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February 28, 2010

Thought for the Day

"We hard-hearted small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the Greek protests* make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the socially equitable communitarianism of big government: Once a chap’s enjoying the fruits of government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement, and all the rest, he couldn’t give a hoot about the general societal interest; he’s got his, and to hell with everyone else. People’s sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make sense."

    ~ Mark Steyn

HT National Review Online

*Link added to the original.

February 27, 2010

Revenues in Arlington County's Proposed FY 2011 Budget

Arlington County uses a type of accounting referred to as fund accounting that is used in the non-profit and public sector where “organizations have a need for special reporting to financial statements users that show how money is spent, rather than how much profit was earned,” according to Wikipedia. The general fund is the county’s primary fund although other funds are used, e.g., travel and tourism fund, utilities fund, Section 8 housing fund, and the Ballston parking garage fund.

The general fund revenues in the Manager’s proposed FY 2011 budget is estimated to be $941.8 million dollars, down from $961.8 million in FY 2009 (actual) and $946.8 in FY 2010 (proposed). The decrease from 2010 to 2011 is 0.5%. General fund revenues come from three sources: first, real estate taxes, personal property taxes, BPOL tax, sales tax, meals tax, and several other taxes. comprising $772.0 of the $941.8 million; second, licenses, permits, fines and revenues from the state and federal governments, totaling $160.3 million of the $941.8 million; finally, there is the prior year balance of $9.6 million of the $941.8 million general fund balance. (amounts from section A -- budget summaries of the FY 2011 proposed budget)

Except for real estate taxes, the other tax categories were up or down by small amounts, ranging from an increase of 4.4% to a decrease of 4.2%. The real estate taxes at the current rate are estimated to decrease by 7.1%. Since the real estate tax made up almost two-thirds of all tax revenues, that 7.1% decrease is significant. Following the Board’s budget direction, the Manager’s proposed budget would add $36.3 million to the general fund by raising the real estate tax rate by 6.7 cents.

Overall, licenses, permits, fees, fines, etc. are estimated to increase 3.1%. The two largest categories to increase were “charges for services” by 4.4% and revenue from the state increasing by 3.6%.

The Manager also proposes increasing the water/sewer rate by $0.54 per thousand gallons, i.e., from $11.20 to $11.74. In addition, the Manager provides several tax and fee increases “to the County Board but NOT included in the County Manager’s base budget,” e.g., increasing parking ticket fines by $10 and increasing the decal fee from $25 to $33.

Contact the Arlington County Board with your questions.

February 26, 2010

February 2010 Porkers Named

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has awarded their February 2010 Porkers of the Month, naming Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Census Director Robert Groves as CAGW’s February Porkers of the Month. In handing out the award, CAGW said, “As the deadlines for the constitutionally mandated decennial head count rapidly approach, audits and news reports have revealed that the process is at risk for significant cost overruns, mismanagement, and wasteful spending.”

CAGW provided the following justification for naming the two government officials responsible for the 2010 census:

“The $2.5 million 30-second “Snapshot of America” Super Bowl Census Bureau ad was rated as one of the three worst ads, and the ongoing media campaign continues to confuse TV viewers and outrage taxpayers.  The ads are just the latest, and most high profile, missteps of Census officials.  The Bureau must deliver a full count of the population to the President by December 31, 2010.  The count is critical to both the allocation of federal resources over the next decade and the integrity of the nation’s electoral process, since it will form the basis of future congressional redistricting activities.  The entire process is expected to cost taxpayers more than $14 billion.

“A February 16, 2010 Commerce Department Inspector General (IG) audit concluded that the effort is plagued with software and information technology glitches and abusive spending practices.  On March 5, 2008, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) designated the 2010 Census as a high-risk program, at risk for significant waste, fraud, and abuse.  Unfortunately for taxpayers, the GAO has been proven correct.

“Secretary Locke and Director Groves have failed to oversee and control the Census.  The Bureau spent $1 billion to develop a handheld device to be used by Census workers as they go door-to-door to cull data from households which fail to return their paper questionnaires (expected to be about one-third of the 130 million households receiving the forms next month by mail).  The handheld computer failed spectacularly, the program was halted, and the aborted process delayed the development of a back-up paper-processing system.  The February 16, 2010 IG audit reveals that a key software component of that paper-processing system is also riddled with deficiencies.

