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January 31, 2010

January 22, 2010: Another Day of Infamy?

Chris Edwards, Director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, blogs at Cato’s “Downsizing the Federal Government” project that on that date, the number of handout, er . . . make that subsidy, programs reached 2,000. “for individuals, businesses, or state and local governments.“ He adds:

"The number of federal subsidy programs soared 21 percent during the 1990s and 40 percent during the 2000s. The entire nation is jumping aboard Washington’s gravy train. My assistant, Amy Mandler, noticed the recent addition of two new Department of Justice programs, and that pushed us over the threshold to reach 2,001.

“There is a federal subsidy program for every year that has passed since Emperor Augustus held sway in Rome. We’ve gone from bread and circuses to food stamps, the National Endowment for the Arts, and 1,999 other hand-out programs from the imperial city on the Potomac.”

The number of handout programs has grown from 1,019 in 1970 to to 2,001 such programs in 2010. Edwards also says:

"Most people are aware that federal spending is soaring, but the federal government is also increasing the scope of its activities, intervening in many areas that used to be left to state governments, businesses, charities, and individuals.”

[...]

“As the federal octopus extends its tentacles ever further, state governments are becoming no more than regional subdivisions of the national government, businesses and nonprofit groups are becoming tools of the state, and individualism is giving way to a more European desire for cradle-to-grave dependency.

“Yet recent election results indicate that Americans may be starting to wake up and fight back. Whether we are more successful than Cicero and Cato the Younger in battling to retain our limited-government republic remains to be seen.

Edwards provides the chart below “as a rough guide to the areas in society in which the government is most in violation of federalism—the constitutional principle that the federal government ought not to encroach on activities that are properly state, local, and private.”

 

January 29, 2010

January Porker of the Month Named

Senator Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska) has been named by Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) as its Porker of the Month for January. In making their announcement, CAGW wrote in their press release:

“Sen. Nelson furnished the pivotal 60th vote for cloture on December 19, 2009, allowing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) healthcare bill to come to the Senate floor for final passage.  Nelson held out until he was able to parlay his vote to secure, among other perks, a permanent exemption for Nebraska to the Medicaid expansion in the Reid bill, saving the state between $59 million and $281 million.  The deal has been dubbed the “Cornhusker Kickback.”  The federal government will cover most of the states’ additional Medicaid expenses until 2017.  According to The Heritage Foundation, the cost of benefits and administration for the expanded program will cost the states between $32.2 billion and $60 billion through 2019.

“In the immediate aftermath of the Cornhusker Kickback, Sen. Nelson stated that he had been under pressure from Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (R) to negotiate the deal.  However, Gov. Heineman denied that assertion, saying that “Under no circumstances did I have anything to do with Senator Nelson’s compromise…The responsibility for this special deal lies solely on the shoulders of Senator Ben Nelson.”  The senator then scrambled to send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asking that the language be removed, followed closely by a claim that the carve-out was always meant as a “placeholder” so that, eventually, all the states could get the federal government to cover their Medicaid costs, a very expensive proposition.  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) remarked in a December 19, 2009 Politico article that Nelson may have done the “‘other 99 senators a favor because the federal government is paying for the entire Medicaid expansion through 2017 for every state…When you look at it, I thought well, God, good, it is going to be the impetus for all the states to stay at 100 percent [after 2017].  So he might have done all of us a favor.’”

CAGW summarized the awarding of their dubious award, writing: For his Cornhusker Kickback boondoggle, classless congressional CYA behavior, and opening the door to a congressional stampede to try to fully federalize one of the most wasteful government-run healthcare entitlement programs ever conceived, Sen. Ben Nelson wins the dubious title of CAGW’s January Porker of the Month.” Well done, CAGW!

Voice your complaint, and call Sen. Nelson's office on Capitol Hill, (202) 224-6551. 

January 28, 2010

Thought for the Day

“Absolute power corrupts even when exercised for humane purposes. The benevolent despot who sees himself as a shepherd of the people still demands from others the submissiveness of sheep.”

   ~ Eric Hoffer

HT OnPower.org

January 27, 2010

The Price of ‘Caring’ in Parks, Recreation and Culture

Earlier this week, we growled about the price of living in a ‘caring community,’ a feature of Arlington County’s so-called vision statement. We cited the differences in spending in the areas of health and welfare.

Today, we’ll look at how four Northern Virginia counties compare in per capita spending in parks and recreation; cultural enrichment; and public libraries with numbers coming from the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts’ “Comparative Report of Local Government Revenues and Expenditures." (all numbers are for FY 2008):

Parks and Recreation: in the Commonwealth as a whole, local governments spent $54.53 per capita. However, Arlington County spent $177.82 per capita (326.11 of the state average) while Fairfax County spent $100.63 per capita (184.54% of the state average); Loudoun spent $101.92 per capita (186,90% of the state average) and Prince William spent $70.31 per capita (128.95% of the state average).

Cultural Enrichment Activities: in the Commonwealth as a whole, local governments spent $4.87 per capita. However, Arlington County spent $16.79 per capita (344.88% of the state average) while Fairfax County spent $11.29 per capita (231.84% of the state average); Loudoun spent $12.78 per capita (262.50% of the state average); and Prince William spent $3.00 per capita (61.57% of the state average).

