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March 31, 2011

Your Taxes Are About To Go Up, Without a Vote

The great economist Milton Friedman once said, “Inflation is taxation without legislation.” Well, your taxes are about to “seriously” increase, according to a report in today’s USA Today, which began:

“U.S. consumers face "serious" inflation in the months ahead for clothing, food and other products, the head of Wal-Mart's U.S. operations warned Wednesday.”

Nevertheless, the USA Today story, by Jayne O’Donnell, went on to say:

“Still, inflation is "going to be serious," Wal-Mart U.S. CEO Bill Simon said during a meeting with USA TODAY's editorial board. "We're seeing cost increases starting to come through at a pretty rapid rate."

“Along with steep increases in raw material costs, John Long, a retail strategist at Kurt Salmon, says labor costs in China and fuel costs for transportation are weighing heavily on retailers. He predicts prices will start increasing at all retailers in June.

"Every single retailer has and is paying more for the items they sell, and retailers will be passing some of these costs along," Long says. "Except for fuel costs, U.S. consumers haven't seen much in the way of inflation for almost a decade, so a broad-based increase in prices will be unprecedented in recent memory."

“Consumer prices — or the consumer price index — rose 0.5% in February, the most since mid-2009, largely because of surging food and gasoline prices . . . .”

Write or call your representatives in Congress:

  • Senator Jim Webb (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024.
  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023.
  • Representative Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376.

March 30, 2011

Kudos to U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint

In a post yesterday at The Corner, one of several National Review Online blogs, Robert Costa writes:

“Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) is cheering on the Tea Party’s efforts to play hardball with Democrats on spending cuts. “I just hope that we are not so afraid of a government shutdown that we are not willing to make the right decisions,” he says in an interview with National Review Online. “That is what the Tea Party is for.”

“On Thursday, Tea Party groups will rally outside of the Capitol, urging lawmakers to pass a continuing resolution that includes more than $60 billion in spending cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year along with controversial legislative ‘riders’ to defund Obamacare and Planned Parenthood, among other federal programs.

“DeMint is pleased that the Tea Party is shaking up the spending debate and looks forward to joining the rally, if his schedule permits. “I am glad they are having it,” he smiles. “If it all possible, I will be there. I really appreciate that pressure. Already, too many people are forgetting that we were elected to get control of our spending and debt, and now we are arguing about cutting enough spending for a week’s worth of borrowing.”

Thank you, Senator DeMint! You can thank him by writing him at, or by calling 202-224-6121.

March 29, 2011

Time for an Inspector General for Arlington County?

And even with an Inspector General in Montgomery County, Maryland, Miranda Spivack of the Washington Post has written two quite lengthy reports saying the Montgomery IG has uncovered a Germantown developer who was “reimbursed twice by local government agencies for building a pumping station and water main, collecting more than $6 million on a project that cost them about $3 million.” In the March 15, 2011 Washington Post, Ms. Spivack adds:

“The payments occurred even though senior officials in the county government and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission were aware as early as 1998 of the potential for double payments, and some WSSC officials tried to stop them, the report says.

“The risk of double payments was also outlined in 2007 in a report by Montgomery County Council staff looking into reimbursement plans for the Clarksburg Town Center developer.”

Now, Montgomery County council members are confused. Spivack writes today in the Washington Post:

“But after a 90-minute hearing in which top county and water commission officials struggled to explain $6.7 million in payments and credits to a developer for a project that cost about $3 million, the lawmakers said they were more confused and worried than before.

“It is very difficult to decipher where the money went,” said council member Nancy Navarro (D-Eastern County), who chaired the session to review a recent county inspector general’s report. The report described a convoluted system of payments and credits. that appeared to have led Montgomery and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) to each reimburse the developer for the same pumping station and water main.

“I am not satisfied,” said Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring). “It raised more questions than it resolved.”

As I’ve written before, I have confidence in members of the finance staff. However, with a billion dollar government, it’s time for the Arlington County Board to hire an adequately-staffed Inspector General. Else, the panjandrums will find themselves similarly embarrassed.

