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January 31, 2011

When Your Top Priority Crashes Down

We growled on January 22 about the chokehold the Virginia General Assembly had placed on Arlington County’s transit occupancy tax. This morning, Scott McCaffrey posted a story online at the Arlington Sun Gazette that it came “crashing down” in a House of Delegates subcommittee, writing:

“A House of Delegates subcommittee on Monday unceremoniously stomped on one of the Arlington County government’s key legislative priorities for 2011, in a showdown over the county government’s lawsuit related to HOT lanes on Interstates 95 and 395.

“The bill in question, patroned by Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), would extend by three years the ability of Arlington officials to collect a 0.25-percent surtax on top of the existing hotel and motel (transient occupancy) tax, with the roughly $900,000 a year going toward tourism promotion in the county.

“The measure was one of two main legislative priorities of the county government this year.

“Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax County), the subcommittee chairman, held the measure up for more than a week, and then garnered enough votes to table it indefinitely, effectively killing the measure, on Jan. 31.

“The 3-2 vote essentially prevents the measure from moving forward in the House of Delegates, although legislators still have to contend with a similar measure passed in the state Senate.”

Will the county’s five panjandrums be willing to prostrate themselves before the General Assembly to get the transit occupancy tax renewed? Time will tell.

January 30, 2011

Arlington County’s Big Spenders . . . Government Schools

A little number-crunching of the “operating indicators” in the county’s audited financial statements for FY 2010, officially the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), demonstrates that government bureaucrats can always find a way to spend every last taxpayer dollar given to them. Take a look at the “education” indicators on page 182 of the FY 2010 CAFR, which provides the trend of spending over the period 2001 to 2010.

Enrollment in the Arlington Public Schools (APS) was 18,808 students in 2001 while APS employed 1,737 teachers, or 92.35 teachers per 1,000 students. By 2010, enrollment increased to 20,233 students while teacher staffing increased to 2,096, or 103.59 teachers per 1,000 students. The jump from 92.35 teachers per 1,000 students to 103.59 teachers per 1,000 students is an increase of 12.2%. Looked at another way, it's a 12.2% decrease in operating efficiency.

If the Arlington School Board and the Superintendent had managed to keep the number of teachers at the 2001 rate, APS would have needed 227 fewer teachers in 2010. According to the latest WABE numbers available at the APS website, the FY 2011 annual employer cost for one teacher position in Arlington is $82,158, thus putting the cost of those 227 teachers at just over $18.6 million or roughly the equivalent to a reduction of 3 cents in the real estate tax rate.

By the way, the ratio of teachers was worse in the middle of the decade. For example, in 2005, APS employed 107.66 teachers per 1,000 students. What an efficient system of government schools managed at 1426 North Quincy Street!

January 28, 2011

Financial Crisis That No One Prevented

According to the preface of the report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), the commission was created to “examine the causes of the current financial and economic crisis in the United States.” The report “presents to the President, the Congress, and the American people the results of its examination and its conclusions as to the causes of the crisis. In addition, the preface says:

“More than two years after the worst of the financial crisis, our economy, as well as communities and families across the country, continues to experience the aftershocks. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs and their homes, and the economy is still struggling to rebound. This report is intended to provide a historical accounting of what brought our financial system and economy to a precipice and to help policy makers and the public better understand how this calamity came to be.

“The Commission was established as part of the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act (Public Law 111-21) passed by Congress and signed by the President in May. This independent, 10-member panel was composed of private citizens with experience in areas such as housing, economics, finance, market regulation, banking, and consumer protection. Six members of the Commission were appointed by the Democratic leadership of Congress and four members by the Republican leadership.

“The Commission’s statutory instructions set out  specific topics for inquiry and called for the examination of the collapse of major financial institutions that failed or would have failed if not for exceptional assistance from the government. This report fulfills these mandates. In addition, the Commission was instructed to refer to the at- torney general of the United States and any appropriate state attorney general any person that the Commission found may have violated the laws of the United States in relation to the crisis. Where the Commission found such potential violations, it referred those matters to the appropriate authorities. The Commission used the authority it was given to issue subpoenas to compel testimony and the production of documents, but in the vast majority of instances, companies and individuals voluntarily cooperated with this inquiry.”

The FCIC’s press release, titled, “This Crisis was Avoidable -- a Result of Human Actions, Inactions and Misjudgments; Warning Signs Were Ignored.” (requires Adobe) said, “The Commission concluded that the crisis was avoidable” and listed the following causes:

  • Widespread failures in financial regulation, including the Federal Reserve’s failure to stem the tide of toxic mortgages;
  • “Dramatic breakdowns in corporate governance including too many financial firms acting recklessly and taking on too much risk;
  • “An explosive mix of excessive borrowing and risk by households and Wall Street that put the financial system on a collision course with crisis;
  • “Key policy makers ill prepared for the crisis, lacking a full understanding of the financial system they oversaw;
  • “And systemic breaches in accountability and ethics at all levels.”

Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal writes in the weekend edition, “You could almost defend the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's (FCIC) new report if the question had been who, in hindsight, might have prevented the crisis.” Rather, he suggests the best portions of the report may be those with dissenting views, writing:

“The dissenters at least propose answers that might be answers. Peter Wallison focuses on U.S. housing policy, a diagnosis that has the advantage of being actionable.

“The other dissent, by Keith Hennessey, Bill Thomas and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, sees 10 causal factors, but emphasizes the pan-global nature of the housing bubble, which it attributes to ungovernable global capital flows.”

The editorial in today’s Washington Examiner says, “Taxpayers got the short end of the stick” when the FCIC report was released yesterday, adding:

“Rather than provide the bipartisan view of the origins of the financial crisis, as mandated by Congress, the panel split along partisan lines because of Angelides' refusal to incorporate the views of Republican members. So, instead of one consensus report, there are three competing assessments (that of the majority, a minority report signed by three Republican members, and an individual dissent by Commissioner Peter Wallison).”