“The audit also reviewed the performance of the 140,000 temporary census workers who went block by block in the fall of 2009 to update the Bureau’s maps and found that costs had ballooned by $88 million, or 25 percent, over the original estimate of $356 million.  The bureau spent $3 million on more than 10,000 census workers who pocketed $300 each to show up for training sessions, but were either fired or quit before they performed any work.  Another 5,000 workers worked for a day or less but were still paid $300.”

And they want to run health care? Sheesh!

February 25, 2010

Thought for the Day

"During bad times, the blame game is the biggest game in Washington. Wall Street "greed" or "predatory" lenders seem to be favorite targets to blame for our current economic woes.

"When government policy is mentioned at all in handing out blame, it is usually blamed for not imposing enough regulation on the private sector. But there is still the question whether any of these explanations can stand up under scrutiny."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Real Clear Politics

February 24, 2010

Cost-per-Student to Decline Under Superintendent’s Budget0

Arlington’s new superintendent, Patrick Murphy, presented his proposed FY 2011 budget to the School Board yesterday. The proposed budget totals $442.1 million (school operating fund only), which is an increase of $3.5 million, or 0.8% over the FY 2010 adopted budget. He projects a budget shortfall of $12.8 million.

According to the presentation slides, the budget does not contain any employee step increases, provides no COLA, and has no new initiatives or program expansions. Of course, we’ve never understood why new initiatives and new programs were needed year in, and year out.

Both new fees as well as fee increases are planned.

The bottom line is  that the cost-per-student is expected to decline by 3.4%, dropping from $18,569 to $17,942, which is still higher than most other school districts in the region. Additional budget details are available in Scott McCaffrey’s story posted online at the Arlington Sun Gazette.

February 23, 2010

Reforms Needed to Clean-up Federal ‘Stimulus’

The National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) has released a new Issue Brief, prepared by Senior Policy Analyst Demian Brady, which “argues that two budget reform ideas from the past may hold the key to a less debt-ridden future for America.” As the NTUF press release (with link to Issue Brief 160) notes:

“A year after its enactment, the $862 billion "stimulus" package seems to have created more worries about deficit financing than it has created jobs, but what can policymakers do to clean up the mess?”

Brady explains the “bias towards spending” in Congress, with this historical information:

“In 1994, David Keating, who was then the Executive Vice President for the National Taxpayers Union, spoke before the House of Representatives' "A to Z Spending Cuts Plan" Conference and said that the proposal should be at the top of the fiscal policy agenda, given the "unacceptable levels" of the national debt and the annual budget deficit. At the time, the deficit stood at $228 billion (in constant dollars) and amounted to 2.9 percent of GDP. The national debt was $4.5 trillion. If those levels were "unacceptable," the current situation would seem to defy any superlative: The federal deficit for FY 2010 is estimated to climb to $1.5 trillion ($1.2 trillion in constant dollars), or approximately 10.5 percent of GDP. And, over the intervening 16 years, the debt has grown to over $12.3 trillion.”

He charts how budget restraint has declined over the past 15 years, writing:

“Using research from NTUF's BillTally system, Brady charted a 15-year decline in ideas for budgetary restraint in Congress. He found that at the end of the 104th Congress, 296 Representatives and Senators had legislative agendas whose net overall effect would have reduced federal outlays; at the same time, lawmakers introduced roughly two bills to raise spending for every bill to cut it.  By the end of the 110th Congress (2008), there were only 21 "net cutters" in Congress and the ratio of spending-hike to spending-cut bills stood at 30 to 1.”

Brady outlines two reforms that have proved effective in the past, before providing a list of “26 spending reduction candidates (out of thousands NTUF and others have identified) that could begin the debate, such as: repealing the remaining stimulus funds ($514.8 billion), ending TARP immediately ($150 billion), and eliminating the redundancy of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Environmental Quality ($3 million).”

As we growled last Friday, Congress doesn’t need a fiscal commission to bring sanity to federal spending. Rather political leaders with principle and a bit of vision are needed to implement procedures such as Brady describes in the Issue Brief.