March 28, 2011

Treasure Trove of Public Opinion on Taxes

While surfing around the Internet site of the American Enterprise Institute over the weekend, I came across a Study of Public Opinion on Taxes that was compiled by Karlyn Bowman, an AEI Resident Fellow and Andrew Rugg. It’s billed as “The most comprehensive collection of polls ever compiled on the subject of taxes.”

The data includes 70 years of data, and includes the individual questions asked and which polling firm. For example, Gallup has been asking the question, “Do you consider the amount of federal income taxes you have to pay as too high, about right, or too low?” since 1947. The authors summarized the following regarding the issue of “tax burden:”

“In seventy years of surveys, we can find no instance in which more than a tiny percentage of Americans said the amount they paid in taxes was too low. In most polls, pluralities or majorities say the amount is too high. But there have been a few instances recently, where a plurality have said their federal income taxes are ―about right. In 2009 Gallup data, for example, 46 percent said they paid too much and 48 percent about the right amount. On ten occasions since 1959, Gallup has asked people whether their taxes would rise or fall in the next year. On each occasion, more than 60 percent said that their taxes would rise.

“Surveys suggest that the local property tax is now seen as more onerous than the federal income tax. Thirty-six percent in February-March 2003 told Kaiser/NPR/Harvard that local property tax was the tax they disliked the most, followed by 29 percent who chose the income tax. Gallup shows a substantial jump since the late 1980s in the proportion of people mentioning the local property tax as the worst or least fair tax. In their April 2005 poll, 42 percent gave that response. Twenty percent said the federal income tax was the worst tax.”

The study is almost 100 pages long so I won’t try to comment further about individual issues. However, they include issues such as “value for your money,” tax fairness (and the rich),” “progressivity,” “taxes as a voting issue,” “reforming the tax system,” and “doing taxes.”

March 27, 2011

Quote of the Day

"The vocabulary of the political left is fascinating. It's viewed as "materialistic" and "greedy" to want to keep what you have earned. But it is "idealistic" to want to take away what someone else has earned and spend it for your own political benefit or feel good about yourself."

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Thomas Sowell's Column

March 26, 2011

No Need To Increase Real Estate Tax Rate, Part 2

I ended yesterday’s growls with the promise of posting the ACTA president’s testimony to the Arlington County Board at Thursday evening’s tax rate hearings. The testimony follows:

"Good evening, Board members. My name is Timothy Wise, and I am president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association.

"Let me first remind you, and those watching at home, that we are  here this evening because state law requires the meeting be held whenever the Board wants to raise taxes by 1% or more, and not because Board members want to listen to what taxpayers have to say.

"So how much are you raising taxes this year? If you use the method required by Virginia state law, you are effectively raising real estate taxes 6.7%.

"While you can say that you voted to advertise only a 1-cent increase in the real estate rate increase, that amounts to a 6.7% effective rate increase. For more on the effective real estate tax rate, please refer to the February 19 post at ACTA’s blog, called Growls.

"Let me add that although I did not survey all nearby local jurisdictions, I do know that Loudoun County advertised only a 2.1% effective rate increase. If a 2.1% increase is good enough for the people of Loudoun County, I would appreciate hearing you tell us why Arlington’s effective rate increase is more than three times higher than in Loudoun County.

"Let me close by citing the beginning paragraph and a portion of the last paragraph of an op-ed, titled “Progressive Government is Obsolete,” in last week’s Wall Street Journal by the deputy mayor of New York City, Stephen Goldsmith:

“Across the country, the interests of organized labor, elected officials and taxpayers are colliding over wages, work rules and the astronomical costs of retiree pensions and health care. As important as these specific issues are to resolve, there is another, more fundamental problem causing so many Americans to lose faith in their government: It is not government unions per se but progressive government itself—long celebrated in Wisconsin, New York and elsewhere—that no longer produces progressive results.”

"Goldsmith closed his op-ed by saying what is needed is a new approach to governance, one that respects not only those who are served, but also shows “more respect . . . for taxpayers.”

ACTA members and Arlington taxpayers are encouraged to e-mail the Arlington County Board here or use the County Board's "contact form" to express your concerns about increasing tax burdens.