Joe Nocera, reporting for the New York Times today in a story titled, “Inquiry Missing a Bottom Line,” concludes his analysis of the FCIC’s report this way:

“There is a telling moment in the commission’s report, when some A.I.G. executives are questioning whether they should stop insuring triple-A tranches of C.D.O.’s, which have become increasingly risky. In search of answers, they visit a housing analyst at Bear Stearns. One A.I.G. consultant later recalled that “the analyst was so optimistic about the housing market that they thought he was ‘out of his mind’ and ‘must be on drugs or something.’ ” But of course he wasn’t on drugs. His hallucinogen was the housing bubble.

“In pushing the idea that the crisis was avoidable, Mr. Angelides is also trying to make an additional point: if we just do it better next time, we will avoid the next crisis. I’m all for holding the bad actors accountable, and to the extent the F.C.I.C. has done that, I tip my hat. But mass delusions, alas, are part of the human condition, and no report, no matter how scathing, is going to change that.

"And thus the question really isn't whether it will happen again. It's when."

The Washington Post began their reporting of the FCIC’s account of the financial crisis on page A14 of today’s newspaper, by noting the FCIC report “casts blame on Goldman Sachs for fueling the subprime mortgage bubble, Merrill Lynch for not telling investors about the true state of its financial condition and the Federal Reserve for failing to stop dangerous lending practices.” They then add:

“Released to the public online and in the form of a 633-page paperback, the report does not contain any major revelation that would fundamentally alter popular perceptions of the crisis. But it weaves together many different strains of information, garnered with subpoena powers that allowed the commission to collect testimony from dozens of insiders and review the internal documents of federal regulators and banks.”

The Post nicely divided their report into sections, saying the following about federal regulators:

“While the report is scathing in its review of Wall Street, what's notable is how hard it comes down on federal regulators for missing warning signs, fighting turf wars and being shortsighted overall. "We conclude the government was ill-prepared for the crisis, and its inconsistent response added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets," the report says:"

And finally, the Post had this to say about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac:

“The report tackles the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage finance giants taken over by the government in the fall of 2008, and wades into the debate over whether they were the chief villains or simply co-conspirators. This question is what most divided the Republican and Democratic members of the commission.

“The report calls the firms "kings of leverage" that borrowed $75 for every dollar they had reserved as a financial cushion, and it chastises the companies' regulator, now called the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for failing to stop the companies' march into the subprime mortgage market.”

The future undoubtedly will have more to say about the causes of the financial and economic crisis. In the meantime, though, the New York Times had perhaps the most curious pieces of reporting trivia when Joe Nocera included this parenthetical comment:

“(It didn’t help that the Republicans had only 27 pages to express their views, compared to the Democrats’ 500-plus pages.)”

In their reporting today, Barron’s adds that one of the bad actors in the crisis are the credit rating agencies -- S&P, Moody’s and Finch, writing, “Without their imprimatur of triple-A, there would have been no way to stitch together billions of dollars' worth of silk purses from sows' ears.” In addition, they write:

“Wall Street greed always makes a good villain, and it no doubt drove the mortgage madness beyond anything previously imaginable. But that factor, even abetted by regulatory ineptitude, is not sufficient to explain the global character of the crisis.
“That lies at the heart of the dissent by FCIC Vice Chairman Bill Thomas and Commissioners Keith Hennessey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, all Republicans.”

So be sure to read the dissenting opinions in the FCIC report.

January 27, 2011

Throwing "Gasoline on the Fiscal Fire"

In a story in The Hill newspaper last night, Erik Wasson reported that “(a) record $1.5 trillion deficit projection . . . from the Congressional Budget Office provided ammunition for both sides in the raging debate over spending and the size of government.” According to Wasson, “The CBO blamed the dismal picture on December’s tax deal, which extended all of the Bush-era tax rates for two years and will add $390 billion to the deficit.” He later added:

“The CBO report could give momentum to conservatives who want to lower 2011 spending levels to a rate not seen since 2006.

“House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has been charged with setting non-security spending budget ceilings at 2008 levels or lower, but the conservative Republican Study Committee has called for even steeper cuts.

“In the Senate, 21 Republicans led by Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and John Cornyn (Texas) cited the report in introducing a bill to start the process of adding a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution.

“The increase in the deficit would bring it to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product, the CBO said, following deficits of 10 percent and 8.9 percent during the previous two years.

Here is the link to the Congressional Budget Office's “Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2011 Through 2021” (includes links to a summary, the entire document, Director’s blog post, and supplemental material).

January 25, 2011

Your Tax Dollars at Work . . . Lighting Federal Buildings

Andrea McCarren, a reporter at WUSA channel 9 writes today that when taxpayers were asked to estimate the cost of just one month’s electric bill in just one federal agency's headquarters building, one woman guessed $3,000 a month while a New Jersey man guessed $5,000 a month. Here’s what McCarren found:

“The low end is about $200,000 a month. The high end more than a million. One month's electricity bill at the Department of Labor topped a MILLION dollars. That was a bill paid in July of last year. The month before, the department paid a bill of nearly $700,000. And utility costs of that magnitude are not unusual.

"Whoooo. That's too much!" exclaimed a taxpayer.”

Using the Freedom of Information Act to obtain electricity bills after observing lights left on in federal government buildings, Ms. McCarren researched "just how much taxpayers were spending to keep empty buildings illuminated.” A few of the bills McCarren found were the following:

  • Department of Health and Human Services -- paid a bill last August of $799,000 for just one month.
  • Department of Commerce -- paid a bill last June of $794,000.
  • Department of Labor -- one month’s bill topped $1 million.

She also reports that employees of the Department of Energy appear to be making an effort to control electricity usage although “its monthly bills still average $260,000.”

HT to Americans for Tax Reform.

January 24, 2011

Will the Arlington County Board Have the Chutzpah?

In one of the “Highs & Lows” in this week’s Arlington Sun Gazette, the editor writes that with property values “higher across Arlington - particularly in the commercial sector - probably has county officials salivating at the prospect of all that additional revenue that will come in should they decide not to lower the real estate tax rate.” He adds:

“Keeping the tax rate at its 2010 level of 95.8 cents per $100 assessed value would bring in millions in additional revenue compared to a year before, while hitting the owners of commercial properties far harder than those who own homes. Even so, a typical homeowner would pay $67 more this year than last, if there is no change in the tax rate.

“We won’t know for some time, but it will be interesting to see if County Board members have the chutzpah to advertise a real estate tax rate for 2011 that is actually higher than last year’s rate.

