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December 31, 2010

Where are the Pitchforks?

Larry Elder, the “firebrand libertarian” according to Daily Variety (see bio at Townhall.com), takes no prisoners in his latest column for Investor’s Business Daily. He writes: “Five dollars per gallon of gas by 2012! A former president of Shell Oil considers this likely. The average price on Christmas Day for a gallon of regular gas reached $3.28 in Los Angeles County, the highest price since October 2008.”

Elder, who bills himself as “The Sage from South Central” Los Angeles for his morning talk radio show on 790 KABC, explains:

“Where are the calls to sic Obama's Justice Department on Big Oil to hold the oil companies accountable for "market manipulation"? Why aren't we hunting down the amoral "oil speculators" responsible for repealing the law of supply-and-demand in order to line their pockets?

“During President George W. Bush's administration, we constantly heard demands to hold Bush accountable for "Big Oil's price-gouging." Just two years ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew exactly whom to blame for "skyrocketing" oil prices:

    “'Oilmen In The White House'

"The price of oil is at the doorstep; $4-plus per gallon for oil is attributed to two oilmen in the White House and their protectors in the United States Senate."

With sparks spitting from his word processor, Elder takes on both the ethanol subsidy as  well as so-called alternative energy sources. He writes:

“As for U.S. ethanol, which is made from corn, Nobel laureate environmentalist Al Gore recently called it a bad deal:

"It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol.

“First-generation ethanol, I think, was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small. . .. The size, the percentage of corn particularly, which is now being (used for) first-generation ethanol definitely has an impact on food prices. The competition with food prices is real."

“For The Farmers

“Why did Gore once support ethanol? He admitted that he'd wanted to help farmers in Iowa, site of the nation's first caucus, since he "was about to run for president."

“The silence over the recent price run-up is yet the latest example of left-wing hypocrisy. It was always about bludgeoning Bush rather than a sincere conviction that Big Oil was cheating. How else to explain the absence of demands for investigations?

“America could achieve "energy independence" if producers were allowed to drill in Alaska, the lower 48 and offshore, where substantial amounts of untapped oil remain off-limits.

“Obama, who currently squanders hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars by "investing" in alternative energy, possesses no more control over the law of supply-and-demand than did "evil" Oilman Bush.”

In the column’s title, Elder asks why the pitchforks aren't out if gas is headed towards $5 a gallon under the Obama administration? Good question indeed, but as always, the left is quiet.

Quote of the Day

"An amazing example of invincible ignorance is the widespread assumption that lower tax rates automatically mean lower tax revenues. Tax-rate cuts have often been followed by higher tax revenues, not only in the United States, but also in India, Iceland, and 19th-century German principalities, among other places."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT From his December 22, 2010 "Random Thoughts" National Review Online columm.

My apologies for the lack of Growling the past week. Growling will pick-up with my return from a Christmas week with family in Ohio.

December 24, 2010

Quote of the Day

“When a man spends his own money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about how much he spends and how he spends it. When a man spends his own money to buy something for someone else, he is still very careful about how much he spends, but somewhat less what he spends it on. When a man spends someone else’s money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about what he buys, but doesn’t care at all how much he spends. And when a man spends someone else’s money on someone else, he does’t care how much he spends or what he spends it on. And that’s government for you.”

     ~ Milton Friedman

HT OnPower.org

December 23, 2010

Quote of the Day

"When arguing against the tax compromise, Sen. Bernie Sanders castigated “the rich,” asking, “When is enough enough?” He also said that “reckless uncontrollable greed is like a disease.” Such statements are far more applicable to government big spenders and big taxers, who confiscate not only the earnings of today’s citizens, but the earnings of generations yet unborn, who will be left a record-breaking national debt."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT His December 22, 2010 Column Posted at National Review Online

December 22, 2010

The FCC Net-Neutrality Power Grab

After the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 yesterday "in favor of an order to impose burdensome “net neutrality” regulations on the Internet," the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) released a press release, which included the following comments:

“Today is indeed a dark day for taxpayers and consumers, and not just because of the Winter Solstice. The FCC is plowing ahead with ill-advised ‘net neutrality’ regulations that threaten to stifle innovation and development in the one-sixth of our economy that is dependent upon the Internet. This flies in the face of a court ruling telling the FCC that it lacks the requisite regulatory authority to engage in such schemes; furthermore, it openly defies the stated opposition of dozens of Senators and Representatives in both parties who have rightfully asserted that Congress, not the FCC, ought to be making law in this area.