February 22, 2010

A Confluence of Occurrences

During public comment at Saturday's Arlington County Board meeting, Wayne Kubicki raised a question involving just how the County and the Schools compute the "incremental cost" for each additional student who attends the Arlington Public Schools (APS). [Video available at the County Board’s webpage]

It is a serious question for several reasons, besides the one that the districtwide cost-per-Arlington-student for the FY 2010 school year is $18,569. Mr. Kubicki raised the question because of the large discrepancy in  how the two entities recently computed the “incremental cost.” According to the Schools’ arithmetic, it’s $5,455 per student and $8,870 per student according to the County’s arithmetic. Let’s look at how the two numbers were arrived at.

  • Computation by the Arlington Public Schools. During a School Board work session on February 4 regarding Arlington students attending Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology, where APS budgeted $12,171 per student for FY 2010. However,  if the students attended APS, instead of TJHSST, one of the slides shows the “incremental cost” of those 75 students as $409,113, or $5,455 per student.
  • Computation by Arlington County. In introducing the proposed FY 2011 budget on February 16, the Acting County Manager said that 0.8 cents of the proposed rate, which would generate $6.2 million, is needed to pay for 699 additional students expected to enroll in the fall semester. That would give the Schools $8,870 per student.

County Board member Mary Hynes, a 12-year School Board member until three years ago, explained the difference is primarily because the county transfer to the schools includes the incremental amounts for ESL and special education students, and results from the revenue sharing agreement between the two Boards. [for a technical discussion of the latest RSA, see agenda item E.3. at the School Board's 11/5/09 meeting]

While providing a technically correct response, Ms. Hynes did not mention the cost of alternative high schools or the lack of transparency about the cost-per-student in the school budget documents. In the Arlington schools budget, only a 1/2-page districtwide number is provided. By comparison, the Fairfax County Public Schools provide three pages of explanation, slicing the cost-per-student in many ways that are quite enlightening (see pages 253ff, FY 2010 adopted budget at the FCPS website).

Thanks Wayne for raising a “serious question about something” because of a “confluence of occurrences.”

February 21, 2010

Thought for the Day

"How can anyone read history and still trust politicians?"

   ~ Thomas Sowell, "Barbarians Inside the Gates," (pg. 257)

February 20, 2010

Special Interests: Alive and Well in Arlington County!

When we growled on Tuesday, February 16, we noted that in introducing the proposed FY 2011 budget, the Acting County Manager said it would result in a real estate tax rate of $0.942 per $100 of assessed value, which is up from the current rate of $0.875, an increase of 7.66% in the real estate tax rate.

After pointing out the Manager precisely followed the budget guidance provided last fall, the Arlington County Board voted to advertise a real estate tax rate this morning of $0.965 per $100 of assessed valuation this morning, an increase of 10.3% (corrected 2/22/10). However, several affordable housing groups, primarily, attended this morning’s Board meeting to lobby the Board to advertise a real estate tax rate of $0.972 per $100. The Board's initial resolution would have raised the rate to $0.962. To accomodate a later vote to increase the stormwater rate from $0.01 to $0.013 per $100, the Board voted to advertise a real estate tax rate of $0.965.

As the county’s press release points out, “By law, the Board cannot adopt a rate higher than the one advertised, although it may adopt a lower rate.”

Why did the Board advertise the higher rate? According to the press release:

“This rate provides us the flexibility we need to address the unknowns presented since our budget guidance was provided in the fall – primarily the uncertain state budget cuts and Metro demands that we may face,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette.”

In adopting the budget in April, the Board could “pay for” those “uncertain state budget cuts” and “Metro demands” by further reducing expenditures in the county’s budget or reducing the amount transferred to the schools. But then that would require the popinjays on the Board to make some hard choices, and heaven knows, taxpayers can’t expect that. Guess “flexibility” can now be added to the liberal lexicon.

UPDATED (2/22/10). Here is the link to Scott McCaffrey's story about the County Board's budget actions on Saturday in the online Arlington Sun Gazette. My apologies for incorrectly computing the percentage as 11.6%. 

February 19, 2010

We Don’t Need No Stinkun’ Fiscal Commission

Today’s Washington Post reported that “GOP leaders agree to panel on federal deficit” although “analysts in both parties said the effort faces a dauntingly poisoned political atmosphere,” adding:

“Even as he unveiled an executive order creating the panel, President Obama acknowledged that he is asking its members to attempt "the impossible." For decades, budget projections have shown that rising health-care costs and an aging population would drive the nation deeply into debt. Government spending to ease the recent recession has accelerated that process.”