“Such an action would be an affront to all property owners, who are trying to make do in challenging economic circumstances, but we don’t put that past County Board members. After all, they’ve raised the tax burden on residents in good times and bad, and rarely feel any political repercussions. Anything is possible.”

Arlington’s “uberWatchdog” Wayne Kubicki adds in a “reader comment:”

"County staff is already saying that, despite the unexpected increase in assessments, the County Board's budget guidance to the Manager (given late last year) cannot be met without additional revenue. That usually means a real estate tax rate Increase. "

Wonder if County Board’s panjandrums know what a pitchfork looks like?

January 22, 2011

General Assembly Puts Chokehold on County Tax

First some background.

When the Arlington County Board adopted its 2011 General Assembly Legislative Priorities on December 11, 2010 (agenda Item 34), renewal of the transit occupancy tax was the Board's top priority. According to the report to the Board, the General Assembly was asked to:

“Renew Arlington’s .25 percent Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) surcharge, which funds the Arlington Convention and Visitors Service (ACVS) and expires on January 1, 2012.  Originally proposed by Arlington’s Economic Development Department and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and its Hotel Committee, it was first authorized for three years by the 1990 General Assembly and has been reauthorized for three year increments ever since.  Because it is applicable only to Arlington County, it requires a 2/3’s vote of each chamber of the General Assembly to become law. Arlington is the only locality that has a “sunset” provision attached to its TOT.”

HB 1513 was introduced by Del. Bob Brink (D-Arlington) on December 17, 2010, and would extend the sunset date from January 1, 2012 to January 1, 2015. On January 17, 2011, it was considered by the House and assigned  to a Finance subcommittee. In the Senate, SB 980, a companion to HB 1513, was introduced by Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) on January 11, 2011, and referred to the Finance Committee, and reported from Finance on a 14-0 vote, and as of Friday, January 21, it was “read second time and engrossed.”

According to an Arlington Sun Gazette report on Friday, January 21, “The county government’s effort to retain authority for a tax surcharge on hotel and motel rooms has cleared its first hurdle in Richmond . . . Passage in the Senate is seen as likely, although Whipple has expressed concern about the measure’s chances in the House of Delegates.”

Where things get interesting.

This is where things get interesting for the fate of Arlington County’s Transient Occupancy Tax. Ben Tribbett (corrected 1/24/11), who blogs at his own Not LarrySabato blog as well as at Huffington Post, writes that Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) “grabs Arlington County by the throat and practices a choke-hold.” So that I don’t misinterpret what Tribbe posts at his Not Larry Sabato blog, let me quote it in its entirety (emphases in the original):

“Usually I am not a big fan of the Dillon Rule or the General Assembly using it to strong-arm localities but Tim Hugo just used it today to send a very loud signal to Arlington County about their lawsuit challenging hot-lanes on 395.

“A couple caveats before I get into this story. I don't support hot-lanes on 395, I think the state needs to meet its responsibility and pay for these projects themselves and not create an obstacle course of toll lanes that run adjacent to traffic snarled lanes- giving the rich an opportunity to fly home and the poor stuck sitting in traffic having to decide between paying a toll and spending time with their family or saving some money for their kids college fund.

“Secondly, I especially don't approve of this project when tolls are being raised very quickly on the Dulles Toll Road to pay for rail to Dulles -- it's very clear that once a toll road is approved and the tolling authority is given to unelected bodies that their right to toll/tax is abused and we don't need any more of that.

“Despite my opposition to this project, I am even more opposed to Arlington County's lawsuit to stop it.

“Why? The main reason is that the Arlington County Board is being abusive in the way they filed the suit. They are suing former government officials in a private capacity, meaning those officials have to hire private attorney's to defend themselves. A stunning tactic (especially in a county with so many government employees) and Arlington is refusing to amend the suit to current officials so the former officials can drop their attorneys.

“Some recent reports have put Arlington's cost on this lawsuit in the 2 million dollar range.

“Enter Tim Hugo, Chairman of the subcommittee that heard HB1513 yesterday.  HB1513 would extend Arlington's hotel tax by another five (sic) years, raising money for Arlington tourism promotion. Tim asked in the hearing how much money this would raise for the county- and learned it was about $800,000 a year.

"Well doesn't Arlington have that $800,000 already if they can spend $2,000,000 on a lawsuit like this?", Hugo asked at the hearing. Dagger. Instead of killing the bill outright, Hugo decided to allow Arlington officials the right to show up in a couple weeks to explain their lawsuit before his subcommittee makes their final decision. But this doesn't look good for Arlington's hotel tax- or the numerous other things they will need approval from in the General Assembly in coming years.

“I interviewed Tim about this last night, and he confirmed that while he supports the HOT lane concept that his main concern about this was the way Arlington was approaching this lawsuit and suing former officials.  He said that Secretary Sean Connaughton has pleaded with the county to "sue him" instead of the former Secretary Pierce Homer. Tim pointed out this wasn't a partisan issue as he was trying to defend Homer -- a Democrat who served under Kaine -- from this unfair treatment as well as a federal official Arlington was also personally suing.

Hugo added that "I think Chris Zimmerman [Arlington Board Member] is a thug and that's on the record.

“In street life sometimes a thug meets a bigger thug and needs to back down. Looks like Zimmerman and the rest of the county board are going to have to decide if this lawsuit is worth everything else the county needs from state government. Maybe Hugo finally knocked some sense into them yesterday. We'll see soon . . . ."

That subcommittee meeting to be held in a "couple weeks" could prove to be very interesting. Indeed, it should be worth a front row seat! As we've said many times, the Arlington County Board's problem is not that they don't have sufficient tax revenues, it's that they don't know how to prioritize spending the revenues they do get.

January 21, 2011

Whither Union Membership?

The Daily Caller reports today that “(u)nion membership dropped to a record low” in 2010, a drop of 612,000 workers in 2010. The report is based upon an analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When BLS first started measuring union membership about 30 years ago, unions represented 20% of the American workforce. According to The Daily Caller:

“Membership declined to 11.9 percent of the workforce in 2010, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier. In 2009, the unionized workforce lost 834,000 members, the steepest dip in membership rates ever recorded.