“Unfortunately, this politically-motivated order will undermine future investment in both wireline and wireless Internet networks as businesses worry about the impact of a meddling FCC. Furthermore, it could very well encourage future efforts to regulate prices to the satisfaction of political interests rather than underlying economic realities.

“This order is not a recipe for continued growth in the extraordinarily vibrant world of the Internet. It is instead a recipe for stagnation, legal challenges, and a battle between the three branches of government. A creature of the Executive Branch has essentially thumbed its collective nose at the Judicial and Legislative Branches, which have been yelling ‘No!’ at the top of their lungs.

“Now that it has taken this unprecedented action, the FCC should officially foreclose the draconian option of reclassifying the Internet under Depression-era monopoly telephone rules by closing the Title II docket once and for all. Furthermore, we urge the incoming Congress to utilize its authority under the Congressional Review Act to challenge this unwarranted power-grab by the FCC and restore control of the Internet to its rightful owners: consumers, who can vote with their dollars, and the businesses that compete to earn those dollars.”

Grant Babcock, blogging at OpenMarket.org, writes:

“It seems to me that the likely result of mandatory net neutrality will not be a vibrant, free Internet, but instead a politicized mess where instead of treating all types of traffic equally, it will be the case that some types of network traffic are — to borrow Orwell’s well-known phrase — more equal than others.”

Jim Harper of the Cato Institute has two blog posts at Cato@Liberty (here and here) that are worth reading, also.

Search the NTU website for much more material on net-neutrality. In addition, Grant Babcock provides two links to a video and a longer article.

The title of the NTU press release, “Taxpayer Group Says FCC’s Net Neutrality Power-Grab Threatens Economic Growth, Vibrancy of Internet,” seems spot on.

December 21, 2010

On the Road to Boomergeddon

Jim Bacon writes on page 49 in his book, “Boomergeddon: How Runaway Deficits Will Bankrupt the County and Ruin Retirement for Aging Baby Boomers -- and What You can Do About It,” that the scary thing about China, Japan, and the Persian Gulf oil states:

“is that they don’t have to yank their trillions of dollars in loans to bring us to our knees. As long as we’re running trillion-dollar deficits, all they have to do is stop lending us new trillions, and it’s Boomergeddon time.”

Marty Sullivan is a contributing editor for Tax.com, and has written several hundered articles for TaxAnalysts.com publications. He was an economist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury and for the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. He got his B.A. at Harvard University and his Ph.D. at Northwestern University. He has two articles that focus on what very likely could be America’s economic future.

In his November 1, 2010, article entitled, “The Slow Descent to Second Class Status,” Sullivan writes:

“It is undeniable that we are on the path to fiscal collapse. This decline will occur in two stages. First there is the decay as the swelling national debt wears away the economy's foundations and commits more and more future income to foreign creditors. We are already in stage one.

“In stage two a lethal combination of phenomena arises in quick succession: greater default risk, looming inflation, higher interest rates, declining growth, financial market instability, and an acceleration of government borrowing. They feed on each other. The economy heads on a downward spiral. Between stage one and stage two there is a tipping point. Experts know it will come, but nobody wants to predict when. (See below.) This article is about the slow economic decline of stage one. Next week part 2 will describe the hell of a full-blown fiscal collapse.

“There is no question economics has failed us The old paradigms have been made obsolete by the hard reality of the 2007-2009 financial crisis and soaring government debt. But some ideas can be salvaged from the wreckage . . . .”

The second article, published November 8, 2010, entitled, “Fiscal Crisis, Part 2: Catastrophe,” discusses what happens in the second stage of the descent. He writes:

“This week we look at stage two: a rapid economic meltdown precipitated by an untamable accumulation of government debt. Stage two is much more difficult to understand than stage one. Government debt in distress is not something that gets much attention from economists who study developed countries. It's not something they were taught when they went to economics school. So as the possibility of a crisis has become more real, they are trying out a lot of new ideas.

“One nice thing about this otherwise gloomy state of affairs is that politics has not yet infected the economics. The research that you see is not by economists who are pushing a partisan agenda, but by people who are genuinely concerned that the economy may be running itself off a cliff.”

Sullivan is not totally pessimistic, however, since he writes:

“We are in uncharted economic territory. We cannot be sure of what danger lies ahead or how fast it may arrive at our doorstep. But at least economists are providing some useful ideas to help us better conceptualize the problem.