Public Libraries: in the Commonwealth as a whole, local governments spent $31.29 per capita. Arlington County spent $75.28 per capita (240.57% of the state average) while Fairfax County spent $37.09 per capita (118.54% of the state average) and Loudoun spent $40.79 per capita (130.37% of the state average) while Prince William spent $34.89 per capita (6111.53% of the state average).

There are some understandable reasons why Arlington County spends more per capita than other Northern Virginia governments, e.g., hours of library operations. Unlike private sector companies that continually have to prune operations to stay competitive, however, governments constantly accrete functions without any attention to the additional cost.

Taxpayers in Arlington County pay a hefty price so that Arlington County Board members can brag about legislating in a 'caring community.' If you would like to know why Arlington County spends more per capita than it’s Virginia neighbors, use the link in the right column to write to the Arlington County Board. Tell them ACTA sent you.

January 26, 2010

Public’s Top Priorities Aren’t Health Care and Global Warming

During his radio talk show yesterday evening, Mark Levin referenced a survey report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that said:

“As Barack Obama begins his second year in office, the public’s priorities for the president and Congress remain much as they were one year ago. Strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the job situation continue to top the list. And, in the wake of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack on a Detroit-bound airliner, defending the country from future terrorist attacks also remains a top priority. (emphasis added)

“At the same time, the public has shifted the emphasis it assigns to two major policy issues: dealing with the nation’s energy problem and reducing the budget deficit. About half (49%) say that dealing with the nation’s energy problem should be a top priority, down from 60% a year ago. At the same time, there has been a modest rise in the percentage saying that reducing the budget deficit should be a top priority, from 53% to 60%.”

As you can see from the Pew chart below, health care and global warming -- top priorities of the President and Congress -- were far, very far, from the public’s top priorities:

 

Even more importantly, health care and global warming were never among the public’s top priorities according to the details of the Pew survey report. In fact, ever since January 2007, global warming has been at the bottom of the list of the public’s top domestic priorities. Moreover, those selecting global warming as their top priority has dropped from 35% in 2007 to 28% in 2010.

Things are no different at the local level where the chairman of the Arlington County Board announced in his New Year’s Day speech that he would continue pushing his green agenda, e.g., forming the climate energy and environment policy committee and taking credit for creating the “Go Green Virginia Initiative” while president of the Virginia Municipal Learn.

UPDATE (2/13/10): Gallup reported yesterday that a new survey shows US unemployment has jumped "to top problem status."

January 25, 2010

Message from Massachusetts: Listen To The Taxpayers!

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) issued a press release in the wake of last Tuesday’s Massachusetts election of Republican Scott Brown, a certain upset if there ever was one. According to Pete Sepp, NTU’s vice-president of policy and communications, Brown’s win “shows that the people who pay government's bills are tired of being ignored.”

In part, the press release said:

“What taxpayers already knew, and what we hope Congress now understands, is that at a time when the country suffers job losses and economic uncertainty, we need to rein in our out-of-control federal government. A trillion-dollar health care plan that imposes huge new taxes is unwise, unwarranted, and unwanted. Even in the face of economic distress, people across America understand that government is not the answer to their problems.”

“We congratulate Senator-elect Brown on his win and look forward to working with him as well as his colleagues to make a fresh start in Congress. That means advancing an agenda that trims back wasteful spending, keeps taxes low, and relieves Americans of the crushing burden of an ever-expanding federal budget.”

Listening to taxpayers would certainly be a well-received change, but is Congress listening?

January 24, 2010

The Price of Being a ‘Caring Community’

We’ve growled several times (most recently here) about the Arlington County Board’s claim of being a 'caring community,' but do you know the price?

We are certainly fans of the Consolidated Annual Financial Report (CAFR), but we don't learn enough from the CAFR to decide if the price of a 'caring community' to too high. We do learn, though, that spending for health and welfare in the latest fiscal year is $103.1 million, which ranks second just behind public safety at $106.7 million. In addition, we learn that spending for health and welfare increased 61.1% from 2000 to 2009, going from $63.96 million to $103.06 million.

There is a report, though, that does provide a look at whether the Arlington County Board is spending too much, too little, or about the right amount for health and welfare in the county. It’s the Comparative Report of Local Government Revenues and Expenditures, which is available from Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts. According to the Auditor of Public Accounts, the report “is a valuable analytical tool to review local government fiscal activities.”

The comparative report is useful because it is presented on a per capita base. So while a large county such as Fairfax can achieve some efficiencies of scale, the APA’s comparative report enables citizens to look at per capita spending amounts for the various functions in local government. For example (all amounts are for FY 2008):

  • Health: in the Commonwealth as a whole, local governments spend $26.24 per capita. However, Arlington County spent $106.49 per capita (405.87% of the state average) while Fairfax County spent $74.29 per capita (283.15% of the state average). On the other hand, Loudoun spent $14.73 per capita and Prince William spent $15.72 per capita.
  • Welfare and Social Services: in the Commonwealth as a whole, local governments spend $182.20 per capita. Arlington County spent $468.14 per capita (256.94% of the Commonwealth average); Fairfax County spent $260.51 per capita (142.98%); Loudoun spent $180.26 per capita (98.94%); and Prince William spent $124.37 (68.26%).