“The drop in union membership this year suggests the ongoing decline of organized labor combined with the impact of the recession that began in 2008 that rattled heavily unionized industries such as construction and telecommunications.

“In the private sector, unions only account for 6.9 percent of the workforce overall, a sharp divide from government workers, which is 36.2 percent unionized. Local government workers — teachers, fire fighters and police officers — represent the highest percentage of organized labor.”

While union membership in the private sector is approaching a single digit percentage, in government, union membership represents 36.2% of all public sector workers, according to Big Government’s blog today. Union members at the local government level is even higher:

“ . . . local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters.”

As LaborUnionReport closes out the Big Government post:

“Unfortunately, all of this may be too little too late as America’s economy and the politicians continue coming to grips with the costs of unionization.”

Well said!

January 20, 2011

IG Not Needed in Arlington County?

A local news item in today’s Washington Examiner reports that county officials have “billed Falls Church an extra $2.2 million for its share of the Arlington Detention Center, saying it discovered billing errors that show the city has been undercharged for years.” The Examiner article went on by saying:

“Arlington analysts discovered that the county was using incorrect figures for the number of Falls Church inmates held in the jail, according to Mark Schwartz, deputy county manager. Officials determined Falls Church was being undercharged as far back as 2007.

“The Arlington Detention Center holds about 600 inmates each day. The daily average has dropped the past two years, according to Schwartz. At the same time, the number of Falls Church inmates at the jail has been increasing.

"Given that the overall [jail] population has come down, and the number of Falls Church prisoners has risen the past few years, the percentage that they have to pay has gone up," Schwartz said.”

If asked, County Board panjandrums will likely tell you an IG is just a waste of taxpayer money. In this case, it appears the cost of an IG would be be well-spent.

January 19, 2011

Entitlement Spending Will Double By 2050

According to the Heritage Foundation's 2010 Budget Chart Book, "Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid spending will soar as 78 million baby boomers retire and health care costs climb. Medicaid spending will more than double, and Medicare spending will more than triple." The chart below depicts how entitlement spending will grow during the next 40 years.


Take a few minutes to look at all 39 charts from the 2010 Federal Budget Chart Book. Then take more time to study other material in Heritage Foundation's budget and spending issue area.

January 18, 2011

Complexity Is Tax Issue Number 1

The Tax Foundation reports the IRS's National Taxpayer Advocate has released the 2010 annual report to Congress, a report required by the Internal Revenue Code, which requires the report “to identify at least 20 of the most serious problems encountered by taxpayers and to make administrative and legislative recommendations to mitigate those problems.” The Tax Foundation summarizes the first two problems that are the most significant:

“The first problem identified in the report is the complexity of the Internal Revenue Code. At 3.8 million words, the tax code is over 11,000 single spaced pages and, reading at 300 words per minute, it would take a person almost 9 complete days to read the entire thing. The Taxpayer Advocate Service estimates that taxpayers spend 6.1 billion hours a year doing their taxes, which equates to over 3 million Americans working full-time — greater than the number of teachers, professors and librarians combined. This time spent on taxes translates to a cost of $163 billion, based on hourly wage rates . . . An estimated 60% of individuals employ tax preparers to do their taxes for them, adding to the cost imposed on taxpayers. The Taxpayer Advocate recommends a vast reduction in tax expenditures — deductions or exemptions built into the tax code — while also lowering the overall tax rates to reduce the burden on most Americans.

“The second serious problem with the IRS is its movement from a collection agency to an agency that also distributes benefits. With the passing of Health Care Reform, the IRS has been tasked with distributing benefits for multiple provisions in the legislation . . . The National Taxpayer Advocate recommends the restructuring of the IRS to create an office dedicated to the distribution of benefits. She also recommends revising the mission statement of the IRS to include its role as a distributor of benefits and highlight its need for additional funding for those actions.

The Taxpayer Advocate also is required to identify “the ten tax issues most litigated in federal courts, classified by the types of taxpayers affected in order to mitigate disputes that result in litigation.

In addition, the Taxpayer Advocate is also "establishing a vehicle to receive taxpayers’ suggestions about tax reform, writing:

“taxpayers will be able to access this site at http://www.taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov through our newly designed internet site dedicated to taxpayer rights and education. We ask that taxpayers approach this with the frame of mind that everything – even the tax breaks that benefit them or their businesses personally – should be on the table. What would they be willing to give up if they knew that others are giving up their breaks and the end result would be a much simpler system – one in which the average taxpayer might be able to prepare his or her own tax return? What particular provisions of the existing tax system are especially burdensome or seem particularly unfair?  So, let us know .  We promise to track these suggestions and post them, periodically, thereby helping to further the cause of tax reform and tax simplification.”

Spend some time with the National Taxpayer Advocate's entire report, and obtain a more indepth understanding of the problems of the Internal Revenue Service. Although the accompanying press release is three pages, it provides a good summary of the report.

January 17, 2011

Tie Conditions to Raising Debt Limit?

Over the weekend, the New York Daily News reported, “The government deficit has ballooned to an all-time, eye-popping high: $14 trillion,” which amounts to “(a) whopping historical record $45,300 for each person.”

The Daily News also reported that Treasury Secretary Geithner wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on January 6 “encouraging him to lift the ceiling.” The newspaper wrote, “While the issue of raising the debt ceiling is under the political spotlight now, it's not anything new.” Rather, the Daily News reported:

“The current debt ceiling was raised to $14.3 trillion last year, but under a heavily-Democratic Congress, did not spark nearly the same debate. But in 2006, Democrats - including President Obama - fought against raising the debt ceiling to protest the trillions being spent on the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills," he said. "It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance the government's reckless fiscal policies."

“Now that Republicans --who have promised fiscal responsibility -- have a majority in the House, the Democrats are bracing for a tough fight.”

So, what is the current White House’s position on raising the debt? According to the one of The Hill’s blogs, “On the Money,” last Friday:

“The Office of Management and Budget confirmed Friday that it is the administration’s position that Congress should not tie any other business to a bill raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

“In comments first made to the Financial Times and confirmed by OMB, OMB Director Jack Lew said that “our view is a clean debt bill is the only responsible thing to advocate — and we’re clearly going to have to engage in Congress on this.”