"With their help we can see that we absolutely want to be vigilant about any risk premium creeping into the government's interest rate. It surely will precede any bond market meltdown. But that is not enough. The dynamics are such that we may not have much warning before uncertainty suddenly develops into a catastrophe.”

Especially when he concludes the second essay by writing:

“Finally, it is clear that politics and confidence in our political system play a critical role in forestalling a bond market meltdown. We know, unfortunately, that in our current political climate the federal government will not be undertaking the steps needed to put its finances on a sustainable path. The markets right now believe that this will change dramatically before default is a problem. When push comes to shove, we will buckle down. It seems the investors are taking the Churchillian view: "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing . . . after they have exhausted all other possibilities." Let's hope there's time for that.”

Take some time to read both essays in order to learn more about the issues of America’s economic crisis. And visit Jim Bacon’s website, Boomergeddon, to learn where we are on the road to Boomergeddon.

December 20, 2010

Two Porkers Honored for November

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) have a special honor for certain lawmakers and sundry other members of the political class. It’s called Porker of the Month, and is defined as:

“Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.”

For November, CAGW has named Sen. Tom Carper (D-Deleware) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) as the “November 2010 Porkers of the Month for proposing a gas tax increase for infrastructure improvements, when tens of billions of dollars in gas taxes have repeatedly been wasted on frivolous infrastructure projects.” CAGW justifies awarding these two retiring U.S. senators this way:

“According to a November 9, 2010 article in The Hill, the two senators wrote to President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform advocating for a gas tax increase, suggesting, ‘“That the commission include an increase in the federal tax on gasoline and diesel as part of your report to the president . . . We suggest that the taxes be increased by one cent per month for 25 months — a total of 25 cents over a three-year period.”’

“Currently, the 18.4 cents in federal taxes that taxpayers pay for each gallon of gas is put into the Highway Trust Fund.  In 2005, the last year a highway bill was passed, Congress used the revenue in the Trust Fund to earmark 6,300 transportation projects worth $24.5 billion, including the “Bridge to Nowhere,” as well as funding for museums, bus stops, horse trails, and mass-transit boondoggles all over the country.

“It is ill-advised to raise the gas tax when taxpayers’ money continues to be wasted in the name of infrastructure improvement.  Taxpayers may remember the $862 billion failed stimulus program, which was supposed to improve infrastructure, yet it included $62 million for a tunnel to nowhere in Pittsburgh,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.  “Furthermore, the existing gas tax piggy bank, the Highway Trust Fund, funds wasteful congressional pork-barrel earmarks.  Adding a larger revenue stream to this wasteful system will only result in more tax dollars being frittered away,” concluded Schatz."

You can also view a video of CAGW’s Porker of the month by going to CAGW’s homepage or at reason.tv. The Capitol Hill phone numbers of the two Senators are available at the press release.

December 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

"In the matter of taxation, every privilege is an injustice."

   ~ Voltaire

HT Page 130, "As Certain As Death -- Quotations About Taxes," (2010 Edition)

December 18, 2010

Another Year of Arlington County Spending Faster Than Inflation

Arlington County has closed another fiscal year -- Fiscal Year 2010, which ended June 30, 2010 -- spending faster than the rate of inflation, according to computations at page 169 of the FY 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Using consumer price data from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation grew 1.22% from July 2009 to June 2010. On the other hand, total general fund expenditures grew from $985.05 million in FY 2009 to $1,022.23 million in FY 2010, or 3.77%. That even exceeded the 3.71% growth in total general fund expenditures from FY 2008 to FY 2009.

What a crew of fiscal managers on the Arlington County Board? County Board members can jabber all they want about sustainability, but what is sustainability if you're spending faster than the rate of inflation?

December 17, 2010

Arlington County Hires Another Lobbyist

Scott McCaffrey reports at the online Arlington Sun Gazette today the Arlington County Board has approved spending $18,000 to hire a “lobbyist in Richmond, in a bid to win another three-year extension of a surcharge on the transient-occupancy tax (TOT), which delivers about $1 million a year to Arlington government coffers for tourism promotion.” According to McCaffrey:

“The $18,000 is the same amount Virginia’s state senators earn in an entire year, and higher than the $17,640 paid to delegates for a year’s work.

“Since the 1990s, the Arlington government has been allowed by state officials to add an extra 0.25-percent tax on hotel and motel bills, with the funds generated going to tourism promotion. But the measure came with a catch. Two catches, actually: It has to be renewed by the General Assembly every three years, and it has to win two-thirds of the vote in both houses of the legislature before going to the governor.

