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December 31, 2009

Thought for the Day

“Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

    ~Pericles (493-429 B.C.), Greek Statesman

HT OnPower.org

December 30, 2009

Thought for the Day

“The highwayman takes solely upon himself the responsibility, danger, and crime of his own act. He does not pretend that he has any rightful claim to your money, or that he intends to use it for your own benefit . . . Furthermore, having taken your money, he leaves you, as you wish him to do. . . He does not keep ‘protecting’ you by commanding you to bow down and serve him; by requiring you to do this, and forbidding you to do that.”

    ~Lysander Spooner (1808-1887), American Philosopher, Legal Scholar and Abolitionist

HT OnPower.org

December 29, 2009

St. Jude and the Hated Car Tax

Anita Kumar blogs at Washington Post’s Virginia Politics about a phone call that Arlington's Del. Bob Brink received earlier this month from Gov. Tim Kaine while on vacation in Rhode Island with his family. According to Kumar:

“The outgoing Democratic governor wanted to know if Brink would sponor a bill to raise the income tax for him in the upcoming legislative session.

“Brink's response? Yes.

“Brink believes -- as Kaine does -- that scrapping the hated car tax and replacing it with an income tax is the right thing to do at the time of multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls. But, Brink said, he is pretty sure he knows the bill's fate.

"I have a long history of patroning St. Jude bills -- bills of lost causes,'' Brink said.

“Last session, Brink patroned a bill that called for raising the cigarette tax for Kaine. It died. Three sessions ago, he patroned a bill that called for a sales tax increase on cars for Kaine. It, too, died.

“Get the picture?”

Before “marching up the hill” with “lost cause” tax bills, Mr. Brink may want to take a look at the entire Virginia tax system before climbing further up the hill with another tax bill. Scott Hodge, president of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation recently looked at Pennsylvania’s tax system, and found that the tax system itself was “responsible for job losses and out-migration” rather than a weak economy.

Hodge writes in Fiscal Fact No. 201, published earlier this month, that the “only bright spot in the state's tax climate is its individual income tax system which ranks 13th overall.” On the other hand, the state has “the 11th highest state and local tax burden in the nation.” In addition, the state’s business tax climate, corporate tax rates, business capital taxes and estate taxes are not especially positive. It’s not surprising, therefore, to read that Hodge says:

“Pennsylvania's job losses did not start with the most recent recession. Indeed, the out-migration of taxpayers began more than 15 years ago in large measure because Pennsylvania's tax system is unremittingly hostile to business.“
As shown in the following chart from Fiscal Fact No. 201. “Pennsylvania lost $9.7 billion in adjusted gross income due to out-migration between 1993 and 2008.” Even more serious, “Pennsylvania is gaining people who have little or no income and less than a college degree (college students mainly) but losing people at all other income levels and those who have a college degree or better.”

So here’s hoping that Del. Bob Brink will work harder at improving Virginia’s business climate rather than “patroning St. Jude bills” even when requested by the outgoing governor of his own party.

December 28, 2009

Be an Arlington County Board Member, See the World

On Sunday, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported that Arlington “County Board Chairman Barbara Favola said a recent trip to Europe gave her new perspectives on how governments can make efforts to promote energy efficiency.” The Sun Gazette also pointed out that “private sources, not government sources,” paid for the trip although it was organized by the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, a government entity. Nor is there any indication why the “private sources” are being so benevolent. Is it possible the private sources will target some so-called “green subsidies?”

Rather than a junket to Europe, Ms. Favola should have read Tom Pyle’s December 2, 2009 column in the Washington Examiner. In the column, Pyle wrote about the experience of Spain, Denmark, and Germany, specifically:

“Policymakers in Washington often cite Europe’s experience with “green jobs” as a blueprint to follow. The Institute for Energy Research (IER) has conducted extensive research to examine three of the most frequently referenced countries - Spain, Denmark and Germany. In each case, massive taxpayer subsidies created few jobs, but at a very high price.

“Since 2000, Spain has committed more than $750,000 for each “green job" it’s created. In Denmark, each wind energy related job cost Danish taxpayers between $90,000 and $140,000.

“The German government has directed $240,000 in public funds per solar power worker.

“But are these jobs sustainable without the implicit backing of the government?