In response, House Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Georgia) said:

"It would be irresponsible and send the absolute wrong signal to the American people were Congress to act on raising the debt ceiling without a concerted effort to rein in out-of-control spending . . . The current path is bankrupting our nation. Any debate regarding the debt limit should begin with how Congress can take bold action to end the spending spree and enact robust cuts in the federal budget. It appears the White House’s default position is to avoid those tough decisions at this time . . . Our hope is that the Administration will be a willing partner in that pursuit so that we can provide our children and grandchildren with a stronger economy and brighter future."

David Malpass, a Treasury official in the Reagan administration, offers the following helpful advice in a  Washington Times op-ed on Friday:

“Rather than fighting against a debt-ceiling increase that absolutely must take place because of the odd way it is defined in law or adding killer provisions, Republicans should unite to attach effective new rules that restrain spending and the size of government. Two viable concepts that the Democrats would have a hard time opposing: limits on the marketable national debt relative to gross domestic product (GDP) and on federal spending relative to GDP. To force debt and spending cuts, there should be escalating penalties and enforcement rules whenever these limits are exceeded. These new rules would create a check-and-balance system that is missing in the current debt ceiling and would add to the effectiveness of recent House promises to shorten legislation and match all spending increases with spending cuts.”

[ . . . ]

“Fiscal conservatives may get only one shot at communicating a responsible ramrod limit on the size of government before gridlock settles in. The problem is that the statutory debt limit doesn't provide leverage over Washington's culture. It grows with inflation and population and includes fictitious Social Security reserves.”

It appears Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is playing on the White House’s side since Bloomberg News reported today that Schumer “said that threatening to deny an increase in the government’s debt ceiling would be “playing with fire.”

Consequently, it seems Republicans have the moral high ground as Bloomberg reported, "Republicans in Congress told President Barack Obama and Democrats last week they won’t agree to raise the government’s debt limit unless there are specific spending cuts." In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier today:

"Three potential Republican candidates for president came out against boosting the federal debt limit without substantial spending cuts, raising the temperature in a debate that is quickly becoming a test of Washington's newfound appetite for financial discipline.
"Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Monday joined former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in calling for spending cuts and opposing any increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling without them."

January 16, 2011

Overseeing Arlington County’s Panjandrums

A review of the real estate assessments of the five Arlington County Board members’ residential properties by the Arlington Sun Gazette’s Scott McCaffrey, which he posted today, shows “a mixed bag on assessments.” McCaffrey writes:

“Three County Board members saw no change in their assessments from 2010 to 2011, while one saw an increase and another saw a decline.

“But the homes of all five board members - like the majority of homes in the county - are currently assessed at less than they were at the height of the boom real estate market.

“All County Board members own single-family homes, usually in conjunction with spouses or partners.

If an Arlington County taxpayer believes her or his property is not correct, the DREA website describes a three-step appeal process: 1) appeal to the Department of Real Estate Assessments; 2) appeal to the Board of Equalization; and 3) filing suit in the Circuit Court. For further information, call the DREA at (703) 228-3920.

January 15, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Since the accumulation of a substantial estate is one of the motivations that drive people to work hard, a death tax on saving is indirectly a tax on work."

   ~ Richard A. Posner

HT Page 159, "As Certain As  Taxes -- Quotations about Taxes," TaxAnalysts.com

January 14, 2011

2011 Real Estate Assessments Now Online

An Arlington County press release today reports the county will benefit “from healthy commercial, residential property mix” as residential values increased 1.4% and the value of commercial properties increased 12%. According to the Washington Business Journal today:

“As the first Northern Virginia jurisdiction to release 2011 assessments, Arlington's data is good news, as it shows a stronger-than-anticipated rally in assessed value after years of decline. But for property owners, rising value also will mean rising tax bills — assuming Arlington doesn't reduce its rate to offset the uptick.

“Arlington officials in the fall projected a $25 million to $35 million budget gap for 2012, but that was based on an estimated 1 percent assessment increase. A 6 percent bump would generate about $32 million in new tax revenue, half of which benefits fiscal 2011 and the other half 2012.”

That second paragraph undoubtedly is welcome news to Arlington’s panjandrums who will avoid most decisions regarding the reduction of the size or cost of local government.

An online article today at the Arlington Sun Gazette website says average home prices are “up nearly 9% across Northern Virginia in 2010,” increasing from a 2009 average of $431,013 to $469,567 in 2010. In their report, the Sun Gazette said:

“Since 1975, the year-over-year average sales price across Northern Virginia has risen all but four times (1990, 1992, 2008 and 2009). Total sales have risen 23 times and declined 12 in the same period.”

You can look-up your CY 2011 assessment at the Office of Real Estate Assessments webpage. For more information about real estate assessments, e.g., appealing your assessment, visit the Office of Real Estate Assessments webpage.

Information about the Arlington County FY 2012 budget is available here. And if you are a member of a county civic organization that is a member of the Arlington County Civic Federation, consider joining the ACCF's Revenues & Expenditure Committee in its annual study of the annual county budget. Copies of recent R&E reports are here.

Need help in appealing your property's assessment? Consider "How to Fight Property Taxes" from the National Taxpayers Union.

January 13, 2011

Hot Air! Part 4?

We’re into Part 4 of the Arlington County Board’s chairman’s New Year’s Day speech at the Board’s “organization meeting.” Previously, we covered his thoughts on global warming (Part 1); lack of discussion of his service on Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA)’s board of director (Part 2); and taking credit for a laundry list of capital projects with no mention the Board has virtually max’ed out the county’s credit card (Part 3).

Today, we’ll growl about his desire to help small business with no apparent concern for the tax burden they bear. Mr. Chris Zimmerman, who was selected by his colleagues to serves as chairman for 2011, said:

“To realize our goals for our community, we need businesses to succeed.  Their success is important for the fiscal vitality of the county, and for its overall economic health, as well as for the availability of goods and services that we want.  It is especially important for small businesses and retail to thrive, because they are essential to the vibrancy of our “street life,” and they are key to establishing the unique character and identity which makes a place authentically distinct from all others.

“The County should be seen as a facilitator, a partner with small businesses to create a robust local economy to benefit everyone who lives here.

