while the cost per student of the Arlington Public Schools is significantly higher, as we’ve noted on a number of occasions, the percentage of the Fairfax County population of school age (5-17) is significantly higher (17.9%) than in Arlington County (10.7%). Furthermore, Arlington County officials are free to delve into the differences in per capita spending in their Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR). And we wish they would!

p.s. Kudos to the State Auditor of Public Accounts for adding new features to the website, and in general striving to make the site more taxpayer-friendly

August 09, 2008

More On Value For Your Tax Dollars

We started the week growling about the value that Arlington County taxpayers gave the county government on the recently released 2008 resident satisfaction survey. Specifically, we wondered if citizen satisfaction would have been as high if they had known that Arlington County government is significantly less efficient than local government in Fairfax government?

Specifically, we noted that Arlington County’s local government had increased from 17.9  to 18.5 per 1,000 residents, or 3.4%, from 2000 to 2008. That’s nothing, however, when compared to the Arlington Public Schools (APS) where employment per 1,000 students has increased from 155.6 in 2000 to 179.2 in 2008, according to the ‘fiscal indicators’ in the county’s FY 2009 Adopted Budget. Although the increase occurred a little each year, that’s a whopping increase of 15.2% in ten years.

For a bit of context, let’s see how surrounding Virginia school districts fare by comparison based upon the number of operating fund positions per 1,000 students. The following data is based upon numbers from the 2008 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide for Fiscal Year 2008:

Alexandria          174.3
Arlington            171.5
Fairfax County   133.6
Loudoun              158.3
Prince William    119.3

As we like to say, we report, and you decide whether you’re getting value for your tax dollars.

UPDATE (8/11/08): Minor gramatical correction made in first paragraph. 

August 08, 2008

The Cost Of The Left’s Compassion

In his column this week, posted at Investors Business Daily Editorials, Dr. Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University, focuses on the price of the welfare state. The evidence comes from Edgar K. Browning's “new book aptly titled "Stealing From Each Other." Its subtitle, "How the Welfare State Robs Americans of Money and Spirit." Dr. Williams writes:

“In 2005, total federal, state and local government expenditures on 85 welfare programs were $620 billion. That's larger than national defense ($495 billion) or public education ($472 billion).

“The 2005 official poverty count was 37 million persons. That means welfare expenditures per poor person were $16,750, or $67,000 for a poor family of four.

“Those figures understate poverty spending because the poor benefit from non-welfare programs such as Social Security, Medicare, private charity and uncompensated medical care.

“The question that naturally arises is, if we're spending enough to lift everyone out of poverty, why is there still poverty? The obvious answer is that poor people are not receiving all the money being spent in their name. Non-poor people are getting the bulk of it.”

What is the effect of all this redistribution of income? According to Dr. Williams:

“Browning's concluding chapter tells us what the welfare state costs us. He acknowledges the non-economic costs such as infringements on liberty and strains on the political process, but focuses on the quantitative economic costs.

“The disincentive effects of Social Security have reduced the GDP by 10%, the federal income tax (as opposed to a proportional tax) by 9% and past deficits by 3.5% for a total of 22.5%. Browning guesses that welfare programs have reduced GDP by 2.5%. The overall effect of redistributionist policies has created incentives that have reduced GDP by a total of 25%. Without those, our GDP would be close to $18 trillion instead of $14 trillion.”

Rest assured, too, the left is always willing to identify additional, so-called, unmet needs, if only they can find productive Americans to pay for them. And even if they can't, taxpayers will just have to dig deeper into their pockets.

Virginians Paying More Taxes, But Getting More Benefits?

The Tax Foundation has just published their 18th annual “estimate of the combined state-local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each of the 50 states.” The introduction of this “special report” goes on to say:

“For each state, we calculate the total amount paid by the residents in taxes, and we divide those taxes by the total income in each state to compute a "tax burden" measure.

“We make this calculation not only for the most recent year but also for earlier years because tax and income data are revised periodically by government agencies, and in the case of the current report, we have changed our own methodology to take advantage of new datasets.