"Spain scaled back its subsidies for solar energy and the entire industry collapsed. The study also found that only one in 10 "green jobs" were permanent.

“In Germany, the central government is now undergoing a complete review of renewable energy subsidies based on their skyrocketing price tag and the financial commitment required to sustain its solar industry.”

CNSNews.com reports today that taxpayer-funded wind farms have prompted bipartisan concerns in Congress because the 2,000 to 3,000 jobs they may create would be in China. And earlier this month, the German magazine Der Spiegel Online questioned whether the “massive amounts of taxpayer money invested in renewable energies in Germany has been “universally good.” 

With Arlington County taxpayers now being told of “budget gaps” in next year's budget in no uncertain terms, taxpayers may question  the timing of the chairman's trip to Europe. Taxpayers will will need to closely watch the press releases flying out of the Courthouse that talk of how alternative energy will save taxpayers money. It might, but will taxpayer subsidies be larger than the savings?

December 27, 2009

Thought for the Day

People who talk about the corrupting influence of money seem to automatically assume that it is only private money that is corrupting. But, when governments have billions of dollars invested in the global warming crusade, massive programs underway and whole political careers at risk if that crusade gets undermined, do not expect the disinterested search for truth.

    ~ Thomsas Sowell

HT His December 22, 2009 Townhall.com Column

December 22, 2009

Another Month, More Congressional Porkers

In awarding their dubious honor, Porker of the Month for December, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) president Tom Schatz said:

“At a time when there is understandable and widespread anxiety about the crushing $12 trillion national debt and out-of-control spending in Washington, D.C., . . . three senators betrayed the taxpayers’ trust by casting deciding votes in favor of a swollen package of spending bills in order to protect their pork."

Who were the three U.S. Senators selected as December Porkers of the Month by CAGW? They were: Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). The reason for their selection? CAGW put it like this:

“The three senators were the only three Republicans who crossed over to vote with the Democratic majority to pass the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill on Sunday, December 13, 2009.  The bill, which was an amalgamation of six separate appropriations bills (Transportation, Housing and Urban Development; Commerce, Justice, Science; Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education; State and Foreign Operations; Financial Services and General Government, and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs), increased spending for the federal agencies and departments under the auspices of these bills by an average of 12 percent.  In addition, the omnibus had more than 5,000 pork-barrel earmarks worth $3.8 billion.”

[ . . . ]

“All three senators have a long and storied relationship with pork and wasteful spending.  In fiscal year (FY) 2009, Sen. Cochran, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was also the number one porker in the entire Congress with 231 pork-barrel projects worth $653.1 million, including $8.75 million for the Exchange with Historic Whaling and Trading Partners Program and $443,000 for Beaver Management and Control.  Sen. Shelby is a long-time appropriator who made sure to grab 158 projects worth $267.4 million in FY 2009.  For her part, Sen. Collins brought home 77 projects worth $200 million, including $24.2 million for such high national priorities as the National Writing Project.  CAGW is busy compiling the FY 2010 earmark list, and the senators will surely be prominent in pork once again.”

We thank CAGW for their pursuit of Washington politicians and toady bureaucrats, and their “shameless self-interest and single-minded zeal to “get theirs,” regardless of the long-term impact on the nation as a whole.” And for that reason, CAGW awarded Sens. Cochran, Collins, and Shelby the dubious title of CAGW’s December Porkers of the Month.

December 21, 2009

Deficits are Bad, but the Real Problem is Federal Spending

The Center for Freedom & Prosperity released a new video featuring economist Dan Mitchell, who says “that huge deficits and skyrocketing debt are rightly causing worry, but these are merely symptoms of the real problem of excessive government spending. ‘Fiscal responsibility is lacking in Washington. Deficits and debt are the symptoms, but the underlying disease is government spending.’”In sum, Mitchell argues:

“Huge deficits and skyrocketing debt levels are creating considerable worry. This Center for Freedom and Prosperity video explains that that government borrowing is excessive - and will get worse in coming decades. But this mini-documentary explains that deficits and debt are merely the symptoms, and a rising burden of government spending is the real problem."