“With both the House of Delegates and governorship in the hands of Republicans, Arlington officials are leery of what the 2011 session may bring.

“We know that this will be an extraordinarily difficult year to pass any legislation with the word ‘tax’ in it, even renewals,” Carroll said.

“County Board members have listed the tax-surcharge renewal as one of their top two priorities of the legislative session, along with a measure designed to ensure that the state and county governments receive the correct tax on hotel rooms sold through online brokers.”

ACTA’s president was asked to comment on the county spending $18,000 to hire a lobbyist; Wise’s response included the following:

“Not everyone was thrilled with hiring an outsider to help on the TOT issue. Count Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Alliance(sic), as among the critics.

“Arlington County’s grand poobahs can dream up more ways of flushing away taxpayer dollars,” Wise harrumphed. “They already spend over $36,000 each for the lobbying efforts of the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League, not to mention a number of other special-interest lobbying efforts.”

“Besides, why do they waste staff time as well as citizen time developing their annual ‘legislative package’?” Wise asked. “Why do they even bother meeting with the legislative delegation that goes to Richmond? Perhaps they’re practicing for the day they get elected to Congress.”

In addition, Arlington’s Uber Watchdog, Wayne Kubicki, added the following comment to  the online story:

"Arlington has representation in the VA House of Delegates and Senate, does it not? If our representatives there can't get something as relatively simple as this through Richmond, what exactly is their function down there?"

Add your own comment to this story.

December 15, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The problem of power is inherently a political rather than a technical one. To survive, self-government requires citizens who understand that their rights are never finally secure and that their civic duties can never be safely delegated."

   ~ William Voegeli, "How the Road to Bell (California) Was Paved"

HT: City Journal, Autumn 2010

December 14, 2010

Quote of the Day + Bashing the Rich

"So there is no excuse for rich-bashing, none.  And I don’t even believe, as some good friends of mine do, that this is all about envy since the nastiest rich-bashing comes from people who are by no stretch of the imagination poor.  The best explanation to my way of thinking is that these people are demagogues, trying to cash in on the gullibility of many Americans who are hurting and in desperation and ignorance--they are busy with their ordinary lives--engage in scapegoating instead of seeking clear understanding about economics and, in particular, the current financial fiasco.

"Why would they resort to this?  Because they have indeed run out of sound arguments for acting like the petty tyrants they are and now can only depend for gaining and keeping power on playing to the worst tendencies of human social thinking, the tendency of too many of us to blame someone, anyone, for what the very people have perpetrated whom they have sent to Washington to do good! Under such circumstances it will probably take many more sensible and articulate media folks like Napolitano and Stossel to counter this hysteria about the rich, giving way to a civilized attitude of live and let live among people occupying the great variety of economic positions one can reasonably expect in a free society.

   ~ Tibor Machan, "Disgusting Rich Bashing" Column

HT Cafe Hayek

December 13, 2010

Virginia Wins Federal Court Health Care Act Challenge

Washington Times reporter Jerry Seper writes today that Virginia federal judge Henry Hudson has ruled the Obama administration's health care law. According to Seper:

"Judge Hudson's ruling, on its face, appears to be a general rejection of the proposed health care law, signed into law in March and known as the Affordable Care Act, but applies only to the portion of the law mandating that Americans must buy health insurance and those provisions that hinge on it. It does not apply to the law itself and the judge declined to grant an injunction that would have suspended the law immediately.

"Nonetheless, the ruling is a major setback for the Obama administration, which had argued that the requirement to purchase health care insurance amounted to a tax and, as a result, was allowable under Congress' taxing powers. The Commerce Clause gives Congress the authority to regulate the trade of goods or commodities with foreign nations, and among the states."

Here are further details from a press release today from the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:

Virginia wins federal court challenge over constitutionality of federal health care act:  Health insurance mandate is unconstitutional
 
-  Judge’s ruling posted on AG’s web site -
- Video online for media download -  

RICHMOND (December 13, 2010) – Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced today that the Commonwealth of Virginia won its lawsuit in federal court challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care act.   The attorney general asked the court to find that the health care mandate that every individual buy government-approved health insurance unconstitutional.

Federal District Court Judge Henry Hudson agreed with the attorney general and ruled today that the health insurance mandate is unconstitutional.

Today we prevailed. This is a great day for the Constitution!  This won’t be the final round, as this will ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, but today is a critical milestone in the protection of the Constitution,” said Cuccinelli.