Blogging at Big Government today, Gary Wolfram, a political economy professor at Hillsdale College, asks whether the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, as it is formally known, is needed. He writes that the commission “is what everyone really knows it is—a bipartisan group of former and current political elites that will listen to hours of testimony by a select group of witnesses in order to create a report that will justify a tax increase for which there does not exist political support.” Wolfram goes on to say:

"Our budget crisis is a crisis of responsibility and a government that no longer is bound by enumerated powers. Friedrich Hayek wrote that a free society probably demands more than any other that people be guided in their action by a sense of responsibility. Rather than letting the system of markets and family satisfy our retirement and health care needs, we have instead created a government retirement program and two government health insurance companies that make up an annual expenditure of $1.5 trillion out of the projected $3.7 trillion 2011 budget. Adding on another $250 billion for net interest on the national debt, and we know what the problem is.

“Raising taxes to sustain government transfer programs is not going to solve our budget crisis. Indeed, this is how we got into the problem in the first place. In 1850, Bastiat wrote in The Law that a just government is based upon our natural right to self-defense. An unjust law is one which violates this natural right, by taking the property of one person to give to another. He also argued that once a government engages in what he termed “legalized plunder” several things will happen, one of which is that people will fail to recognize an unjust law when they see it. The government will become, in his words, “that great fiction by everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else.” We have arrived at that time.

“We do not need a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. We need to return to those principles of liberty and responsibility that have resulted in the wealth and social cooperation that we still enjoy. This will include electing representatives that will admit that it is not possible for Americans to retire at the age of 62 with a government pension or to have a government insurance company pay for their medical expenses. We must make the transition to individual retirement savings and a market-based insurance system. This will take strong leadership from our elected officials, not the formation of a commission designed to distract us from the impending difficulties caused by our attempt to use an unbounded government to make us all secure.

Now that's a Growl! 

UPDATE (2/19/10): The Wall Street Journal calls the group, created by President Obama by executive order, the VAT Commission, a suggestion that it would bring on a European-style "value added tax." The Journal suggests the president is "seeking cover for tax increases on the middle class."

February 18, 2010

Thought for the Day

"Rampant redistribution of wealth by government is now the norm. So is this: It inflames government's natural rapaciousness and subverts the rule of law."

   ~ George Will

HT Townhall.com

February 17, 2010

Thought for the Day

"If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, incessant distractions are the way that politicians take away our freedoms, in order to enhance their own power and longevity in office. Dire alarms and heady crusades are among the many distractions of our attention from the ever increasing ways that government finds to take away more of our money and more of our freedom."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT to Townhall.com

February 16, 2010

Arlington County Manager Proposes 7.7% Tax Rate Increase

Following guidance provided by the Arlington County Board last October, the Acting County Manager provided the Board with an introduction of her proposed FY 2011 proposed budget. That guidance included: 1) a proposed FY 2011 budget “no greater” than the FY 2010 adopted budget; 2) maintain the Board’s commitment to such liberal causes as affordable housing and economic sustainability; 3) preserve the county’s AAA bond rating; and “provide a balanced budget . . . that equally divides the revenues /expenditures gap between proposed revenue increases and proposed expense/service reductions.”

The Manager’s proposal would result in a real estate tax rate of $0.942 per $100 of assessed value, which is up from the current rate of $0.875, an increase of 7.66% in the real estate tax rate. One of the Manager’s obligatory presentation slides showed the tax and fee burden on the so-called “average household.” For that average household, the Manager’s proposed FY 2011 budget will increase real estate taxes for the average household by $337.

Details on the Manager’s budget are available from the press release, which was released shortly after the close of the today’s budget worksession. The Manager’s PowerPoint slides are available at this Department of Management and Finance webpage as is other FY 2011 documents such as transcripts from an online chat and notes and ideas from a public budget forum.

We’re sure to have plenty more to growl about the FY 2011 budget so visit often.

February 15, 2010

Now We Should Trust Them With Health Care?

In a story co-published with the Los Angeles Times, Pro Publica, “an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, reports that numerous disciplinary records are missing from a federal database. According to the story:

“More than two decades ago, Congress set out to stop dangerous or incompetent caregivers from crossing state lines and landing in trouble again.

“It ordered up a national database allowing hospitals to check for disciplinary actions taken anywhere in the country against nurses, pharmacists, psychologists and other licensed health professionals.