“Of course, local government has an important oversight role to play.  The County must always enforce regulations that protect the public’s health and safety, and ensure that particular commercial activities do not unduly impose upon others.  But good regulation exists for a purpose, not as an end in itself.  We don’t intend to throw unnecessary obstacles on the path to success.  I am convinced that we can do a better job, by modifying practices in a way that will benefit the whole community.

“This year, I will lead an effort aimed at helping small businesses meet local permitting requirements for locating in or expanding their businesses as quickly and efficiently as possible.  We will consider streamlining processes, improving quality of and access to information about requirements, providing customer-friendly service to business owners, and offering assistance to businesses to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

It’s good the chairman will be leading such an effort, but why has it taken him over a decade to realize the local bureaucracy is an impediment to small business? Besides, government should not a facilitator, but rather should not even be perceived as putting up roadblocks. Although he says he wants to do a “better job” regulating small business, he ignores fact that the areas of concern he cites have largely existed throughout  his years on the board.

Most important, though, he mentions nothing about lessening the tax burden on small businesses – ignoring the fact that the commercial real estate tax surcharge for transportation, enacted on his watch, usually falls directly on small businesses, and is the funding source for the Rosslyn Metro entrance project (which adds NO actual passenger capacity) and the Pike Trolley (which many believe many actually worsen overall transportation on Columbia Pike).

As we said earlier in this series, hot air doesn't come cheap.

January 12, 2011

Quote of the Day`

"Where there is an income tax, the just man will pay more and the unjust less on the same income."

    ~ Plato

HT 152, "As Certain As  Taxes -- Quotations about Taxes," TaxAnalysts.com

January 11, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Once democracy is treated as the premier public value, with individual liberty cast to the side except as far as the citizenry’s freedom to take part in democratic decision-making, the scope of government is no longer limited in principle or in practice."

    ~ Tibor Machan, "Essay on Reexamining Democracy"

HT Tibor's Space

January 10, 2011

Your Taxes at Work . . . Global Warming Research

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit that seeks to advance science around the world, including publishing the journal Science. Since 1976, its R&D Budget and Policy Program has sponsored studies and public meetings on funding and policy issues affecting federal government support of research and development (R&D). AAAS Report XXXV (entire report here) provides information about research and development in the President’s FY 2011 budget, including proposed spending for climate change in Chapter 15 (here).

The first "highlight" in chapter 15, points out that "(f)unding for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates and integrates research over 13 executive branch departments and agencies, would increase 21 percent to $2.6 billion." In a January 18 blog entry, ClimateQuotes.com cites data from Chapter 15 of the AAAS report. However, he first provides the planned spending by a few of the larger federal agencies on climate change research:

  • NOAA                                            $437 million
  • National Science Foundation     $480 million
  • NASA                                            $438,1 million
  • Department of Energy                $627 million
  • Department of the Interior          $171 million
  • EPA                                                 $169 million
  • US Department of Agriculture     $159 million

Like the ClimateQuotes publisher, I too knew the federal government spent a lot of money on global warming, or whatever it’s called today, but the numbers are rather mind-boggling. The eight pages in the chapter on climate change are easy to read, and generally includes current and prior year spending. Here’s how the National Science Foundation is expected to spend the $480 million it receives for global warming research:

“National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF would receive $7.4 billion in FY 2011, an increase of 8 percent relative to the FY 2010 appropriation. The request includes $370 million under the USGCRP framework, which is an increase of 16.0 percent. The Geosciences Directorate would receive $955 million (a 7.4 percent increase) in FY 2011 with $480million going to Atmospheric and Earth Sciences.

“NSF’s Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainability (SEES) program would receive $765.5 million. This is intended to promote discoveries and capability needed to inform societal actions in ways that contribute to environmental and economic sustainability.

“NSF’s request also includes $19 million for RE-ENERGYSE, a joint program with the Department of Energy intended to promote education in clean energy research. An additional $10 million would fund Climate Change Education, which seeks to increase understanding of climate among the next generation of Americans.”

ClimateQuotes provides this important caveat:

“Just because this funding has been labeled 'climate change research' does not mean it is necessarily not linked to another field as well. For example, some of the costs associated are for satellites, which are important in more than just climate research. This is not entirely frivolous spending. Even so, the numbers are staggering.”

ClimateQuotes concludes his post by writing:

“Here is the question to take away: what are we getting for the billions of dollars we've spent? When 2011 is over will we look back at the published research and be satisfied with how our billions have been spent? This type of spending has occurred for some time, and what do we have to show for it? Multiple federal agencies having multi-hundred million dollar budgets in the same (controversial) field is wasteful. Let's make sure 2011 is the last year these budgets increase.”

Read the report on climate research yourself, and I’m sure you’ll be left with the same questions as ClimateQuotes. And then call Sen. Jim Webb, Sen. Mark Warner, or Rep. Jim Moran on Capitol Hill -- (202) 224-3121.

HT Climate Depot

January 09, 2011

Quote of the Day

“I agree with you that in politics the middle way is none at all.”

    ~ John Adams (1734-1826)

HT OnPower.org

January 08, 2011

Hot Air! Part 3

On January 3 and January 5, we growled about the Arlington County Board chairman’s New Year’s Day speech at the Board's organizational meeting. On January 3, we growled about the chairman’s politically correct comments about global warming. Then in Part 2, we growled about the chairman’s failure to make any mention in the speech of his 12+ years of service on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA).

Today, we’ll growl about the laundry list of capital projects he rattled off with no mention that these projects have maxed out the county’s credit card for bonding capacity and driven annual debt service nearly through the roof. For about a page and one-half, Mr. Zimmerman talked about planning and design as well as delivery of capital projects. After rattling off that list of projects, Zimmerman said:

“The foregoing list reflects the aggressive program of infrastructure investment that Arlington has sustained over multiple years.  We are building assets that serve community needs, aided by the combination of favorable market conditions and the County’s strong fiscal position.  In the long run, the accumulation of these assets reinforces our fiscal strength, contributing to the tax base.

“The Board recognizes, that, to protect their value, assets must be maintained.  Later this month, the County Board will establish a CIP Working Group to provide input and advice as strategies are developed to systematically address critical capital maintenance needs . . . .”