Virginia argued that the mandate that every person must buy government-approved health insurance violates the Constitution and that using the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to force people to buy a product goes beyond Congress’s power.

“The insurance mandate penalizes people for not engaging in commerce.  In other words, you can get fined for doing nothing,” said Cuccinelli.

The judge agreed:

      “The unchecked expansion of congressional power to the limits suggested by the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would invite unbridled exercise of federal police powers.  At its core, this dispute is not simply about regulating the business of insurance – or crafting a scheme of universal health insurance coverage – it’s about an individual’s right to choose to participate.” (emphasis in the original)

Virginia also argued that the penalty the government wants to charge if one does not buy health insurance is not a tax.  Virginia said that the government cannot call the penalty a tax to try to make it legal under Congress’s taxing authority.  Congress and the president called it a penalty and said it was not a tax; they passed it as a penalty, not a tax; it works as a penalty, not as a tax.  The judge again agreed with Virginia.

“When we brought suit back in March, media outlets and legal experts said we didn’t have a chance.  They accused us of everything from playing politics instead of practicing law, to filing a frivolous lawsuit.  They said our argument about constitutionality was in vain, that we relied on a controversial reading of the Constitution, and that we couldn’t prevail against the federal government,” said Cuccinelli.

“This ruling is extremely positive for anyone who believes in the system of federalism created by our Founding Fathers.  It underscores that the Constitution’s limitations on federal power mean something.  The rule of law means something.  As attorney general of Virginia, I took an oath to protect the Constitution, and I’m keeping that oath.”

Cuccinelli also recognized the need for reform in health care, but said that further government intrusion was the problem, not the answer:  “For the past nine months, we have been arguing the constitutionality of this law.  I have said all along that this lawsuit is not about health care.  It is about liberty.  At the same time, I understand that people want more affordable health care, and I sympathize with people who honestly can’t afford it.

“But as someone who has sworn to uphold the law, I cannot endorse taking away the rights of all so that government can provide health care to some.

“If we cross this constitutional line with health care now – where the government can force us to buy a private product and say it is for our own good – then we will have given the government the power to force us to buy other private products, such as cars, gym memberships, or even asparagus.  The government’s power to intrude on our lives for our own good will be virtually unlimited.

“You may be willing to put up with that now, when the government is doing something you like.  But what happens when it starts to impose things on you that you do not like?  Then, it will be too late.

“Yes, parts of our health care system need to be fixed.  Yes, expenses are out of control.  Yes, not everyone’s needs are being met.  But there are better solutions than giving up our freedom.  The problem with health care costs is not that there is not enough government involvement.  It is that there is too much government.  It is time we took the power out of the hands of the politicians and put it in the hands of the consumers,” he said.

Before the ruling came down, Cuccinelli initiated conversations with the Justice Department about fast-tracking the suit to the U.S. Supreme Court.  “With this ongoing court battle, there is a great deal of uncertainty for states, individuals, and businesses as to whether this law will be around two years from now or not.  We need this resolved as quickly as possible – for the good of our people and our economy,” said Cuccinelli.

The ruling is posted here:  http://www.vaag.com/PRESS_RELEASES/Cuccinelli/Health%20Care%20Memorandum %20Opinion.pdf

Broadcast-quality video of AG’s reaction to win is here:
http://www.vaag.com/PRESS_RELEASES/index.html

A copy of this news release may be found on the website of the Attorney General of Virginia at http://www.vaag.com/PRESS_RELEASES/index.html.

End of press release.

Great job, Mr. Cuccinelli. Granted, it's only the first step, but it's one great step for liberty.

December 12, 2010

Arlington County Board’s Priorities for 2011 General Assembly

At its regular meeting yesterday, the Arlington County Board adopted a legislative agenda and set of policy  priorities for the 2011 Virginia General Assembly (item 34 of its December 11, 2010 regular meeting). According to the December 11, 2010 press release, the County Board supports four major priorities:

  • “Transient Occupancy Tax Reauthorization – Renew the County’s .25 percent Transient Occupancy Tax surcharge which expires Jan. 1, 2011. This surcharge funds the Arlington Convention and Visitors Services. Originally proposed by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and its Hotel Committee, the surcharge was first authorized for three years by the 1990 General Assembly and has been reauthorized for three year increments ever since.
  • “On-Line Travel Companies/Modifying State Sales and Local Transient Occupancy Taxes – Ensure the collection and remittance by on-line travel companies for all state sales and local Transient occupancy Tax levies associated with on-line travel sales. Ensure that all costs and taxes are transparent to customers in their on-line travel bookings of Virginia lodgings.
  • “State Funding for Mandated Local Services – Request that the State reverse the trend and once again fully fund core government services including public education (K-12 and higher education), health and human resources, public safety, natural resources and environmental services.
  • “Government Reform – Support streamlining efforts as long as they do not exacerbate the looming budget gaps and increase demand for services in local budgets across the Commonwealth.”