March 25, 2011

No Need To Increase The Real Estate Tax Rate

Following the budget hearing on Tuesday evening that drew about 70 residents, last evening’s tax rate hearing “drew its usual smaller crowd,” according to Scott McCaffrey’s online report at the Arlington Sun Gazette. McCaffrey further introduced his article by writing:

“Speakers were split between those who want the County Board to raise the real estate tax rate 1 cent (to 96.8 cents per $100 assessed value) and those who said the government should find efficiencies and lower the rate.

“There is no rate increase necessary,” said Wayne Kubicki, a veteran budget-watcher who has served on the government’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.”

Mr. Kubicki was kind enough to provide me his testimony for Growls. His testimony follows:

"Mr. Chairman, good evening.

"The Manager’s proposed budget for FY12 is in fine shape.  It is balanced at the current tax rate.  It complies with your budget guidance.  No rate increase is necessary.

"If you’d like some additional revenue to spend, I have an extra $1.2M for you:

  • As you heard in your CPHD work session, permit fees there are understated by $200K.
  • The mid-year FY11 report, released a week ago, shows projected FY11 revenues for personal property, utility, meals & car rental taxes at a combined $1M higher than budgeted for FY12. Moving up the FY12 amounts to match would seem sensible.

"If you need a budget reduction, look at your vacant yet still funded FTEs.  There are currently 141 full-time ones.  7 of them have been vacant for over 18 months.  29 have been vacant for over 10 months – if you eliminated just 14 of these, you’d save over $1.3M.

"The hole in the Sheriff’s Department budget can be plugged with the excess full-year funding for Mary Marshall & Long Bridge Park sitting in Non-Departmental.

"Mix all this into any increases in real estate assessments over & above the budget book, and FY12 should be just fine, thank you.

"But that does NOT mean you should approve the current 95.8 cent rate.

"Let’s go back to that mid-year report.  Including FEMA’s reimbursement for the 2010 storms, it shows a FY11 surplus over $22M.

"Put another way, last year’s tax rate could have been over 4 cents lower, and FY11 would still balance.

"Paraphrasing a line from current culture, last year’s tax rate was just too darn high.

"It’d would be unconscionable for you to have raised the rate 8 cents last year, in the middle of a recession, increasing the average residential bill by $270, have that tax increase result in a $22M surplus – and then keep the money and spend it on who knows what.

"You usually use surpluses like this for so-called “one-time spending.”  This year, it’s time for some “one-time tax relief."

"Three of you may well be on the ballot this fall.  Consider the voter appeal – you could campaign saying, “Yes, I raised taxes – I created a surplus – but I gave it back to you.”  Sounds great, no?

"If you like, use some of the surplus on-time injections into things like AHIF, or a down-payment on rebuilding Lubber Run or establishing a year-round homeless shelter.  Combined, say, $5M.

"That would leave over $17M for rate relief.  Since a reduction would affect three tax payments, you could give one-time tax relief of around 2 cents – because, after all, last year’s tax rate was just too darn high.  Thank you for your time this evening."

I will post the ACTA president’s testimony here tomorrow.

You can watch the March 22 budget and March 24 tax rate hearings at the County Board webpage.

March 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

"If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one...."

   ~ James Madison, letter to Edmund Pendleton, January 21, 1792

HT Dr. Walter E. Williams' quotations page

March 23, 2011

At First, They Gave Us The Curly Light Bulbs

According to a news item posted today at WLS 980 radio in Chicago, “the U.S. government, on New Year's Day next year, will begin phasing” out the 100-watt incandescent light bulb, replacing them with “the compact fluorescent lamp (CFLs), which looks similar to an Arby's curly fry.” The article then added:

“The federal government claims that while the new bulbs will cost six to ten times the amount of the old round bulbs, they will save consumers in the long run because they last longer.

“But according to a Forbes report, that may not be entirely accurate.”

Now we learn of “how Washington ruined your washing machine.” Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week:

“It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it's ruined—and Americans have politics to thank.

“In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were "excellent" and five were "very good." By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were "fair" or "poor." This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as "often mediocre or worse."

“How's that for progress?

“The culprit is the federal government's obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren't as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.”