Let’s talk about how those projects were paid for. From 2001 to 2010, total general fund spending increased from $594.9 million to $1,022.2 million, an increase of 71.8% or 7.98% annually. Total primary government bonded debt increased 51.4% during the period, going from $425.1 million in 2001 to $643.4 million in 2010. Debt per capita increased 35.5%, increasing from $2,237 in 2001 to $3,032 in 2010.9 (County data from the FY 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report)

Debt service on those millions in debt increased faster than the growth in general fund spending. From 2001 to 2010, debt service increased 82.1%, or an annual increase of 9.12%. Mind-rattling considering that inflation increased only 22.8%, or 2.53% annually, from 2001 to 2010, according to data from the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hot air isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s quite expensive.

January 07, 2011

Income Redistribution + Tax-and-Spend

At the Tuesday evening, January 4, 2010 monthly meeting of the Arlington County Civic Federation, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported yesterday, two members of Arlington’s General Assembly delegation talked of  their plans to introduce tax law changes. Scott McCaffrey provides the details of the legislative priorities of one Senator and two Delegates:

Trading One Tax for Another: Del. David Englin (D-45th) plans to patron legislation that would eliminate the sales tax on food, and offset those revenues with a higher state income tax on those making more than $300,000 a year.

Higher Cigarette Tax? Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) plans to patron legislation increasing the state cigarette tax in order to provide additional funds for Virginia’s Medicaid programs.

“The Old Dominion historically has had one of the nation’s lowest state taxes on cigarettes. Hope’s bill would increase the tax to the national average, he told federation delegates.

"A State Version of the DREAM Act: Whipple plans to patron legislation that would provide in-state tuition rates for public colleges and universities to students who have not yet achieved permanent-residency status in the U.S."

So while the economy is still trying to recover, Sen. Whipple is increasing spending, Del. Englin is at work redistributiing income while Del. Hope is at work taxing-and-spending. Time for a Tea Party in Arlington County!

January 06, 2011

Not Stressing Over Textbook Errors

Here's a letter I just sent to the editor of the Arlington Sun Gazette:

Dear Editor:

I’m was surprised at the blase attitude of Arlington School Board Chairman Libby Garvey regarding the errors in history textbook that were first reported by the Washington Post and supported by a review by the Virginia Department of Education (“School Officials Not Stressing Too Much Over Errors in History Texts,” January 4, 2011).

According to the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) report for FY 2011, the Arlington Public Schools continues to have the highest cost-per-student for fiscal year 2011, which began on July 1, 2010 -- $17,322 per student. Certainly much higher than Fairfax County ($12,597), Loudoun County ($10,833), or Prince William County ($9,577).

Arlington taxpayers should hope the School Board chairman takes a more serious approach to controlling the cost of public education in Arlington County although I'm in no way trying to disparage the importance of accurate and correct history textbooks.


Timothy Wise
President, Arlington County Taxpayers Association

January 05, 2011

Hot Air! Part 2.

On Monday of this week, we started growling about the Arlington County Board chairman’s New Year’s Day speech at the Board’s traditional organizational meeting. In that Growls, we focused on the chairman’s politically correct views on global warming even though the evidence shows that anthropogenic global warming is beginning to be seen as a sham.

Although the chairman served 12 years on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), including serving as its chairman on two separate occasions, his speech was silent about that service. The absence of any mention of that service is especially interesting in that his county bio goes to great length to emphasize that he “has represented Arlington on many regional transportation bodies.

Speaking of his service on the WMATA board, which lasted into December of last year, the Washington Post had an interesting list of the “top 10 D.C. area transportation stories of 2010” posted December 25, 2010. Mr. Zimmerman certainly had a part in at least three of those, i.e., “Metro fare increase;” “leadership turmoil;” and “busted escalators.” By the way, with Mr. Zimmerman's departure from the WMATA board, on January 1, the County Board ratified Mary Hynes's selection to serve on the WMATA board, according to the Arlington Sun Gazette.

But grab your wallets. He first mentions in the speech that Arlington has “(a) legacy of transit-oriented development” on which “to build a new model of urbanism,” but adds that it’s already been a “continuing theme of this Board” for over a decade. Somewhat later in the speech, he cites the following specifics, but without mention of the cost:

“The folks at Arlington Transportation are due to deliver 7 arterial road projects, 8 WalkArlington projects, and 7 BikeArlington projects – plus expand bike sharing to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. They’ll complete 23 bus stop/shelter projects, and add 6 new buses to the ART fleet.”

Just a bit of detail that Arlington taxpayers would like to know.


January 04, 2011

$14 Trillion and Climbing. Time to Hold the Line?

Yesterday, January 3, 2011, CBS News reported the U.S. Treasury website showed that as of last Friday, December 31, 2010, the National Debt exceeded $14.025 trillion. Specifically, CBS News reported:

“The U.S. Treasury website today reported that as of last Friday, the last day of 2010, the National Debt stood at $14,025,215,218,708.52.

“It took just 7 months for the National Debt to increase from $13 trillion on June 1, 2010 to $14 trillion on Dec. 31. It also means the debt is fast approaching the statutory ceiling $14.294 trillion set by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last February.”

In a linked story, CBS Evening News' Katie Couric explains why citizens should care about the national debt.  The chart below, which appeared with the CBS News article, shows how the national debt has grown since it exceeded $9 trillion in late 2008.


January 03, 2011

Hot Air! Part 1?

The Arlington County Board held their annual, organizational meeting on New Year’s Day, e.g., adopting the 2011 meeting schedule and making appointments. After those "important actions" were completed during the first few minutes, the real action got underway -- the chairman’s speech and the remarks by the other four panjandrums. According to an online story yesterday in the Arlington Sun Gazaette, the chairman’s speech lasted 17 minutes.

The Gazette’s story headline, “New Board Chair Aims to Champion Small Business in 2011,” provided the paper’s primary focus of the story. The headline of the Washington Post’s coverage of the meeting was similar, i.e., “Arlington County giving small businesses a voice on signs, policies.”