Each of the priorities is described in greater detail in the Manager’s report to the Board. In addition, the legislative package for the 2011 General Assembly has a laundry list of “legislative priorities.” For example, the Board wants the General Assembly to “equalize taxing and bonding authority” with that of cities, which would give Arlington and other Virginia counties the authority to raise taxes. Another “policy priority” on the Board’s legislative wish list is for the General Assembly to “(r)aise new revenues for a dedicated source of statewide funding for all transportation modes . . . include a minimum of $50 million annually as a dedicated source of funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA); and fully fund the Commonwealth’s statutory 95% share of transit operating and capital costs.”

Read the entire “Board report” for agenda item 34, and weep!

December 11, 2010

Quote of the Day

'Those who create the wealth naturally want to keep it and devote it to their own purposes. Those who wish to expropriate it look for ever more-clever ways to acquire it without inciting resistance. One of those ways is the spreading of an elaborate ideology of statism, which teaches that the people are the state and that therefore they are only paying themselves when they pay taxes.

   ~ Sheldon Richman

HT Page 215, "As Certain As Death — Quotations About Taxes (2010 Edition)," TaxAnalysts.com

December 10, 2010

Arlington County Manager Briefs Civic Federation

At the Arlington County Civic Federation’s December meeting on Tuesday, December 7, Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan and School Superintendent Patrick Murphy briefed Federation delegates on the state of the County and the Arlington Public Schools.

The Arlington Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey has a summary of Donnellan’s comments posted online. According to the report:

“A recuperating - if still not totally healthy - commercial real estate market may help the Arlington County government weather the coming year without either massive increases in residential taxes or more painful cuts in services.

“But County Manager Barbara Donnellan warned delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation not to expect that some previous cutbacks - such as reduced library hours - would be restored in the fiscal 2012 budget.”

McCaffrey concludes his reporting by writing:

“The manager will present her proposed budget to County Board members in February. Board members will adopt a final budget later in the spring.

“Unlike most of their elected-official counterparts in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia, Arlington’s one-party County Board members find themselves generally insulated from the political pitfalls of raising taxes in a recession. Last year, board members increased real estate taxes and a host of fees.

“As a result, the local-government tax burden on a typical county homeowner rose to more than $6,300 last year, up $350 from a year before. And local residents also share in a county government debt that has topped $1 billion, or about $5,000 per resident.

“Pressed as to whether 2011 would bring another increase in residential tax burden, Donnellan was noncommittal.

“Don’t assume that we have to raise taxes,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a given.”

Not exactly what taxpayers want to hear, but at least the outlook is better.

December 09, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The conflict over the size of government is not merely a numbers game, but a generational issue. If federal spending grows at its current trajectory, America will become a nation of stagnant growth, high unemployment, crushing tax rates, and runaway inflation. Its military strength will deteriorate substantially, making the nation more vulnerable. And younger generations of Americans will experience a substantially worse standard of living than their elders."

   ~ Philip Klein

HT Klein's 12/3/10 column in The American Spectator

December 08, 2010

Squeezing Blood From Arlington Taxpayers

You occasionally hear Arlington’s elected poohbahs praising the generosity of county taxpayers, e.g., during budget season just before the County Board raises real estate tax rates or right after voters approve another set of bond referenda. And even though the taxes paid by Arlington taxpayers are more than sufficient, the County Board knows they can always squeeze more money out of Arlington taxpayers by putting bond referenda on the November ballot.

Now we learn that Arlington’s municipal debt is among the highest of Virginia localities, according to an item in the weekly "Polittical Notes” column in the December 9, 2010 Arlington Sun Gazette. The newspaper reported:

“Arlington is one of just eight of Virginia’s 134 cities and counties with a municipal debt of more than $1 billion, according to new state figures. On a per-capita basis, Arlington’s debt is relatively high, but far from the largest in the commonwealth.

“The county government’s total indebtedness at the end of the 2009 fiscal year was $1.139 billion, according to figures reported by the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts. That was enough to rank sixth among counties and cities in Virginia.