If the Washington panjandrums can’t get little things like light bulbs, toilets, and washing machines right, why should we trust them to get health care right? Sheesh!

See the March 19, 2011 growls for the phone numbers and links to address your Congressional representatives.

March 22, 2011

A Meat-Axe Approach to Budgeting?

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) spoke to the National Association of Development Organizations this afternoon in Arlington. Afterwards, CNSNews.com asked him “if he would support the $100 billion in cuts that House Republicans are proposing.” Chris Goins of CNSNews.com described Rep. Hoyer’s answer, writing:

“I voted against H.R.1,” he told CNSNews.com, referring to the full-year appropriations bill. “I thought it was a simply a meat-axe approach without any consideration of priorities. Nothing was put in priority. No hearings. No analysis.”

“He continued: “The way to do it is in a considered way, understanding the consequences of the cuts.”

“During his speech, Hoyer said that part of the solution to the deficit was to cut spending --  but he qualified his support.

“We can not cut spending recklessly,” Hoyer said. “Cuts have to be smart and targeted” Hoyer said.

“Simply having a political document that makes a pledge to America and picking a figure out of the air of a $100 billion. Why? Because you analyzed that $100 billion was the figure you could cut. No, but because it sounded good. Hundred is a nice round number picked out of the air, put in a document and is now trying to be implemented in Washington. Without any concern for the consequences of those cuts. Without any concern what is spending and what is investing.”

“According to Hoyer, Democrats have been more than willing to show compromise and they understand the deficit is a “substantial risk” to our economy and the welfare of our country.

“We are only targeting 14 percent of our budget; the other 86 percent is not being looked at,” he said.

“Hoyer emphasized that $100 billion out of an entire budget of $3.7 trillion may seem small, but it represents is 22 percent of discretionary spending.

All of that weasel-wording may indeed be true, but we growled on March 3, 2011 about the GAO report released thanks to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), which detailed 34 major areas of wasteful and duplicative government spending” that were estimated to waste between $100 and $200 billion. In fact, Sen. Coburn thought the GAO report “will make us look like jackasses.” Seems referring to cutting $100 billion as a meat-axe approach to budgeting is nothing but overdone rhetoric. Consequently, it seems Mr. Hoyer et al need to work harder with their GOP colleagues to avoid making them all look like jackasses. And those billions don't even include a lot of other wasteful spending we’ve growled about over the years. Sheesh!

By the way, Goins’ article includes a short Eyeblast clip of the video with Rep. Hoyer.

March 21, 2011

“Inching Up” Isn’t Precise Enough

At the Arlington County Board’s February 24, 2011 budget work session, one Board member raised a question about staff turnover rates. When the Board met with the personnel department to consider the Human Resource Department (HRD) budget, HRD provided the Board a chart of staff turnover by department (see Staff Turnover Rates at the Board Work Session Follow-up webpage).

The chart shows turnover rates for each county department for fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010. Overall, the county saw a turnover rate of 10% in FY 08. The rate then dropped to 9% in both FY 09 and FY 10. Although shown as 9% for those two years, HRD provided County Board members with the FY 2012 Compensation Analysis (also available at the Board Work Session Follow-up webpage), which reports the turnover as “inching upward” from 8.5% for 2009 to 9.3% for FY 2010.

Two departments experienced low turnover rates, at least relative to the overall rate, i.e., the Fire Department (6%/3%/6%) and the Police Department (8%/7%/6%).

In the Compensation Analysis, HRD writes that the turnover rate is “not necessarily alarming, this may be an indicator that employees are more willing to move to other organizations, whether for salary increases or other reasons.” Unfortunately, there is no analysis of exit interviews that would provide management a more precise indication of why employees are really leaving.

It might be helpful if county management cooperated with their regional cohorts to produce a report similar to the report produced by the regional school boards, i.e., the WABE Guide (available at the Arlington Public Schools website) with a compendium of performance indicators to compare a wide-range of local government operations.

The Compensation Analysis does express a concern about the salary structure. In support, it provides three indicators, e.g., the maximum salary for 77% of “benchmark jobs” lag behind the “average maximums;” approximately 50% of new hires are brought on “above mid-point;” and, approximately 22% of the workforce will be at the “maximum of their pay grade by the end of FY 2011.” The analysis provides other data as well, but unfortunately, it doesn’t show how many employees are leaving to enter the private workforce.