“The goal is to focus not on the tax collectors but on the taxpayers. That is, we answer the question: What percentage of their income are the residents of this state paying in state and local taxes? We are not trying to answer the question: How much money have state and local governments collected? The Census Bureau publishes the definitive comparative data answering that question.”

According to the Tax Foundation, “The true measure of the tax burden in any state must include the taxes paid by residents to other states,” which are “(m)uch larger than commonly supposed.” They also found New Jersey residents pay the most, 11.8% of their income, followed by New York residents (11.7%). District residents pay 10.3%, Maryland residents pay 10.8%, and Virginia residents pay 9.8%; the three neighbors ranked 8th, 4th, and 18th, respectively.

For 2008, the total state and local taxes paid per capita are estimated to be:

  • U.S. average     $4,283
  • District              $7,308
  • Maryland           $5,669
  • Virginia             $4,669

The above numbers hide an important fact, however. Table 4 in the special report provides a historical look of the state-local tax burden rankings by state for selected years 1977-2008. The trend for Virginia’s taxpayers is all in the wrong direction. Let’s take a look at a few of those years:

  • 1977    34th
  • 1980    32nd
  • 1985    32nd
  • 1995    29th
  • 2000    23rd
  • 2008    18th

Virginians are paying more in 2008 than in 1977, but are we getting more, or better, government today than in 1977? We report, you decide.

August 06, 2008

More on Arlington County Revenues

On Monday, we growled about the effect changes in state revenues have on the Arlington County budgets, noting the county expects to receive $64.2 million from the Commonwealth, about 7%, in FY 2009. In addition, the biennial state budget requires that localities divvy-up a reduction of $50 million in state aid to local governments. Further research shows that Arlington County will take a hit of almost $1.2 million for each of the two years of the biennium, according to Virginia's Department of Planning and Budgeting (requires Adobe).

Let’s take a closer look at where Arlington gets some of its revenue, taken from Arlington’s FY 2009 Adopted Budget.

Source                             FY2009 Adopted/% Increase/% of Total

Real Estate Tax                    $486.2 million/8.4%/51.6%
Personal Property Tax            97.2 million/10.3%/1.4%
Sales Tax                                   36.5 million/4.0%/3.9%
Meals Tax                                  30.3 million/5.2%/3.2%
Total Taxes                               763.4 million/7.6%/81.0%
Charges for Services                 40.7 million/10.9%/4.3%
Revenue from State                  64.2 million/2.6%/6.8%
Revenue from Fed. Govt            9.9 million/2.1%/2.1%
Prior Year Fund Balance           16.8 million//22.6%/1.8%

Let’s put the Arlington County budget into a bit of context by computing the total revenue per capita for FY 2007 from data available at the website of the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts for Arlington and Fairfax counties:

                                                      Arlington    Fairfax

Local Revenue per capita        $3,818.32    $3,194.03
Total Revenue per capita        $4,802.10    $4,188.59

Are Arlington taxpayers getting over $600 per capita more benefits from the Arlington County government than do taxpayers in Fairfax County? Some overburdened Arlington taxpayers would like to know!

August 05, 2008

Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less

In his column today, posted at Townhall.com, Larry Kudlow asks:

“There is a voter revolt going on, and it reminds me of the anti-tax rebellion that lifted Ronald Reagan into office twenty-eight years ago. Is the conventional wisdom about to be swept away? As Republicans press home the drill, drill, drill message, might they pick up seats in Congress this year? And might the national clamor for a more realistic and balanced energy policy -- one that includes more oil, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear, and the alternatives of wind, solar, and cellulosic -- carry John McCain to a convincing victory over Obama?”

“Without even realizing it, the GOP drilling offensive has become a new contract with America. And it appears to be working. The public is putting aside global warming and choosing instead new-energy production, a stronger economy, and more job creation. Voters want growth, not austerity. They want Ronald Reagan, not Thomas Malthus. And by resisting this grassroots call, the Democratic party is digging itself into one of the biggest political dry holes in history.