“The commonwealth’s most populous jurisdiction, Fairfax County, had the largest total debt, at $3.262 billion. It was followed by Loudoun County ($1.322 billion), Norfolk ($1.27 billion), Richmond ($1.249 billion), Virginia Beach ($1.236 billion), Arlington, Prince William County ($1.089 billion) and Newport News ($1.027 billion).

“Among those eight jurisdictions, Arlington ranked fourth in per-capita debt, based on Census Bureau population estimates. The figures include all forms of debt, from bonds to loans from the state Library Fund to short-term indebtedness. (emphasis added)

“Richmond led the pack with a debt level of $6,471 per resident, followed by Newport News ($5,770), Norfolk ($5,546), Arlington ($5,240), Loudoun ($4,392), Fairfax County ($3,262), Prince William County ($2,873) and Virginia Beach ($2,835).

“Among other nearby jurisdictions, Alexandria had a total municipal indebtedness of $447.9 million and a per-capita total of $3,269, while Falls Church had $60.15 million in debt, working out to $5,370 per resident.”

Another vanity project, another bond referenda on the ballot. The political life of Arlington.

December 07, 2010

Stimulating Arlington

We’ve growled several times about Arlington County’s rank among the America’s richest counties, including September 25, 2009. Now comes the following news from the December 1-7, 2010 Arlington Connection (html. version and Adobe version, which contains two charts that are not in the .html version):

“Arlington received more stimulus funds per capita than Fairfax County or Alexandria, pulling in about $7 billion. That’s $1,210 for every man woman and child. And funding included a little something for everybody. There’s meals for seniors who are homebound and early childhood education programs for the young. In the classroom, there’s money for teachers and software. For those without health insurance, there’s money for immunizations. For the unemployed, there job training programs and childcare.

“As recently as September, county officials announced the most recent bit of largess — $500,000 in federal stimulus money — for the county to become one of the first communities in the nation to launch a large-scale conversion of its streetlights to energy-efficient LED lights. County officials say the conversion will reduce energy costs and be better for the environment.”

The Connection news story, written by Michael Lee Pope, includes more details in the following paragraph:

“The vast majority of stimulus money spent in Arlington went to the private sector. The largest stimulus check was cut to an Arlington nonprofit known as Experience Works, a charitable organization founded in 1965 as Green Thumb. Strayer University was one of the top recipients of stimulus cash, nailing down almost $14 million in Pell Grants. The county school system got about $10 million in stimulus money from the Department of Education. That money went to everything from special-education programs and early childhood education to help for at-risk children and upgrading computer technology in the classroom. The Arlington Police Department received $265,000 to purchase new equipment, and the Central Library was outfitted with solar panels. Last year, former County Board Chairwoman Barbara Favola announced $363,600 worth of stimulus funds to fight homelessness.”

What a great bunch of Congressional thinkers across the river? Arlington has among the highest “cost-per-student” rates in the nation, and Congress provides the county school bureaucrats with another $10 million in stimulus money. No wonder the country is near bankruptcy!

December 06, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Most of the people in the upper income brackets are not rich and do not have wealth sheltered offshore. They are typically working people who have finally reached their peak earning years after many years of far more modest incomes -- and now see much of what they have worked for siphoned off by politicians, to the accompaniment of lofty rhetoric."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Page 140, "As Certain as Death -- Quotations About Taxes (2010), TaxAnalysts.com

December 05, 2010

Your Taxes at Work . . . Tax Refunds to Inmates

The Associated Press and CBS News, among others, reported last week:

“Nearly 50,000 prison inmates claimed more than $130 million in tax refunds this year without providing any wage information to the IRS, a government investigator says in a report to be released Thursday.

“The Treasury inspector general for tax administration stops short of saying the refunds were fraudulently claimed. It does, however, say the Internal Revenue Service should investigate further.

“The report is the latest in a series of audits looking at prison inmates claiming tax credits and other government payments. It notes that the IRS identified nearly 250,000 fraudulent tax returns during the 2010 filing season — a 50 percent increase over 2009 — preventing $1.48 billion in fraudulent refunds.”

According to the AP, “The IRS said it works with state and federal prisons to get information about inmates on a voluntary basis.” However, CBS News adds:

“Florida (8,777), Georgia (7,351) and California (3,713) state prisons top the list.

“The single worst offender was an Ohio facility, where nearly 30 percent of the inmates filed false returns with the IRS for 2009. But when CBS News contacted the prison, they had no idea about the problem, saying in an email, "This is not an issue."