March 20, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”

    ~ Ronald W. Reagan

HT OnPower.org

March 19, 2011

Time to Eliminate Energy Subsidies!

Our friends at the National Taxpayers Union have released a "coalition letter" urging Congress to “put an end to energy subsidies.” The letter began:

“We are writing this letter to express our collective concern over the massive increase in subsidies, set-asides, and special treatment for politically connected energy sources that has largely defined American energy policy in recent years. According The Pew Charitable Trusts, the United States federal government provided $18.6 billion worth of direct financial subsidies to energy companies and organizations in 2009.

“While some energy programs may enjoy broad public support, one thing is clear: the trajectory of federal spending to support economically suspect energy sources is unsustainable. From direct payments and loan guarantees to mandates, neither the environment nor the American economy can afford to be hampered by these anti-growth, anti-competitive policies.”

In their letter to Congress, coalition members wrote:

“Instead of promoting a reliable and affordable energy industry, the subsidy-first energy policy that has prevailed the past three decades has created whole industries dependent on government, and focused as much on ensuring their share of taxpayer largesse as they are on developing energy. This is not  acceptable.”

The coalition provided three basic guidelines that should be followed for any new energy legislation in the 112th Congress:

  • No new subsidies.
  • No expansion of existing subsidies.
  • Evenly apply lower taxation across the board.

By the way, adding tax expenditures to the direct financial aid provided by the energy grants puts total federal spending in 2009 at “about $25 billion in fiscal year 2009, or $212 per household,” according to a press release from Pew.

Communicate with your Congressional representatives:
  • Senator Jim Webb (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024.
  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023.
  • Representative Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376.

March 18, 2011

Higher Taxes Aren’t The Answer

Two articles appeared this week explaining “there aren’t enough millionaires” to “fund our deficits.” One by Kevin Williamson of National Review Online that was posted on Monday and the other by Steve McCann who says “higher taxes can’t solve the deficit” and posted at American Thinker yesterday.

Kevin Williamson writes that “America’s problem is that the rich don’t have enough money.” (emphasis in  the original). He then goes on to explain:

“When it comes to the Scrooge McDuck set, the problem isn’t that they’re not rich enough, it’s that there aren’t enough rich — not enough to do what liberals want to do, anyway, which is to balance the budget by increasing taxes on them. Let’s deploy some always-suspect English-major math:

“There are lots of liberal definitions of “rich.” When Pres. Barack Obama talks about the rich, he’s talking about people living in households with income of more than $250,000 or more, the rarefied caviar-shoveling stratum occupied by the likes of second-tier public-broadcasting executives, Boston cops, nurses, and the city manager of Lubbock, Texas (assuming somebody in her household earns the last $25,000 to carry her over the line). Club 250K isn’t all that exclusive, and most of its members aren’t the yachts-and-expensive-mistresses types. (emphases in the original)

“Nonetheless, there aren’t that many of them. In fact, in 2006, the Census Bureau found only 2.2 million households earning more than $250,000. And most of those are closer to the Lubbock city manager than to Carlos Slim, income-wise. To jump from the 50th to the 51st percentile isn’t that tough; jumping from the 96th to the 97th takes a lot of schmundo. It’s lonely at the top.”

McCann introduces the problem this way:

“In the ongoing battle between the fiscal conservatives and the liberal Democrats, there appears little chance of any meaningful movement toward fiscal sanity without the so-called ultimate weapon of a shutdown being employed.   The conservative element of the Republicans in the House and Senate claim that only massive spending cuts can save the country from going off a financial cliff into bankruptcy.  The Democrats counter that spending really isn't the problem -- the country can afford the spending and more; it is that the rich are not paying enough in taxes.

“That same argument is used in various state capitals as well where the states are facing their own financial armageddon in battles with the public sector unions.

“The public, which has its own issues of joblessness and a rising cost of living, is caught in the middle.  It sounds very easy and somewhat fun to stick it to the rich rather than cut a program someone somewhere (which the media will find) cannot live without.  However they also instinctively know that it is the rich that create jobs and wealth.