Supporters of big government would undoubtedly argue that Arlington County is spending the appropriate amount for welfare and social services, or should spend even more while taxpayers who believe in less government might say Loudoun and Prince William counties are spending the appropriate amount.

Unfortunately, neither the CAFR nor the budget documents begin to provide citizens and the Arlington County Board with the information needed to make the needed judgements. The Arlington County Board should direct the County Manager to explain the cost of goods and services provided by Arlington County agency or department vis a vis those provided by the neighboring jurisdictions. With the information, citizens and the Arlington County Board can then decide if there are any operations that can be eliminated/consolidated, or no longer deserve the priority they once had.

January 23, 2010

Your Federal Tax Dollars Spent on Wine, Women, and Song

With a HT to the American Thinker for this Washington Times report published yesterday about “taxpayers’ bucks spent on trysts, golf (and) skiing.” Several specific examples cited in the Times story include:

“From an extra day's hotel stay so military officials can fit in a round of golf to federal workers who fly business class instead of coach, questionable travel expenditures have remained a persistent problem across the federal government in recent years.

“At the State Department, for instance, nearly 80 percent of the more than $300,000 in airfare reviewed at one little-known office in fiscal 2007 and 2008 went to pay for business-class airline tickets, and many of those purchases violated federal travel policy.

“One senior manager at the National Science Foundation took or extended taxpayer-funded trips totaling more than $10,000 to facilitate liaisons with women in Paris, Tokyo and Vancouver.

“And a former deputy secretary at the Pentagon repaid more than $17,000 after investigators said he extended official travel for personal reasons on more than a dozen trips, a finding the former official said he strongly denies.”

Although the amounts questioned are small relative to a lot of other wasteful government spending, such expenditures have an inordinate impact on taxpayers, as explained by Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union:

"Travel is one of those issues that has a disproportionate impact on public confidence in government because taxpayers can relate to the costs more directly," said Pete Sepp, vice president of policy for the National Taxpayers Union.

“"Most folks have traveled by air, and they know what it's like to have to shop for bargain fares," he said. "Most who wind up in business class consider themselves pretty fortunate, and can get in trouble with the boss if they overuse the privilege."

Kudos to the Washington Times for this excellent and extensive piece of investigative reporting. However, as Rick Moran of the American Thinker concludes:

“Senator Charles Grassley has introduced legislation to try and make agencies more accountable on travel expenses. But in the end, enforcement is still going to be a problem. As long as the abuses are tolerated at the top, there's no chance these practices will disappear anytime soon.”

January 22, 2010

How Does Virginia Compare on State Income Taxes?

On December 29, 2009, we growled about a Washington Post story, which noted that Arlington County delegate Bob Brink had “a long history of patroning St. Jude bills -- bills of lost causes. This year, outgoing Gov. Tim Kaine had called Brink to sponsor “a bill to raise the income tax for him in the upcoming legislative session.” In the growls, we also pointed out the importance of a sound tax system, and noted the problems associated with Pennsylvania's tax system.

Bill Flook of the Washington Examiner reports in the weekend edition that the House of Delegates killed the bill yesterday, writing:

“Virginia's House of Delegates unanimously killed former Gov. Tim Kaine's $2 billion income tax increase Thursday after Republicans forced a vote on what was widely seen as a dead-on-arrival proposal.

“The widely expected decision followed a lengthy round of rancor and political gamesmanship between the two parties. Democrats looked to drop the bill from consideration, while the Republican leadership hoped to box the minority party into an awkward position -- choosing between rebuking the Kaine administration or supporting a tax increase in a down economy.

“The proposal had little hope for success under new Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has vowed to veto any such increase.

"We all know why this bill is here," said House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Henry, during debate on the House floor. "It's here to embarrass us, it's here to embarrass Tim Kaine. It's here to poison the well."

“House Republicans had shipped the doomed legislation out of committee quickly and refused to let the bill's patron -- Del. Bob Brink, D-Arlington -- remove it from the agenda.”

“The new 1 percent income surtax would have replaced the despised car tax that lawmakers began rolling back in 1998. The new revenue would have substituted for a $950 million annual state subsidy paid to local governments to backfill the reduced car tax.”

According to a recent report on 2000-2009 state individual income tax rates from the Tax Foundation, Virginia has a four rates: 2%, 3%, 5%, and 5.75%.  Below is a map from report showing the top state income tax rates:

 

January 21, 2010

Public Education Quote of the Decade

"The struggle in which we are engaged is as vital to our future today as was the outcome of the Civil War to our nation in 1860 (sic). The goal of these locusts is to impose their will on state after state until they have completely demolished government as we know it. There is a time for every generation to rise to the call - when the very existence of our nation, our state, our values, our culture and our public schools are threatened with extinction."