“New economic statistics highlight the damage done by the unprecedented oil-price shock. Only a year ago real gross domestic product was growing at 4 to 5 percent. Then came the dramatic rise of energy prices and down came the economy.”

And on Capitol Hill, the “revolt,” which we growled about last Friday, continues. A few links to several of the skirmishes include:

  • Hot Air reports on news from Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) and about a grassroots website supporting the House protest.
  • A You Tube video of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) announcing American Energy Freedom Day on October 1, 2008 when the Congressional ban on offshore drilling would expire although that certainly does not seem to be what either Speaker Pelosi or Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) want.
  • Finally, here’s a link to a letter the Republican Study Committee sent to President Bush asking him to call Congress back into a special session to deal with energy.

Visit Representatives Pence and Bachman in the House tomorrow. The lights may be out, but I’m sure you’ll be welcome. The phone number of the Congressional switchboard is (202) 224-3121.

August 04, 2008

Commonwealth Revenues and Arlington’s Budget

Virginia ended FY 2008 on June 30 with “a small surplus (+$5.4 million),” reports the August 1 issue of County Connections, the newsletter of the Virginia Association of Counties, which relied on a memo from Jody Wagner, secretary of Finance, that reported on “2008 (fiscal) year-end revenue data.”

In passing the budget this year, the General Assembly required “a $50 million reduction in state aid to local governments in both FY 2009 and FY 2010.” The budget also requires the Department of Planning and Budget to provide Virginia’s local governments with “a list of the state aid to local government programs which serve as the basis for calculating each locality’s share of the $50 million reduction.” Local governments have until August 30 to tell the state which of three methods is selected for the reductions.

VACO also wrote, “the economic indicators for fiscal year 2008 revenues reflect a slowing economy.” In addition, they reported that:

“Wagner believes that we must begin discussing the actions that should be taken to prudently manage a continued decline in general fund revenue growth based upon the circumstances of the current economy, recent revenue performance, and the implications of both on future revenues for the current biennium.”

The newsletter went on to report:

“The two general fund revenue sources most closely tied to current economic activity -- payroll withholding and retail sales taxes -- experienced a meaningful slowdown in the rate of growth during the second half of fiscal year 2008. As a result, significant downward adjustments to the revenue forecast for the current biennial budget cycle that started July 1 are to be expected . . . .

“State agencies are being advised to expect further adjustments . . . .”

In Arlington County’s FY 2009 Adopted Budget, the county expects to receive $64.2 million from the Commonwealth -- about 7% of General Fund revenue. And based upon the formulas used to divvy-up that $50 million, the county is not likely to take that much of a hit. That doesn’t mean, however, that the panjandrums on the Arlington County Board should be trying to start new programs or to expand existing ones.

August 03, 2008

Getting Real Value for Your Tax Dollars?

Arlington County's local government recently released the results of the 2008 resident satisfaction survey. There was 87% satisfaction with the overall quality of life, but only 62% satisfaction for “value received for your tax dollar.”

So let’s a look. In the Arlington County Board’s FY 2009 Adopted Budget, there is a section called “selected fiscal indicators.” For fiscal years 2000 through 2009, two indicators in particular can provide perspective to those “satisfaction” numbers -- resident population and county FTEs (full-time equivalent employment).

In FY 2000, there were 3.413 county FTE and 190,313 residents, which equates to 17.9 employees per 1,000 residents. By FY 2009, the comparable numbers are 3,825 county FTEs, 206,800 residents, and 18.5 employees per 1,000 residents. The numbers for employment per 1,000 residents is a 3.4% increase from 2000 to 2009, including FY 2005 when employment was 18.7 per 1,000 residents.

Just how much county government do Arlington’s taxpayers provide? Are numbers like 17.9 or 18.5 county FTE per 1,000 residents too many, too few, or just about right? Fortunately for Arlington’s taxpayers, in his 2005 “state of Fairfax County” speech, Gerry Connolly, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, cites comparable numbrs. He says:

“Fairfax County remains one of the most efficient local governments in the country. Since Fiscal Year 1991, the ratio of County employees per resident has fallen from 13.57 employees for every 1,000 residents to 11.15 employees per 1,000 in Fiscal Year 2005.”