Investors Business Daily had a related editorial last Friday, pointing out that “Congressional hearings were held Thursday to create a task force that will write a deficit-reduction plan. Unfortunately, as some are pointing out, the proposed panel will be more of a tax-hike commission.” IBD explains why such a Congressional commission is not such a good idea, and their bottom-line conclusion says it all:

“But if the panel does an honest analysis, it will find Washington has spending issues, not a revenue problem.”

We couldn't agree more.

HT Big Government

December 18, 2009

Don’t Cry for Arlington County

We growled Wednesday about the $29.3 million in “total funds received, confirmed, or benefitting Arlington” from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) passed earlier this year. According to Mark Hemingway, writing in the Washington Examiner:

“a new analysis (from George Mason University’s Marcatus Center) . . . shows that the funds were distributed without regard for what states were most in need of jobs.”

Hemingway also reported:

“Additionally, Mercatus found that stimulus funds were not disbursed geographically with any special regard for low-income Americans. “We find no correlation between economic indicators and stimulus funding. Preliminary results find no statistically significant effect of unemployment, median income or mean income on stimulus funds allocation,” said the report.

“The Mercatus Center analysis also found that Democratic congressional districts received on average almost double the funding of Republican congressional districts. Republican congressional districts received on average $232 million in stimulus funds while Democratic districts received $439 million on average.”

Why doesn’t any of this surprise us? Politics as usual?

HT The Astute Bloggers

December 17, 2009

This Could Actually Make You Weep

From Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Oklahoma) Washington Waste of the Day for December 15, 2009, we learn:

“the Vidalia® Onion Committee and Chairperson of the Vidalia® Onion Museum Committee, was recently awarded $30,000 in funding that will bolster both Vidalia area tourism and the Vidalia® onion name.”

The above news story was reported by Georgia television station WTOC 11. The news story also reported:

“(The committee’s executive director Wendy) Brannen applied for two grants through the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA) block grant program designed to fund projects that enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program was established by the 2008 Farm Bill, and once Brannen was notified by the GDA of the $30,000 potential allocation, the grants then had to receive federal approval.

“Twenty-thousand dollars will go towards completion of Brannen's pet project, the Vidalia® Onion Museum retrofit and renovation, which is now just 40-thousand dollars shy of the $215,000 total project cost. "I was absolutely floored that I managed to get this money from Block Grant Funding," Brannen gushed. "Honestly, I figured the hours spent writing this one would be in vain. The news felt like winning the lottery!"

“10-thousand dollars will go towards website renovations for the www.VidaliaOnion.org website, which is the Official Vidalia® Onion Website and is owned and maintained by the Vidalia® Onion Committee. Says Brannen of her plans for the site, "Like it or not, social media is a growing piece of the marketing pie. This infusion to our web budget will help us catch up. Yumion already has his own Facebook page (search for Yumion V. Onion to become his friend), but now we'll be able to Twitter, post Vidalia® onion recipe blogs, and so forth."

Remember this Vidalia onion story the next time you’re in the produce section of the grocery story. While the dollar amount may not be large, the example is just one of thousands where the Capitol Hill panjandrums send your tax dollars to special interests.

December 16, 2009

Stimulating Arlington County

President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, the so-called stimulus bill, on February 17, 2009, which provided “more than $575 billion of new federal spending” to help the country work its way out of the recession of 2008. According to the County Manager’s webpage, the county “developed a formal framework to take full advantage of the additional federal funding – while also being transparent and meeting all performance management and audit requirements.”

According to the Decdember 12, 2009 “funding status” report, Arlington has received $29,348,838 of “total funds received, confirmed, or benefitting Arlington.” This includes:

  • Funds received -- $273,381
  • Funds confirmed -- $11,056,219
  • Funds benefitting Arlington -- $15,900,000. This includes $10.3 million for the Courthouse Road Interchange Project and two house projects (Macedonia Apartments, $2.4 million, and The View at Clarendon, $3.2 million)
  • Funds status unknown -- up to $17,500,000 for a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Grant
The funding status report dated July 14, 2009 showed a “bottom line” total of $8,239,138. We will provide updated information about Arlington County’s ARRA funding as further information becomes available.

December 15, 2009

Thought for the Day

"The apportionment of taxes on the various descriptions of property is an act which seems to require the most exact impartiality; yet there is, perhaps, no legislative act in which greater opportunity and temptation are given to a predominant party to trample on the rules of justice. Every shilling which they overburden the inferior number is a shilling saved to their own pockets."