Let’s take a look at the new chairman’s (Chris Zimmerman) speech to see what those two stories missed. The speech printed out to five pages, and the first page was almost entirely devoted to Mr. Zimmerman’s politically correct views on anthropogenic global warming. He summed up his view in the first three paragraphs:

“I first had the chance to chair the Board in 1998.  Since then, planet earth has experienced its eight warmest years on record. (emphasis added)

“There is now an international scientific consensus that this fact,  1) is a manifestation of climate change induced by human activities, especially those related to the burning of fossil fuels;  and 2) that, unless arrested in the next few decades, this trend will have catastrophic consequences for our world.

“It is also a fact that, with 5% of global population, the United States contributes roughly one-quarter of the world’s atmospheric emissions.  The President has endorsed goals for addressing this crisis, including cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.  Unfortunately, our country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2007 were more than 15 percent higher than they were in 1990.”

Let’s do a bit of fact-checking, though. In one National Review Online blog, Brian Bolduc cites a post by global warming skeptic, geology professor Dr. Don J. Easterbrook, who wrote after reviewing “temperatures from the Greenland ice core for the past 10,000 years . . . virtually all of the past 10,000 years has been warmer than the present.” Bolduc goes on to note that Easterbrook also wrote:

“So where do the 1934/1998/2010 warm years rank in the long-term list of warm years? Of the past 10,500 years, 9,100 were warmer than 1934/1998/2010.  Thus, regardless of which year ( 1934, 1998, or 2010) turns out to be the warmest of the past century, that year will rank number 9,099 in the long-term list.

“The climate has been warming slowly since the Little Ice Age (Fig. 5), but it has quite a ways to go yet before reaching the temperature levels that persisted for nearly all of the past 10,500 years.”

In a second article, Anthony Watts wrote in his blog, What’s Up With That, on January 1, 2010 discussed a new paper in the International Journal of Geosciences that claims an “absence of correlation between temperature changes . . . and CO2.” Here’s the main point according to Watts:

“The main conclusion one arrives at the analysis is that CO2 has not a causal relation with global warming and it is not powerful enough to cause the historical changes in temperature that were observed. The main argument is the absence of immediate correlation between CO2 changes preceding temperature either for global or local changes. The greenhouse effect of the CO2 is very small compared to the water vapor because the absorbing effect is already realized with its historical values. So, the reduction of the outcoming long wave radiation window is not a consequence of current enrichment or even of a possible double ratio of CO2. The absence of correlation between temperature changes and the immense and variable volume of CO2 waste by fuel burning is explained by the weak power of additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to reduce the outcoming window of long wave radiation. This effect is well performed by atmosphere humidity due to known increase insolation and vapor content in atmosphere.”

Saying the earth has had it’s eight warmest years since he first chaired the Arlington County Board in 1998. it seems Mr. Zimmerman fails to make the analysis of just how much his often expansive, extensive rhetoric over those 13 years has contributed to global warming.

Since we covered less than 20% of the chairman’s speech, expect more later this week. In fact, there may even be more on the chairman's views on global warming.

January 02, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Economists are the real “party of no.” They keep saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch — and politicians keep on getting elected by promising free lunches."

   ~ Thomas Sowell

HT His December 29, 2010 National Review Online Column

January 01, 2011

Mostly Good but with a Touch of Very, Very Bad

Arlington County’s 2010 Annual Report is now available. According to the County Manager, the report highlights County’s accomplishments in such areas as financial, economic and environmental sustainability, public safety, infrastructure improvements, and capital programs. A few of the "2010 highlights" include:

  • The county retained its Triple-A bond rating, allowing the sale of $73.4 million in general obligation bonds at a true interest cost of 2.7 percent, the lowest rate on record.
  • Adopted the bi-annual Capital Improvement Program; during the year completed more than 100 capital projects.
  • Served an increased number of citizens in human services programs; since 2008 the “walk-in” service level at the Department of Human Services grew by 50 percent. To meet the added demand, $9.5 million in safety net funds were appropriated in the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.
  • Violent crime rate droped 8.3% in 2009 (the latest available statistics), overall there were fewer homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults.
  • Opened the Artisphere—Arlington’s new cultural center in Rosslyn, combining the former Newseum space with the neighboring Spectrum Theatre. The facility has four so-called performance venues, a Wi-Fi café, three visual art galleries, and a 4,000 square foot ballroom.
  • Gained control of Columbia Pike from the Arlington-Fairfax County line to Joyce Street, expediting the conversion of the Pike into a "main street," hopefully making the surrounding neighborhoods more accessible and pedestrian and transit friendlier.
  • The number of affordable housing rental homes increased to 6,059 units or 14 percent of the County’s multi-family rental stock.
  • Arlington’s residential recycling program was redesigned in 2009 with wheeled collection carts, and included an expanded list of acceptable items. These changes led to an increase of 24 percent in the amount of recyclable material collected. The drop in material allowed the County to renegotiate prices with contractual refuse haulers for a 10 percent price drop, and the County expects savings of $700,000 during the next three years.

There are a few highlights we chose to skip such as the "mail back" Census participation rate, the move of the health and welfare offices to Sequoia Plaza, and being named a "certified green government" by the Virginia Municipal League, which gets over $36,000 from Arlington County taxpayers for lobbying the Commonwealth in Richmond. Take some time to review the 2010 annual report. You, too, may be left wondering what happend to 52+ capital projects. The "2010 highlights" shows the county "completed more than 100 capital projects," but page 48 shows only 48 projnects completed.

But don't worry, it takes six pages to list all the awards and recognitions -- both organizational and invidividua.

Perhaps most interesting of all involves a major land acquisition in the Capital Improvement Program, which begins on page 48. The acquisition involves the "Coin Shop" at 3538 Wilson Boulevard. A bit of research shows that Arlington County purchased the property (RPC 19016005) on July 15, 2010 for $1,450,000. The property's assessed value on January 1, 2010, as determined by the Office of Real Estate Assessment, was $841,900 (land - $733,600 + improvements - $108,300). From the Google "street view", Arlington County taxpayers have dumped another $1,450,000 down the proverbial "black hole for the arts" since the property is adjacent to the "non-profit" Arlington Arts Center, although the property is owned by the Arlington County Board and was assessed on January 1, 2010 at $4,328,200 (RPC 19016004).

Take a few minutes to study the entire annual report. The above is just the result of a few minutes' reading. Rest assured, there surely are more tidbits that will get Arlington taxpayers fired-up.