“On March 1 – 22 years later – the federal government finally plans to let hospitals use it. But the long-awaited repository is missing serious disciplinary actions against what are probably thousands of health providers . . . ." (emphasis added)

The investigative story further reported:

“The omissions took federal health officials by surprise. Only last month, a spokesman for the agency that oversees the database told reporters that "no data is missing." Another official said the agency had been "constantly" checking its data against state licensing board websites.

“But Friday, the head of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) acknowledged that records were missing. She said her agency had launched a "full and complete" review to determine what is wrong and how to fix it.”

In conclusion, the story reported:

"With an incomplete database, however, employers could be given "a false sense of security that somebody who may be really dangerous isn't, because their name isn't there," said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group.

“The federal government has had plenty of time to make it right, said Wolfe, whose Washington-based group advocates for patient safety. "It's really just embarrassing."

Sheesh! Seems some federal employees have had a good trip on the federal gravy train.

February 14, 2010

Spreading Around More Wealth

Most taxpayers remember what President Obama told Joe Wurzelbacher about ‘spreading the wealth around’ during a brief campaign stop meeting in Ohio (You Tube video via Strollerderby). For those who may not know the meaning of income redistribution, a new Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact (Number 209, February 10, 2010) contains a preliminary analysis of how President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budget will affect average families and various income groups.

The following two paragraphs summarize the paper:

“Our results are presented in the three tables . . . Table 1 summarizes the average change in income redistribution from Obama's policies. Table 2 provides somewhat more detail, including a tax and spending breakdown, while Table 3 shows the aggregate effects of federal fiscal policies on the distribution of income.

“Overall, the results show Pres. Obama increasing the level of income redistribution to low-and-middle income families, while families in the top 1 percent of the income spectrum would face higher taxes and therefore more redistribution. The primary driver of this result is Pres. Obama's expiration of the Bush tax cuts for high-income families, as well as his proposed 28 percent value limitation on itemized deductions.”

When is that next Tea Party?

February 13, 2010

Picking Up after the Political Elite

Popular blogger Glenn Harlan Reynolds, publisher of Instapundit and University of Tennessee law professor, writes in an op-ed in the weekend Wall Street Journal, “The political elites have failed” to deliver on “the campaign promises (made by) Barack Obama in 2008.” Now, he writes, “”citizens are stepping in to pick up the slack.” Blogging from the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville last weekend, Reynolds writes:

“Mr. Obama made those promises because the ideas they represented were popular with average Americans. So popular, it turns out, that average Americans are organizing themselves in pursuit of the kind of good government Mr. Obama promised, but has not delivered. And that, in a nutshell, was the feel of the National Tea Party Convention.”

In addition, Reynolds blogs about the mood of those attending the National Tea Party:

“A year ago, many told me, they were depressed about the future of America. Watching television pundits talk about President Obama's transformative plans for big government, they felt alone, isolated and helpless. That changed when protests, organized by bloggers, met Mr. Obama a year ago in Denver, Colo., Mesa, Ariz., and Seattle, Wash. Then came CNBC talker Rick Santelli's famous on-air rant on Feb. 19, 2009, which gave the tea-party movement its name.

“Tea partiers are still angry at federal deficits, at Washington's habit of rewarding failure with handouts and punishing success with taxes and regulation, and the general incompetence that has marked the first year of the Obama presidency. But they're no longer depressed.

“Instead, they seem energized. And surprisingly media savvy. William Temple donned colonial dress knowing that it would be an irresistible lure to TV cameras. When the cameras trained on him, he regaled interviewers with well-informed discussion of constitutional history. Other attendees were hawking DVDs, books, and Web sites promoting tea-party ideals, while discussing the use of tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter for political organizing.”

[. . . ]

“It's easy to see why. A recent Investor's Business Daily/TIPP poll found that three-fourths of independent voters have a favorable opinion of the tea party. This enthusiasm, however, does not translate into an embrace of establishment Republicanism. One of the less-noted aspects of Mrs. Palin's speech was her endorsement of primary challenges for incumbent Republicans, something that is already underway. Tea partiers I talked to hope to replace a lot of entrenched time-servers and to throw a scare into others.”

Mr. Reynolds closes by writing: “If 2009 was the year of taking it to the streets, 2010 is the year of taking it to the polls. With ordinary Americans setting out to reclaim the political process, it's likely to be a bumpy ride for incumbents of both parties. I suspect the Founding Fathers would approve.”