If Fairfax County has less than 12 employees per 1,000 residents, what does that say for the efficiency of Arlington’s county government? And would Arlington’s residents have given the county government anything near a 62% rating for "value for tax dollars" if they knew the comparable "efficicy numbers" for Fairfax County? Arlington taxpayers may have a few questions for the Arlington County Board.

August 02, 2008

Just Showing Us Their Compassion?

A former member of the Arlington County Board once asked the Manager for a list of examples of Arlington as a caring community. Guess he never opened one of the annual budget books. That request came to mind when reading that at Arlington county government’s request, and for $2 million of Arlington taxpayers’ money, WMATA will be installing “luxurious” bus stops along Columbia Pike, according to the July 24, 2008 Washington Post.

Not just any bus stops, however, but so-called “Super Stops” that “will feature heated seats, heated floors, new lighting, glass walls and WiFi capability.” (emphasis added)

According to WMATA spokeswoman Candace Smith, "A lot of times, you can be standing around in the rain. These are much bigger. They have more creature comforts, and that alone makes them more attractive." Recalling that the county government’s motto involves being a “world-class urban community,” the “best” comment comes from the Board’s Chris Zimmerman. According to the Post, Zimmerman:

“said the goal is to transform bus service to something like in Europe, where he said it is assumed people will use the bus and where quality and expectations are high.” (emphasis added)

Lest you think the Arlington County Board is high-handed in showing us how compassionate they are with our money, let me introduce you to the grand poohbahs on the Seattle City Council. In mid-July, the Seattle Times reported that Seattle is ending its “four-year, $5 million experiment” of installing five high-tech, self-cleaning toilets “went down the toilet.” The “were supposed to accommodate both tourists and transients . . . Instead they became hide-outs for drug use and dealing, prostitution and illegal drinking.” However, Seattle will dispose of them on eBay where bidding will start at $89,000 each.

Taxpayers should remember this bit of advice from H.L. Mencken:

“The one aim of all [politicians] is to butter their own parsnips. They have no concept of the public good that can be differentiated from their concept of their own good.”

August 01, 2008

Revolt on Capitol Hill

Ben Pershing, blogging today for the Washington Post, begins his “original post” today, “If a party stages a protest on the House floor but no one can see or hear it, does it make a sound?” He goes on to say:

“That's the question at hand right now, as House Republicans have essentially taken over the House floor to protest the lack of action on energy legislation, despite the fact that the chamber has officially recessed for the August break.”

Seems that Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif), Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the Democrats had “adjourned the House, turned off the lights and killed the microphones, but Republicans are still on the floor talking gas prices,” according to “The Crypt” at Politico.com. The Crypt goes on to say:

“Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders opposed the motion to adjourn the House, arguing that Pelosi's refusal to schedule a vote allowing offshore drilling is hurting the American economy. They have refused to leave the floor after the adjournment motion passed at 11:23 a.m., and they are busy bashing Pelosi and her fellow Democrats for leaving town for the August recess.

“At one point, the lights went off in the House and the microphones were turned off in the chamber, meaning Republicans were talking in the dark. But as Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz..) was speaking, the lights went back on and the microphones were turned on shortly afterward.

“But C-SPAN, which has no control over the cameras in the chamber, has stopped broadcasting the House floor, meaning no one was witnessing this except the assembled Republicans, their aides, and one Democrat, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (D-Ohio), who has now left.

“Only about a half-dozen Republicans were on the floor when this began, but the crowd has grown to about 20, according to Patrick O'Connor.”

I write this because as of about two hours ago (8:00 PM, EDT), another radio talk show host was saying that “old media” was not reporting today’s actions on Capitol Hill although reporters from "the print media" were in the chamber. Consequently, it will be interesting to see how all of this is reported by the major newspapers and television news shows over the weekend.

The Mark Levin Show has additional links and access to his radio show where you can listen to Mark step throw what happened on Capitol Hill today, and includes numerous audio clips highlighting what happened in the House chamber.