~ Nebraska State Education Association Executive Director Jim Griess on Initiative 423, a ballot measure that would have limited state government spending to previous years' amounts, with allowed increases for inflation and population growth. (October 2006 The NSEA Voice)

HT Education Intelligence Agency (EIA). To see entries 17 through 2 that were in the running, visit this EIA webpage.

January 20, 2010

The Tax Poem

Tax his land, Tax his bed, Tax the table at which he’s fed.
Tax his tractor, Tax his mule, Teach him taxes Are the rule.
Tax his work, Tax his pay, He works for peanuts Anyway!
Tax his cow, Tax his goat, Tax his pants, Tax his coat.
Tax his ties, Tax his shirt, Tax his work, Tax his dirt.
Tax his tobacco, Tax his drink, Tax him if he tries to think.
Tax his cigars, Tax his beers, If he cries, then tax his tears.
Tax his car, Tax his gas, Find other ways To tax his ass.
Tax all he has Then let him know, That you won’t be done till he has no dough.

When he screams and hollers Then tax him more,
Tax him till he’s good and sore.
Then tax his coffin, Tax his grave, Tax the sod in Which he’s laid.
Put these words Upon his tomb, ‘Taxes drove me to my doom.. . ‘
When he’s gone, Do not relax, Its time to apply The inheritance tax.

Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL license Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Excise Taxes
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax
Food License Tax
Fuel Permit Tax
Gasoline Tax (currently 44. 75 cents per gallon)
Gross Receipts Tax
Hunting License Tax
Inheritance Tax
Inventory Tax
IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
Liquor Tax
Luxury Taxes
Marriage License Tax
Medicare Tax
Personal Property Tax
Property Tax
Real Estate Tax
Service Charge Tax
Social Security Tax
Road Usage Tax
Sales Tax
Recreational Vehicle Tax
School Tax
State Income Tax
State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Telephone Federal Excise Tax
Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax
Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax
Telephone State and Local Tax
Telephone Usage Charge Tax
Utility Taxes
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax

Not one of these taxes existed 100 years ago, and our nation was the most prosperous in the world. We had absolutely no national debt, had the largest middle class in the world, and Mom stayed home to raise the kids.

What happened?

Can you spell ‘politicians?’

HT 1Funny.com

If the above list of taxes isn't long enough, David Boaz, blogging at Cato@Liberty, can add to the list.

January 19, 2010

Another Gem in the CAFR

Yesterday, we growled that in transmitting the FY 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report to the Arlington County Board, staff provided the explanation of why the county has the lowest tax rate in the region. It’s not that the county is the best run local government; rather, it’s because “a greater share of the tax burden is carried by the commercia sectorl, relative to homeowners, than any of its neighbors.”

A bit more reading in a section of the CAFR entitled, “Management’s Discussion and Analysis,” revealed a second gem. At the top of page 24, there's this:

“The other local taxes revenue category, which includes taxes on business licenses, general sales . . totaled $187.9 million. This represents a $2.0 million increase over the previous year, or 1.1%. This increase was due primarily to the reallocation of roughly $3.0 million in sales tax to Arlington that had previously been credited to another Virginia jurisdiction in prior years by the Virginia Department of Taxation.” (emphases added)

What’s up with that? Here's what we have learned:

“ . . . businesses with retail locations in multiple jurisdictions may make mistakes in attributing sales to specific store locations and/or the State Department of Taxation may be confused by the precise location of a retailer’s location (e.g. Alexandria City versus the Alexandria section of Fairfax County obviously causes significant confusion), there is the potential for the 1% local sales tax to be misallocated. For three years, between approximately late 2005 and late 2008, sales tax receipts from a large retailer with locations throughout the Commonwealth, and with a large presence in Arlington, were being allocated to another jurisdiction. Unlike many other local taxes, sales tax is administered by the State Department of Taxation. (emphases added)

"Since this error was uncovered, the Arlington County Commissioner of Revenue has been aggressively auditing sales tax returns from the State to ensure that remittances accurately reflect where retail activity occurred. Over the past year, the Commissioner has identified several other errors in sales tax remittances through its audit program to the benefit of the County . . . ."

We’re happy the sales taxes have been reallocated to Arlington County. However, for three years, Arlington taxpayers have had to pony up the equivalent of about 1/2-cent in real estate taxes because the county had not received its full allocation of sales taxes from the Commonwealth. Perhaps what Arlington County really needs is more auditors in order to look for all the loose change, including any waste, fraud and abuse.

All Arlington County taxpayers are urged to read the annual CAFR, which you can find at the Department of Management and Finance's webpage. And please send us any of those "gems."

January 18, 2010

Gems in the CAFR

The FY 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) (requires Adobe), containing Arlington County’s audited financial statements, was received by the County Board at its regular December 2009 meeting, as required by Section 15.2-2511 of the Code of Virginia.