Reynolds also focuses on two black tea partiers with one pretty much expressing the motivation behind the tea party movememt.

"Somebody had to speak . . . Of the tea parties, he says, "Their values are pretty much mine. I live in a town in North Alabama where there are plenty of blacks driving Mercedes and living in big houses. Only in America can someone come from a little island and live the dream. I've liked it, and that's what I want for my children. [But] I saw the window closing for my own kids." 

The rest of the op-ed is a  well-worth reading summation of the Tea Party Movement.

February 12, 2010

Thought for the Day

"If there is ever a contest to pick which word has done the most damage to people's thinking, and to actions to carry out that thinking, my nomination would be the word "fair." It is a word thrown around by far more people than have ever bothered to even try to define it.

"This mushy vagueness may be a big handicap in logic but it is a big advantage in politics. All sorts of people, with very different notions about what is or is not fair, can be mobilized behind this nice-sounding word, in utter disregard of the fact that they mean very different things when they use that word. (emphasis added)

"Some years ago, for example, there was a big outcry that various mental tests used for college admissions or for employment were biased and "unfair" to many individuals or groups. Fortunately there was one voice of sanity-- David Riesman, I believe-- who said: "The tests are not unfair. LIFE is unfair and the tests measure the results."

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Townhall.com column (1 of 4) and Rush Limbaugh (2/12/10)

February 08, 2010

TARP, a Congressional Failure?

The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is one of several major financial interventions in the economy undertaken by the federal government since the fall of 2008. Policy Analysis #660, released last Thursday by the Cato Institute, argues that the $700 billion Troubled Asset Review Program (TARP) is a Congressional failure. Written by John Samples, director of the Institute’s Center for Representative Government, the executive summary introduces the paper this way:

“The U.S. Constitution vests all the "legislative powers" it grants in Congress. The Supreme Court allows Congress to delegate some authority to executive officials provided an "intelligible principle" guides such transfers. Congress quickly wrote and enacted the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 in response to a financial crisis. The law authorized the secretary of the Treasury to spend up to $700 billion purchasing troubled mortgage assets or any financial instrument in order to attain 13 different goals. Most of these goals lacked any concrete meaning, and Congress did not establish any priorities among them. As a result, Congress lost control of the implementation of the law and unconstitutionally delegated its powers to the Treasury secretary. Congress also failed in the case of EESA to meet its constitutional obligations to deliberate, to check the other branches of government, or to be accountable to the American people. The implementation of EESA showed Congress to be largely irrelevant to policymaking by the Treasury secretary. These failures of Congress indicate that the current Supreme Court doctrine validating delegation of legislative powers should be revised to protect the rule of law and separation of powers”

Taxpayers can find additional information about TARP, and TARP-related facilities, in U.S. General Accountability Office report (number GAO-10-25) (requires Adobe) released this month. In the report, GAO says the Department of the Treasury “needs to strengthen its decision-making process on the term asset-backed securities loan facility. The Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program also provides access to helpful reports and other information about TARP. We growled about TARP (here).

February 04, 2010

Thought for the Day

"This is the broad center of American politics. Look at the polling data, Right now, the Tea Party polls higher than the Republicans and the Democrats, and it is becoming increasingly clear to the electorate out there and they’re expressing their understanding… we have a Democrat majority in Congress and a President that’s on the liberal fringe, and we are in the center.”

   ~ Dick Armey, Chairman, FreedomWorks

HT Big Government

February 03, 2010

Rep. Barney Frank Named 2009 Porker of the Year

On Monday, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) “announced the results of its online poll for the 2009 Porker of the Year,” and named “House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, (D-Mass.).” Frank received 49% of the vote.

Others who received votes included: “In second place was Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) with 26.3 percent.  Third-place honors went to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) with 6.6 percent. In naming Frank as Porker of the Year for 2009, CAGW wrote:

“Chairman Frank garnered the lion’s share of the votes as a result of his relentless and garrulous role in the failure of the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two mortgage government-sponsored enterprises (GSE), which were taken into government conservatorship in September of 2008 after they began to collapse.  The two GSEs, which own or guarantee half of the nation’s $11 trillion home mortgages, have been on life support with $112 billion in taxpayer funds since then and taxpayers could be liable for trillions in bad loans on their balance sheets.