   ~ James Madison, Federalist No. 10

HT Patriot Post

December 14, 2009

Code Red Rally, December 15th on Capitol Hill

  • WHO: NTU activists and staff, other taxpayer organizations, and thousands of American citizens
  • WHAT: Senate Emergency Rally
  • WHEN: December 15th, at 1:30pm ET
  • WHERE: Upper Senate Park, on Constitution Ave. between New Jersey and Delaware St. NE

FOR MORE INFORMATION, click here, or National Taxpayers Union

December 13, 2009

Shakedown World, Shakedown Nation!

Charles Krauthammer’s column on Friday, December 11, was one of those “must read’” ones. He discusses environmental shakedowns and the effort by the United Nations  “to transfer fantastic chunks of wealth from the industrialized West to the Third World.” He explains in part:

“One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques. *emphsis in the original)

“Politically it's an idea of genius, engaging at once every left-wing erogenous zone: rich man's guilt, post-colonial guilt, environmental guilt. But the idea of shaking down the industrial democracies in the name of the environment thrives not just in the refined internationalist precincts of Copenhagen. It thrives on the national scale too.”

Krauthammer goes on to explain:

“Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.”

Take a few minutes to read the entire column. He concludes by writing:

“Because Big Brother isn't lurking in CIA cloak. He's knocking on your door, smiling under an EPA cap.”

In Arlington County, the Arlington County Board began their environmental shakedown a couple years back with their FreshAIRE Initiative.

December 12, 2009

"The welfare state is the oldest con game in the world. First you take people's money away quietly, and then you give some of it back to them flamboyantly."

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Americans for Prosperity

December 11, 2009

Why The Tea Partiers Are Angry?

Yesterday’s National Review Online has a great article by Jim Geraghty in which he discusses the highest tax increases ever that have been passed by state and local governments. He introduces the essay thus:

“State governments know we’re in a recession, and they know you’re hurting. That’s why they’re demanding more from you.

“We’ve seen a lot of anger about taxes at the tea parties and town-hall meetings this year, and observers might be forgiven for thinking that the federal government enacted income-tax increases the moment Obama was inaugurated. It did not, but Americans are governed by more than Washington, and while Obama has enacted only one major tax increase this year — raising the tobacco tax nearly 62 cents on a pack of cigarettes, to $1.01 — state and local governments have responded to the recession by essentially lifting up their citizens, turning them upside down, and shaking them until all their remaining pocket change falls out.” (emphasis added)

Geraghty writes that a new survey “shows that 29 states enacted tax and fee increases this year that are expected to take in another $24 billion from their residents.

He also points out that spending by all states is estimated to be $1.23 trillion this year, having grown from $1.01 trillion in 2004 (21.8%) and from $693 billion in 1999 (77.5%). Talk about the greed of government?

Is any of this wild-eyed and irresponsible spending by state and local governments justified. No more than spending by the political elite at the federal level. Geraghty concludes his essay by saying:

“Private-sector employees could be forgiven for thinking that state and local government is a racket. In the private sector, you can do your job well, for a well-established company like Circuit City, KB Toys, Lehman Brothers, Saturn, or Gourmet magazine, and suddenly find yourself without a job for one of many reasons: changing consumer habits, a dramatic drop in revenue, new competition, reckless management decisions, or just bad luck. State and local legislators face possible job loss once every two years at most, and gerrymandering and the benefits of incumbency ensure its rarity. And when the governing classes want more money, they just demand it from those they govern.

“In light of all this, one stops asking, “Why are the tea partiers so angry?” and starts asking, “Why are they so calm?”

December 10, 2009

More on the WABEs

When we started growling about the Fiscal Year 2010 Washington Area Boards of Education on November 30, we started with the cost per student for the nine school districts in the region. There is a lot more information in the annual WABE guide for FY 2010 that taxpayers can use to evaluate whether government officials are spending tax money wisely.