The report’s transmittal memo notes the annual budget “is the single most important document that a governing body enacts annually." However, the CAFR is just as important because it contains the audited financial statements, which “provide reasonable assurance (they) . . . are free of material misstatement.” The memo contains the following gem in the taxes and fees section:

“A greater share of the tax burden is carried by the commercial sector, relative to homeowners, than any of (Arlington’s) neighbors.” (emphasis added)

Most of us have heard County Board members tell us far too many times that Arlington has the lowest real estate tax rate in the area as if that is sufficient reason to vote for them at the next election. We’ve tried to tell taxpayers the only reason Arlington’s tax rate is lower is because the commercial sector bears a far larger tax burden than in most other local governments in the region. It's good to know we're on the same page with county staff.

We missed the statement in prior CAFR’s. So the next time a member of the Arlington County Board brags about Arlington County having the lowest real estate tax rate in the region, ask them if they know why it’s so low.

January 17, 2010

Assessments of Arlington County Board Members

With 2010 real estate assessments now posted, kudos to the Arlington Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey for reporting on the declines in the real estate assessments of the five Arlington County Board members. According to McCaffrey:

“Arlington’s five County Board members saw their own home assessments decline from 2009 to 2010, with the drops ranging from less than 1 percent to nearly 9 percent.

“Those drops mirror countywide trends, which showed the average assessment of residential properties down 3.25 percent, to $503,200, over the past year.

“But, as most of the five board members have owned their homes for significant amounts of time, their average home values have increases(sic) substantially during their ownership.”

McCaffrey reports how each Board members’ real property assessment changed. You can look-up your own property’s assessment at the following Arlington County webpage based upon real property code, street address, or economic unit.

January 16, 2010

Thought for the Day

"The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

   ~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Taylor, 1816

HT Patriot Post

January 15, 2010

Improving Head Start, or Another $100 Billion . . .

Kudos to Adam Schaeffer (here) and Andrew Coulson (here and here) of the Cato Institute in getting a 452-page, long overdue report on the Head Start program (requires Adobe) released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). For those unfamiliar with Head Start and the “long overdue report,” here’s a brief overview from the study’s overall summary:

“Since its beginning in 1965 as a part of the War on Poverty, Head Start‘s goal has been to boost the school readiness of low-income children. Based on a "whole child" model, the program provides comprehensive services that include preschool education; medical, dental, and mental health care; nutrition services; and efforts to help parents foster their child‘s development. Head Start services are designed to be responsive to each child‘s and family‘s ethnic, cultural, and linguistic heritage.”

“In the 1998 reauthorization of Head Start, Congress mandated that the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) determine, on a national level, the impact of Head Start on the children it serves . . . “

Coulson provides this brief summary of the study:

“We have spent more than $100 billion on the program to date (ballpark estimate from Table 375 here) and HHS’s own research shows that its results diminish to essentially nothing by the end of the first grade.

“There are other government education programs whose effects actually grow substantially over time, and that are comparatively economical. Consider the federal DC voucher program. Just a year or two after switching from public to private schools, the effect of the private schooling was not big enough to rise to the level of statistical significance. But by their third year in private schools, the evidence was clear that voucher-receiving students were reading more than two grade levels above a randomized control group that stayed in public schools.  This program, as I’ve previously documented, costs 1/4 as much per pupil as DC spends on public education: about $6,600 vs. $28,000.

“But Congress, and particularly Democrats, have defunded the DC voucher program while raising spending on Head Start. President Obama is at the forefront of this travesty. If you weren’t already jaded and disgusted by education politics and its domination by employee unions opposed to educational choice, start now.”

Yesterday, Coulson added that the mainstream media has not covered “the HHS study showing that America’s $100 billion plus investment in Head Start is a failure.” The study did draw the attention of several high profile blogs, though. He also made the following comments:

“What’s really interesting, though, is that the HHS had the moral fibre to actually issue a press release about this damning study. That showed courage — and a certain panache. I particularly liked this, from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: “Research clearly shows that Head Start positively impacts the school readiness of low-income children.”

“Umm, yes Ms. Secretary, but the same research shows those effects vanish by the end of first grade. I guess that information is on a need-to-not-know basis. The public needs to not know about it or the administration hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in Kauai of getting American tax payers to throw another $100 billion or so at government pre-K, as President Obama is so very keen to do.”

Despite the results of the Head Start study highlighted above, when HHS finally released the study, they “announced plans to strengthen the Head Start and Early Head Start programs as part of an Administration-wide effort to close achievement gaps and promote early learning through the first eight years of life for the nation’s most vulnerable children,” according to this HHS press release. Instead of closing the achievement gap, however, it’s more likely that what will be expanded is the budget deficit.

To read more about early education tax credits, here is the link to the August 2009 Policy Analysis by Adam Schaeffer.

January 14, 2010

Were They Thinking of the Tea Party Movement?

"If it be asked what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer, the genius of the whole system, the nature of just and constitutional laws, and above all the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it."

   ~ Federalist No. 57, February 19, 1788

HT Patriot Post

January 13, 2010

Want Jobs, Virginia? Scrap Corporate Income Tax!

To strengthen the Commonwealth’s competitive economic edge, Del. Harry Purkey (R-Virginia Beach) chairman of the House Finance committee, has submitted House Bill 119 to the 2010 General Assembly. HB 119 would eliminate “Virginia's corporate income tax for taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2010.”