Among GSE defenders, Chairmen Frank is without peer.  He safeguarded their lavish franchises and fended off any attempts to establish GSE oversight even when it became clear that GSE executives had manipulated earnings statements, given themselves huge bonuses based on bogus numbers, and steered the companies into such a precarious condition that they threatened the entire financial system.  In one of his most outrageous statements, he told The New York Times on September 11, 2003 that the GSEs were “not facing any kind of financial crisis…[t]he more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”  During a 2003 committee hearing, he casually announced that he didn’t want “the same kind of focus on safety and soundness that we have in Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Office of Thrift Supervision.  I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing.”

“In an astounding “Barney-Come-Lately” statement on January 22, 2010, Chairman Frank said that his committee will now recommend “abolishing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in their current form and coming up with a whole new system of housing finance.”  Taxpayers should not hold their breath in the misguided belief that the Chairman has suddenly gotten religion on privatization.  “The seeds of the GSE meltdown were sown by politicians like Barney Frank.  He has no intention of giving up federal control over housing finance.  Taxpayers can be certain that he is already cooking up a new and obscenely expensive scheme to permanently nationalize housing finance,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.”

Hopefully, Massachusetts' voters will keep CAGW's dubious award in mind when they go to the polls in November.

February 02, 2010

Arlington County: One of Nation's 20 Highest Property Tax Counties

For their January 15, 2010 issue, Forbes magazine ranked the top five counties in each of four national geographic areas on annual property taxes (story here and list here). Using the 2008 U.S. Census American Community Survey, the top five counties in the south were:

                                                        Annual                               Median                     Median
                                                    Property Tax                Household Income      Home Value 

Loudoun County, Virginia        $4,844                            $110,643                    $529,300
Fairfax County, Virginia          $4,616                            $106,785                    $556,100
Arlington County, Virginia        $4,557                            $96,390                     $586,200
Collin County, Texas                $4,404                             $81,200                     $197,000
Fort Ben County, Texas            $4,193                            $81,456                      $169,800

In closing the article, Forbes’ reporters wrote:

“High property taxes, in addition to providing extra local services, often compensate for low sales or income taxes, which, says Youngman, works fine during boom times but disproportionately affects struggling homeowners in recessions. But swinging the pendulum in the opposite direction isn't necessarily the answer, either. An even balance of revenue sources can avoid unduly burdening one segment of the population.”

As we've growled numerous times, Arlington County provides ordinary services at extraordinary prices.

February 01, 2010

Cost of President's 'State of the Union' Proposals: $70 Billion

In the wake of President Obama’s first State of the Union speech, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF) completed a  “line-by-line analysis” of the spending proposals, and found that taxpayers would be burdened with an additional $70.46 billion in new federal spending.

According to the study, conducted by senior analyst Demian Brady, the findings included:

  • "President Obama outlined items whose enactment would increase federal spending by a net of $70.46 billion per year. Since 1999, when NTUF began tracking Presidential addresses, the lowest recorded total was President Bush’s address in 2006, coming in under $1 billion in new spending; the highest was President Clinton’s 1999 speech, which proposed $305 billion in new outlays. Obama’s speech last night amounted to $36 billion less than the $106 billion that George W. Bush offered in his first State of the Union speech in 2002."
  • "Obama outlined 21 proposals with a fiscal impact last night, eight of which would boost spending, three of which would cut them, and 10 of which had costs or savings that could not be pinpointed. The single largest item Obama mentioned was a call to pass cap-and-trade national energy tax legislation, with an outlay cost of $51.5 billion (not including revenue increases or price hikes in energy bills). Other large initiatives included immigration reform ($9.8 billion) and subsidies for retirement savings among low-income Americans. Major undertakings with unquantifiable costs included a student loan forgiveness program and a new round of mortgage refinancing subsidies."
  • "President Obama was not able to address all of his planned spending increases in his speech yesterday. Among them were: a $44 billion increase in Defense spending, the largest single-year request for federal funding in education ever (which will include up to $4 billion to reform No Child Left Behind), an increase in NASA spending, and between $7-17 billion in new costs for the Department of Transportation (which does not include an additional $5 billion planned to continue a high speed rail project)."

The bottom line, Brady wrote:

“While the President should be commended for his newfound support of a spending freeze on one-eighth of the federal budget, Americans won’t be happy to learn that his other proposals would far outweigh any savings the freeze might provide.” (emphasis added)