Take for example, average class size. Obviously, the larger a school district’s average class size, few classrooms and fewer teachers are needed. Page 28 of the FY2010 WABE computes average class for classroom teachers as well as “teacher-scale” positions. In addition, the WABE Guide provides the average class size for elementary, middle/intermediate, and secondary/high schools. For today, let’s look at the average number of students per classroom teacher:

                                    Students per Classroom Teacher
School Distric                Elementary        Secondary/High
Arlington County                18.6                    17.6
Alexandria                        19.8                    25.0
Falls Church                      21.1                    20.6
Montgomery County            20.7                    28.5
Fairfax County                   21.2                    24.9
Prince George’s County        17.5                    25.1
Manassas City                    16.0                    21.4
Loudoun County                  22.4                    24.8
Prince William County          22.3                    28.9
                    Average        20.0                    24.1

The numbers seem remarkable. While the combined average for the nine school districts show their secondary/high schools have just over 20% more students in their secondary/high schools than in their elementary schools, the Arlington Public Schools actually have fewer students per classroom teacher in the secondary/high schools than in the APS elementary schools. Although the Arlington Public Schools don’t have the highest beginning teacher salaries, APS has the highest average teacher salaries among the nine school districts. A good life?

December 09, 2009

The Popularity of Robin Hood

"Over a period of thousands of years, those with political power have used that power to confiscate part of the wealth of those who were not likely to support them and transfer it to those who were. This has happened in monarchies, democracies, and dictatorships, all around the world. It is a very old story.

"Those who wrote the Constitution of the United States were well aware of this history, so they included in the Bill of Rights a provision that the government cannot take the property of private individuals without compensation. For more than a century, this made the kind of game that Governor Davis is playing harder to get away with. But, especially within the past half century or so, judges have allowed this provision of the Constitution to be eroded away until property rights now seem almost quaint.

What this means is that politicians can play Robin Hood with impunity. And Robin Hood has always been more popular than Adam Smith."

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Sptember 27, 2002 Column

December 08, 2009

Cost of Arlington County’s HOT-Lanes Litigation

Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette posted a story online today that discusses just how expensive litigation can get when outside attorneys are involved. According to McCaffrey, who obtained the information through a FOIA request to the county:”

“The county government is racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to pursue its lawsuit against the federal and state governments over high-occupancy-toll (HOT) lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

“A Washington, D.C., law firm already has invoiced the county with bills of $10,414 in June, $47,090 in July, $153,184 in August and $78,196 in September, according to documents released to the Sun Gazette under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

“The county government’s agreement with the law firm Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP calls for payments of $405 per hour for work done by senior attorneys, $270 per hour for junior attorneys and $150 per hour for paralegals and legal assistants, plus costs associated with the litigation.”

ACTA’s president, Tim Wise, was quoted in the rather lengthy story:

“Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, said County Board members must have been drinking “a strange brand of Kool-Aid” when the(y) decided to move forward with the litigation.

“We are facing a $50 million budget shortfall, and these guys are playing games,” Wise said. He said the entire lawsuit appeared to him to be “a crapshoot.”

In addition, McCaffrey’s story has drawn what seems an inordinate number of reader comments, most of which are worth reading.

December 07, 2009

In Case You Are Wondering Where the Jobs Are?

"And if you were to read daily that gold is rising, the dollar crashing, the debt and deficit exploding, the trade imbalance surging, and if you collated all that depression with cheap slurs about doctors, the Chamber of Commerce, the insurance industry, etc. as grasping and greedy, and if you were caricatured as a Nazi, astro-turfer, tea-bagger, or racist if you protested, and if you saw the federal government taking over banks and car companies, and shutting down some dealerships, but mysteriously not others, and if you heard of vast new entitlements and programs to come, from a take-over of the student loan program to cap and trade,  would you then conclude—“Wow, we have a serious sober President who supports the business climate, and will lead us out of recession, so by golly, I am going to go out and hire 2-3 more people to ride the coming wave of increased business!”?"

    ~ Victor Davis Hanson

HT Column at PajamasMedia

December 06, 2009

Jobs and the Senate Healthcare Bill

A WebMemo (number 2716) authored by Robert A. Book, Ph.D., senior research fellow in health economics, was published by the Heritage Foundation last week. It explains “how the Senate health bill punishes businesses that hire low-income workers.” Book introduces the issue this way:

“Suppose you wanted to prevent single parents and people from lower-income families from getting a job. How about imposing a $3,000 tax penalty on any employer who hired such a person instead of an equally qualified, equally paid person from a higher-income family? Would that do the trick?