According to today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch:

“The idea is being pushed by a small group of businessmen who see it lending a “wow factor” to the state’s marketing pitch, creating jobs and encouraging investment.

“Del. Harry R. Purkey, R-Virginia Beach and chairman of the House Finance Committee, has submitted legislation that would scrap the tax. Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, R-Hanover, said he’ll submit a bill to get rid of the tax effective in January 2012.

“It would give Virginia “economic competitiveness that is just really unparalleled,“ said McDougle, who quotes estimates that revenue from new jobs should exceed the money lost within two years"

Eliminating the corporate income tax would certainly make Virginia more competitive than say New York and its spendthrift ways, not mention New York city mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who continues to be the food-nanny by declaring war on salt in New Yorkers’ diets, as reported Monday's Yew York Post. Virginia shows its serious about generating jobs; the other is just buffoonish.

You can write or call a member of the Arlington General Assembly delegation (Senators Whipple and Ticer and Delegates Brink, Ebbin Englin, and Hope) by using the General Assembly website.

January 12, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

   ~ George Orwell

HT Brainy Quote

January 11, 2010

Thought for the Day

If the Constitution's meaning can be erased or rewritten, and the Framers' intentions ignored, it ceases to be a constitution but is instead a concoction of political expedients that serve the contemporary policy agendas of the few who are entrusted with public authority to preserve it."

   ~ Mark Levin, "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto," page 37.

January 10, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Among the many other questions raised by the nebulous concept of "greed" is why it is a term applied almost exclusively to those who want to earn more money or to keep what they have already earned -- never to those wanting to take other people's money in taxes or to those wishing to live on the largess dispensed from such taxation. No amount of taxation is ever described by the anointed as "greed" on the part of government or the clientele of government."

   ~ Thomas Sowell, "The Vision of the Anointed," page 186.

January 09, 2010

Class Size and the Dedication of Taxpayers

The Arlington Public Schools (APS) recently completed a budget survey, available as a FY 2011 budget document on the APS website. Yesterday, Scott McCaffrey reported the “plan to increase class sizes (is) not popular among some in the community” for an online story posted on the Arlington Sun Gazette website. McCaffrey writes:

“Even as county school officials gear up to increase class sizes in an effort to close a whopping budget gap, a community survey finds most respondents think such a move would be a bad idea.

About 54 percent of nearly 3,600 respondents to a survey conducted by Arlington Public “Schools said the school system should not consider increasing class sizes as it grapples to deal with a budget deficit that next year could swell to nearly 10 percent of its $450 million annual budget.

“Superintendent Patrick Murphy won’t propose his budget to School Board members until late February, but signs are already appearing that class sizes may go up slightly in order to address the budget shortfall.”

That said, it’s understandable that parents and educators might want to see smaller class sizes, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at the FY 2010 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide.

Page 28 of the latest WABE provides the Average Class Size both by classroom teachers and by “teacher-scale” positions, which includes “classroom teachers and other teachers such as ESOL/ESL, librarians, reading , coaches, mentions, music, art, PE, etc.” Taking a closer look at the average class sizes by the type of school:

  • Elementary schools. Arlington ranks third with 18.6 students per classroom teacher, ranking behind the City of Manassas (16.0) and Prince George’s County (17.5).  Fairfax County ranks 7th (21.2 students per classroom teachers) with Loudoun County 9th (22.4 students/teacher).
  • Middle/Intermediate schools. APS ranked 1st (19.7 students per teacher) and ranged to 9th, Prince William County (31.0 students per teacher).
  • Secondary/High schools. APS again ranked 1st (with 17.6 students per teacher) and ranged to Montgomery County at 8th (with 28.5 students per teacher) and Prince William County 9th (with 28.9 students per teacher).

It is a shame the education special interests did not have as much sympathy for taxpayers when the Arlington County Board was authorizing significant tax increases that enabled the School Board to pay for lower class sizes during the early years of the decade so it’s hard to be sympathetic for those who oppose increasing class sizes now. Moreover, an "action  paper" from the Center for Education Reform cautions:

"Parents and educators alike should be aware that this latest craze to try to reform education by tinkering with class size is a small, relatively inconsequential policy move over the length of a child's schooling."

January 08, 2010

When Government is part of the Healthcare Problem

Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute writes at Downsizing the Federal Government:

“As Congress hashes out an agreement behind closed doors to expand the government’s role in health care, a Medicaid story out of New York serves as another reminder that government is part of the health care problem, not the solution. Audits released by the state’s comptroller found $169 million in misspent funds, including a $196,000 cab bill for a woman who took a daily $300 taxi ride to visit her son in Albany for three years.”

Original reporting is from a story by Cathleen Crowley in the December 23, 2009 Albany Times Union.

Regarding the daily $300 taxi ride for three years, Don Surber of the Charleston, West Virginia Daily Mail blogged yesterday, January 7, 2010:

“What dedication — by taxpayers.

“That is right. Taxpayers have shelled out $196,000 over the past three years so that she can make this Poughkeepsie-Albany commute each day. Incredibly, state health officials defended this daily abuse of taxpayers. Could not the woman move to Albany?