[ . . . ]

“Late this afternoon, after repeated requests from CBS News, the IRS finally sent us a statement. It says in part, "…the IRS remains focused on improving our techniques to address this type of fraud. However, without Congressional action to require state and federal prisons to report on the status of inmates to the IRS, there will be gaps in the prison data and compliance problems will persist."

Don’t you just look forward to the time when ObamaCare is fully implemented?

HT Mark Levin Show

December 04, 2010

Comparing Arlington Public Schools to . . .

Table 17 of Virginia’s School Superintendent’s Annual Report for FY 2009 includes the number of teachers per 1,000 students for each school district/regional program. The report provides some rather interesting numbers for the Northern Virginia school districts. For example:

  • Arlington Public Schools -- 102.91 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,610.
  • Fairfax County Public Schools -- 75.91 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,664.
  • Loudoun County Public Schools -- 81.92 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,593.
  • Prince William County Public Schools -- 60.61 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,499.
  • Alexandria City Public Schools -- 101.26 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,441.
  • Falls Church City Public Schools -- 96.26 teachers/1,000 students. Total SAT = 1,712.

Since there appears little correlation between more teachers and total SAT scores, let’s do a little bit more arithmetic. The midpoint between the Loudoun and Fairfax County schools would be about 79 teachers per 1,000 students. That would mean APS would need about 543 fewer teachers. Since the average APS teacher salary in the FY 2010 WABE report is $73,783 per teacher, that means Arlington taxpayers would save just about $40.1 million for the latest school year. Since the same WABE report shows almost $352.4 million in “approved school disbursements,” the $40.1 million from a reduced number of teachers would be a significant savings for Arlington’s taxpayers.

Just saying!

December 03, 2010

Quote of the Day

"(W)hat people want from government vastly exceeds what they are willing to pay for. Politicians encouraged people to take this view and now must find a way to persuade them to take a different view. To modify and rationalize public policy will take a lot longer than it took to whoop through Congress the spending and taxing programs that got us into this fix. It will be a life's work for some dedicated, patient, and determined people willing to stay the course."

   ~ James Q. Wilson, "Why Reagan Won and Stockman Lost, "Commentary," August 1986, page 21.

HT Pages 12-13, William Voegeli, "Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State"

December 02, 2010

Fiscal Commission's Report a Work-in-Progress

Fiscal Times reported yesterday that the fiscal commission on the deficit’s co-chairmen “released their final proposal Wednesday morning (requires Adobe) after acknowledging they probably don’t have the votes to win the necessary super-majority backing for their nearly $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan that combines spending cuts, tax increases, and major entitlement changes.”

The National Taxpayers Union released a second press release today, entitled:

“Fiscal Commission’s Final Report, Like Its First Draft, Is a Work in Steady but Limited Progress”

Today’s remarks from the NTU supplement those made on November 11, 2010. In the press release, Pete Sepp presents seven findings, among them the one below. It makes the point that the commission “assumes that federal revenues should stabilize at 21% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when the historical average is closer to 18%, a point we made in our November 29, 2010 growls. The final two “supplemental” findings from the NTU were:

“Although the commission’s final outline gives more encouraging words to the need for a simpler, economically-efficient tax system, like the Chairmen’s earlier draft it envisions nearly $1 trillion in net tax increases instead of aiming for a revenue-neutral overhaul. “The latest report acknowledges that its reform blueprint could yield higher revenues by spurring economic expansion,” Sepp observed. “Why not just allow this effect to help balance the books instead of forcing taxpayers to pluck even more from their already-thin wallets?”

“The Commission commendably foresees phasing out the Alternative Minimum Tax and creating a more logical “territorial” corporate tax system, but policymakers have yet to devise better mechanisms to ensure that tax rates will fall as the base is broadened (thereby avoiding discriminatory tax policy toward energy and other sectors). Ultimately, constitutional rules such as a Balanced Budget Amendment or a 2/3 “supermajority” vote requirement for tax increases will be necessary to protect taxpayers from long-term fiscal irresponsibility.

We’ll keep ACTA members apprised of additional analyses of the commission’s work by NTU. The website of the Fiscal Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform here. There is no phone number listed, but the general inquiry e-mail address is commission + fc.eop.gov.

December 01, 2010

Quote of the Day

 "What at first was plunder assumed the softer name of revenue."

    ~ Thomas Paine

HT Page 96, As Certain As Death — Quotations About Taxes (2010 Edition), TaxAnalysts.com