“It would do the trick quite nicely--but since no decent person actually wants to make it hard to escape poverty, it's a really bad idea. But that is exactly what the Senate health care bill does.

“The Senate health bill (H.R. 3590) introduced by Senator Reid (D-NV) contains provisions (Section 1513) that would impose a tax penalty on any company with more than 50 employees that hires someone who qualifies for, and opts to accept, a health insurance premium subsidy--a penalty of $3,000 per employee per year. And the qualifications for that taxpayer subsidy depend on the worker's family size and family income, not just the pay from that employer. A worker with more dependents would be more likely to qualify, and one with a working spouse or other family members would be less likely to qualify--and the IRS would be required to provide this family information to the employer.”

Book says the bill would have “devastating results,” and concludes:

“The net result would be higher unemployment for low- and moderate-income families and higher health insurance costs for their co-workers--the exact opposite of what the bill's proponents claim is their goal.”

He adds an appendix because he says, “Several people who have heard this analysis have quite reasonably found it difficult to believe.” Consequently, he includes the applicable provision of the Senate bill in an appendix in order “to remove any doubt” of “what the bill says.”  Take a few minutes, and read the WebMemo yourself. Then decide if the provision in question has any legitimate purpose.

December 05, 2009

About Those Bush Tax Cuts

Yesterday, we growled about Americans who are required to file federal tax returns, but nonetheless are still ‘nonpayers.” Today, let’s turn to the productive taxpayers who do pay taxes.

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has added tax information for tax year 2007, which shows just who pays taxes. According to the NTU, the top 1% of taxpayers, ranked by adjusted gross income (AGI), i.e., those with AGI’s above $410,096, paid 40.42% of all federal personal income taxes paid. That’s a slight increase from tax year 2006 when the top 1% paid 39.89% of all federal personal income taxes paid, but a significant change from tax year 2001 when the top 1% paid 33.89%.

Nonetheless, liberal tax-and-spenders continue to assert the "Bush tax cuts" went just to the rich. Amazing how facts are ignored by the “tax, spend, and tax some more” crowd. So take a few moments to look at the tax numbers for 2007 so you can counter members of the “tax, spend, and tax some more” crowd. In addition to the top 1%, NTU provides the information for the top 5%, top 10%, top 25%, and top 50% of tax filers, according to AGI thresholds. Similar information is available for tax years back to 1999.

December 04, 2009

How Many Tax Filers Do Not Pay Federal Income Taxes?

Economists at the non-partisan Tax Foundation have released a new “fact sheet” (No. 202, Surge of ‘Nonpayers’ Will be Part of Bush Tax Legacy) in which they “estimate that roughly 46.6 million” (32.6% of 143 million) “tax returns faced a zero or negative tax liability.” The Tax Foundation goes on to explain:

“These are the so-called nonpayers, people whose exemptions, deductions and credits wiped out any tax that would have been due. As a result, every dollar that was withheld from their paychecks during the year was refunded. In about half the cases, substantial additional money was "refunded" to the tax filer, although that portion is classified as a government expenditure since it is actually welfare spending, not a tax refund.” (emphasis added)

After the number of “nonpayers” peaked at 28.0% in 1950, the number dropped to 21.8% in 1953. The percentage of returns with no liability was then “fairly low in the 1960s and again in the early 1980s.” During the 1990’s, the rate steadily rose from 21.0% in 1990 to 25.6% in 1999.

Since 2001, however, the number of “nonpayers” jumped from 25.2% in 2000 and peaked at 33% in 2000 before dropping slightly to 32.6% in 2007. Fact Sheet 202 includes the percentage of tax returns with no tax liability for each year since 1950. Keep it in mind whenever liberals claim that the Bush tax cuts "went to the rich."

December 03, 2009

State of the Arlington County Economy

While browsing around Arlington’s County Manager’s webpage recently (yeah, I know . . . I’ll get a life sometime), I saw a new item posted there, i.e., Indicators About the Economy and Development.

The report contains indicators about the economy and development, e.g., such items as at-place employment, office absorption, housing sales, tourism, and commercial and residential permit activity. Some of those have two or three indicators, e.g., commercial building permit activity is broken-down into square feet for new construction and square feet for tenant fit-out.