“It would have been cheaper to buy her a Cadillac Escalade and have her drive herself.

“But under Medicaid’s incomprehensibly illogical rules, taxpayers had to give this woman a whopping $65,000 subsidy.

“We underpay doctors by 20% or more. But one — likely two — cab drivers have a gravy train going there.”

Is there any wonder the Tea Party movement is so strong?

January 07, 2010

Employee Compensation and State/Local Governments

Stateline, a non-profit online news site funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts reported on state budget gaps in a late December 2009 news report, writing specifically:

“Mid-year budget gaps have opened in dozens of states, brought on, in part, by overly hopeful revenue projections. According to the National Conference of States Legislatures (NCSL), 36 states are still facing shortfalls in the current fiscal year, even as governors are putting the finishing touches on their budget proposals for fiscal year 2011, which for most states starts in July.

”Continuing job losses and anemic consumer spending have depressed tax collections and opened gaps ranging from tens of millions of dollars to the billions. All told, the new gaps total almost $28.2 billion, according to NCSL. That’s on top of the $145.9 billion that state policymakers cut from their fiscal year 2010 budgets during legislative sessions earlier this year.”

Come Chris Edwards, director of Tax Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, who writes in the January 2010 Tax & Budget Bulletin (requires Adobe) that “with employee compensation representing half of total state and local spending, large savings could be found by freezing wages and overhauling excessive benefit packages.”

In a table of average compensation in 2009, Edwards shows that total compensation in state and local government is $39.66 per hour worked while it is $27.42 per hour in the private sector (a ratio of 1.45:1.00), and then adds:

“The table shows that public sector workers have the largest advantages in health insurance, defined benefit pension plans, and paid leave.”

There is also greater availability of benefits in the private sector. For example, 90% of state and local government workers are offered retirement benefits while only 67% of private sector workers are offered retirement benefits, or paid sick leave is offered to 89% of state and local government workers, but to only 61% of private sector workers. There are also significant regional variations in compensation with unionization being a driving influence.

The last factor Edwards writes about is the excessive retirement benefits available in the public sector, primarily because “state and local workers have very generous defined-benefit (DB) pension plans compared to private sector workers." He adds the public sector pension plans “have been overpromised and underfunded.”

A discussion of Arlington County’s handling of pension benefits is contained in Management’s Discussion and Analysis of the of FY 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Arlington’s audited financial statement, which is available at the Department of Management and Finance’s website.

January 06, 2010

It’s Only Taxpayers Money

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has released preliminary analyses of several FY 2010 spending bills, including earmarks in the Defense Department’s conference report. According to a December 18, 2009 press release, they report the bill contains 1,719 projects worth $7.6 billion. However, they note the FY 2010 bill is the first time since 2002 “that defense earmarks are below $9 billion.

Some of the waste described in the CAGW press release includes the following:

  • “$3,385,000,000 added anonymously for four projects.  This figure equates to 44.7 percent of the dollar amount included for earmarks in the bill.  According to the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, signed into law on September 14, 2007 by President George W. Bush, members of Congress are required to add their name to each earmark.  However, they continue to violate this law by adding anonymous earmarks to fund projects – often big-ticket items – at the expense of taxpayers."
  • “$2,500,000,000 added anonymously for ten additional C-17 aircraft.  In a floor statement posted on his website, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) voiced his opposition to the C-17 funding:  “[w]hat we would do in this bill is effectively fund the purchase of new aircraft that we neither need nor can afford with critical sustainment money.  That would have a significant impact on our ability to provide the day-to-day operational funding that our servicemen and women and their families deserve.
  • “$465,000,000 added anonymously for the F136 alternate engine program.  According to a November 10, 2009 Reuters article, deliveries of the F136 alternate engine will be delayed by one year.  Built by General Electric and Rolls-Royce, the alternate engine program has had two major setbacks in as many months.  In October, F136 testing was halted when a nut came loose, damaging turbine blades in the engine.  Top military officials, former President Bush, President Obama, the Office of Management and Budget, and independent analysts all agree that the alternate engine should be eliminated.  The project is expensive, unnecessary, and only survives because of pork-barrel politics.”

Browse through the other press releases from 2009 for more examples of how members of Congress waste our tax money.

January 05, 2010

Thought for the Day

"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt."

   ~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Kercheval, 1816

HT Patriot Post

January 04, 2010

Food Stamp Usage in Arlington County

With a HT to Dan Barrett, blogging at the National Taxpayers Union’s blog, Government Bytes for pointing to the weekend story in the New York Times about the use of food stamps in America (story here and interactive map here showing usage by county). The Times reports:

“About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid — no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

“Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.”

According to numbers embedded in the interactive map, Arlington and Fairfax counties in Northern Virginia have what are likely to be among the lowest numbers in the nation:

                               Arlington    Fairfax
Category
All People                        2%        0%
Children                           5%        0%
White                               0%        0%
Black                               10%        0%
Change Since 2007    +38%     +14%

By comparison. Chesterfield and Lunenberg counties in Virginia have significantly higher numbers:

                                 Chesterfield    Lunenberg
Category
All People                           7%            16%
Children                             13%            35%
White                                 4%            10%
Black                                 13%            25%
Change Since 2007      +51%         +22%

For a bit more comparison, the state of Nevada has seen a 173% increase since 2007 while Florida’s change has been 113% and New York’s 99%. With the change in the use of food stamps since the recession began in December 2007, the comments and questions of the NTU’s Dan Barrett are especially relevant:

“. . . the question on my mind is: will the $60 billion set aside for such programs last? Some conservative legislatures think the programs are grooming a government-dependent class while many more are locked in bipartisan support of the subsidies. Either way, Cap and Trade, Obamacare, and/or a Federal Government handing out employee bonuses like bailout billions will most certainly deplete the source of that $60 billion faster than you can say Change You Can Believe In.”

Yet, Arlington County is still getting bailout/stimulus money (see our December 16, 2009 growls where we growled about the $29.3 million in stimulus money received by Arlington County. Amazing!

January 03, 2010

Thought for the Day

“There are two methods, or means, and only two, whereby man’s needs and desires can be satisfied. One is the production and exchange of wealth; this is the economic means. The other is the uncompensated appropriation of wealth produced by others; this is the political means.”

    ~Albert Jay Nock (1870-1945).Journalist, Author and Essayist

HT OnPower.org

January 02, 2010

Thought for the Day

"The anti-business mindset . . . is worthy of a pampered adolescent who is searching for a cause with which to display his unique moral sensibility. It is not worthy of an adult who should be able to use his imagination, if not actual experience, to appreciate the extraordinary human effort that has gone into creating the delightful tools that we daily take for granted. On my desk sit various humble objects—a tiny clock, a stapler, a paper clip box, a Lucite cook book stand for holding up drafts and other papers while I type. Each object represents a fractal geometry of complexity, composed as it is of parts that themselves require enterprise to manufacture, assemble, and deliver, all born along on waves of energy and infrastructure to which yet another set of entrepreneurs contributed. The fact that all of those distributors and manufacturers tried to make a profit does not detract from the fact that they offered goods which enhance our lives. . . .

"It is the ingratitude that kills me the most among anti-business types. The materials that furnish a single room in an American home required daring, perseverance, and organizational skill from millions of individuals over generations. I hope they all got filthy rich."

    ~ Heather McDonald, writing at secularright.org, December 26, 2009

HT Notable & Quotable, Wall Street Journal

January 01, 2010

Keeping up with Montgomery County Teachers

Yesterday’s Washington Examiner reported Maryland school districts are racing to keep-up with Montgomery County teacher salaries. Montgomery County is even higher in all five categories than the Arlington Public Schools. Let’s take a closer look. The Examiner reported:

“Montgomery County teachers earn the highest salaries in Maryland, but salaries have risen at the quickest pace in competing, nearby districts.”

Not only are Montgomery County’s teachers the highest paid in Maryland, they are also the highest paid in four of five salary categories (i.e., Step 1 + Bacherlor’s Degree; Average; Step 9 + Master’s Degree; and Maximum) on the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) guide. Only at Step 1 + Master’s Degree did Montgomery rank number two. Admittedly, along with the Manassas City schools, they also have an eight-hour work day, the only two of the nine WABE school districts to do so.

We don’t know how strongly the Arlington Public Schools compete for teachers with the Montgomery County public schools via a vis the Fairfax County public schools, but the WABE guide for FY 2010 (page 37) shows that APS ranks number two behind Montgomery County in three of the five pay categories. Comparing just Montgomery and Arlington counties of the nine schools districts:

  • Step 1 + Bachelor’s Degree: Montgomery County is first at $46,410. APS is at $43,910 (#5).
  • Average. Montgomery County is first at $76,483. APS is at $73,783 (#2).
  • Step 1 + Master’s Degree: Montgomery County is second at $51,128. APS is at $48,412 (#6),
  • Step 9 + Master’s Degree:  Montgomery County is first at $67,723. APS is at $66,848 (#2).
  • Maximum Salary: Montgomery County is at $103,634 (#1). APS is at $101,298 (#2).

Montgomery County also has the highest beginning hourly rate for instructional assistants at $17.01. The beginning hourly rate for APS is $13.96 (#7).

According to the Examiner, the starting salaries of Maryland teachers ranged from Montgomery County ($46,410) to Frederick County ($40,706), and included Baltimore City ($44,820) and Baltimore County ($42,000).

Some interesting numbers also come from the 2008-2009 Virginia Teacher Salary Survey, available at the Virginia Department of Education website. In Virginia, the budgeted average teacher salary for FY 2009 is $51.902.

The latest Virginia survey results also provide the average salary by school. For example, the average APS salary ranges for elementary schools ranges from from $63,826 in Arlington Science Focus to $74,119 in Long Branch Elementary. In the Fairfax County public schools, elementary school salaries ranges from $55,445 at Westbriar Elementary to $75,469 at Cameron Elementary.

The Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools is due to release his proposed FY 2011 budget on February 23, 2010. It should a fun budget year.