There are also indicators about economic conditions and fiscal indicators. For example, such things as households receiving food stamps, new vehicle registrations, and meals tax assessments. Let’s look at a couple of these:

  1. Office Absorption. In the third quarter 2008 the report shows almost 391,000 square feet of absorption while there was a loss of almost 420,000 square feet in the third quarter 2009.
  2. New Vehicle Registrations. This fiscal indicator dropped by 7.3%, going from 3,511 in September 2008 to 3,253 in September 2009.

Rather than sending out The Citizen six times a year, the county could send out copies of the economic indicators once or twice a year, instead. Arlington citizens would be better informed while the county would spend less Arlington County taxpayers’ money. So take a few minutes to study the report avialble at the Arlington County Manager's webpage; then provide the County Manager your thoughts.

December 02, 2009

Sacred Cows and Arlington County's Budget

The Acting County Manager, Barbara Donnellan, and the new Superintendent, Dr. Pat Murphy, were guest speakers at the Arlington County Civic Federation last night. After their opening comments, the two executives answered questions prepared by the Federation’s Revenues & Expenditures and Schools committees as well as questions from Federation delegates.

As described in the Federation’s December newsletter (requires Adobe): "Ms. Donnellan will focus on projected revenue forecast, size of the potential budget gap, size and impact of a potential tax increase, and strategy and process to cut services to close the potential balance of the budget gap.  Dr. Murphy will focus on the projected enrollment and expenses, revenue sharing agreement, size of the potential budget gap, and strategy to cut services to close the potential balance of the budget gap."

Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette reported on the Federation meeting online today, including:

“Still-declining real estate values, particularly on the commercial side, will make next year’s budget choices more difficult than in any other recent time, government officials have warned for months. The full extent of the situation won’t be known until 2011 property assessments are finalized, which should occur in coming weeks.

“County Board members have directed Donnellan to close any budget gap with an equal mix of higher taxes and fees on the one hand, program reductions on the other.

“For homeowners, that’s likely to mean an increase in the real estate tax rate of approximately 8 cents per $100, or about 10 percent. With average residential real estate values expected to decline 5 percent in 2011, average tax bills would rise slightly.”

Copies of Ms. Donnellan’s presentation slides (requires Adobe) and Dr. Murphy’s presentation slides (also requires Adobe) are available at the Civic Federation’s website. Both contain very informative data for Arlington County about the upcoming FY 2011 budget.

About the sacred cows, note the following Donnellan quote reported by McCaffrey:

“Nothing’s off the table,” she said in a budget presention. “There’s very few sacred cows - I’m looking at everything.”

December 01, 2009

Politics and Policy at HUD

The FY 2010 budget for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “requests a gross budget of $46.344 billion in fiscal year 2010, an increase of 10.8 percent over the fiscal year 2009 budget of $41.833 billion.” In addition, HUD’s budget request “enables the Department to respond aggressively to the housing crisis as well as contribute to broader national priorities on energy, sustainable growth, community revitalization and poverty alleviation.”

Consequently, a new Cato Institute Policy Analysis (requires Adobe), “Three Decades of Politics and Failed Policies at HUD”,  by Tad DeHaven is a timely reminder that HUD “has long been plagued by scandals, mismanagement, and policy failures.” The study “discusses how HUD officials operate within a highly politicized environment, which is heavily influenced by the groups that HUD subsidizes and regulates, including the housing industry, financial institutions, and community activists."

DeHaven writes of four recent HUD secretaries, and says:

“These public officials touted seemingly noble goals while pursuing personal and political agendas that ended up harming taxpayers and the economy. Even if there were a need for federal housing programs, experience has shown that HUD could not implement such programs without mismanagement, cronyism, and other abuses.

“Federal housing policies illustrate broader realities of government intervention. When making decisions, policymakers usually have selfinterested goals that conflict with the broader interests of taxpayers and the general public. Furthermore, their visions for improving society with federal programs usually backfire because of the distortions that those programs create in the economy.

“Housing was traditionally a private concern, and it should be made so again because government involvement has done great damage. Alas, policymakers have not learned this lesson even after the recent housing boom and bust. Since the housing and financial meltdowns, federal intervention in housing markets has substantially increased, thus paving the way for further troubles down the road for taxpayers and the economy.”

Just another case of government failure? Take a few minutes to read the entire policy analysis, and then decide.