“Perhaps the answer lies in understanding the dimension of the current financial dilemma and whether taxing the rich really does solve the problem.”

At the Heritage Foundation, Curtis Dubay has at least two items related to the topic of taxing the rich to pay for Big Government. The first is a “Backgrounder” in which he writes about the “Seven Myths About Taxing the Rich.” (No. 2306, August 3, 2009). Then last October, at the Foundation’s blog, The Foundry, he wrote that “you can’t tax the rich enough to close the deficit.” For example, he wrote:

“Closing the more than $1 trillion deficit Obama’s spending would produce in 2020 by taxing only the rich would require a top income tax rate of 134 percent. Of course it is impossible to tax more than 100 percent of any taxpayer’s income. More importantly, any rate even approaching such a dangerous level would destroy the economy. Period. So even if it were mathematically possible to tax more income than the rich earn, there would be none of it left for the government to confiscate.”

Finally, at the Cato Institute’s blog, Cato@Liberty, Chris Moody explained, “Why Taxing the Rich Is Not Enough to Fund Big Government.” He included a video of Cato fellow Dan Mitchell’s July 14, 2009 appearance on Fox New. Moody introduces the video this way:

“Appearing on Fox News on Monday, Cato's Daniel J. Mitchell explained why taxing the rich to pay for big government programs may make for a good sound bite on the campaign trail, but when there aren't enough wealthy people to tax, the middle class ends up footing the bill.

"When politicians are aiming at the rich, it's the middle class that winds up getting hit in the crossfire," Mitchell said. "They use 'tax the rich' as the rhetoric, but they always go after the ordinary people to get more money to fund their big government schemes." (emphasis added)

So rhetoric such as "Tax the Rich" is nothing but "feel good" politics designed to wage class warfare. Take a few minutes to watch the video. It's less than four minutes.

March 17, 2011

Arlington’s Political Leftists Still Push Plastic Bag Tax

In a “monkey see, monkey do” mentality, the Arlington County Board adopted a 2011 federal legislative package on Tuesday that included reiterating “their support for a measure by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8th) to impose a tax on single-use carry-out bags, such as those used in supermarkets or other retails outlets,” according to Scott McCaffrey’s report in today’s online Arlington Sun Gazette. McCaffrey went on to write:

“Board members for several years have championed the idea at the state level, but without authority from the General Assembly have been unable to move forward on it. A measure by Del. Adam Ebbin (D-49th) permitting localities to enact a 5-cents-per-bag tax died in a House of Delegates subcommittee this session.

“Getting a similar proposal through Congress would allow Arlington to circumvent the state government and restrictions under the Dillon Rule.

“Whether board members will have any more luck across the Potomac in Washington remains an open question. Moran introduced his measure in 2009, when Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate, but it didn’t pick up any cosponsors and died in the House Natural Resources Committee. It would have to be reintroduced this session in a chamber now controlled by Republicans.

“County officials privately acknowledge they don’t expect the federal legislation to gain any traction, but say they wanted to be on record in support of it.”

Once again, it’s a question of the panjandrums not listening to the people, but rather the politicians plundering the people. According to a poll released by the Center for Consumer Freedom today reported:

“A large majority of American consumers opposes efforts by big-government bureaucrats to regulate the type of bags they use to carry groceries home. These poll numbers arrive at a critical time when cash-strapped states and municipalities are trying to plug budget holes with burdensome plastic-bag taxes.

"According to the poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation in early March, more than 65% of Americans “oppose proposals that seek to ban or place a tax on plastic bags.” (emphasis added)

Monkey see, monkey do? Exactly. An op-ed in last week’s Ellicott City Patch by Kim Lemmonds wonders if Howard County will be following Montgomery County’s bag tax proposal. Also last week, Brian Hughes reported in the Washington Examiner:

“Another jurisdiction in the Washington area is on the verge of charging residents for using paper and plastic bags. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett on Monday proposed a nickel tax on such items at retail locations.

“The proposal mirrors a similar law in the District, but unlike its neighbor, the bill applies to virtually all stores and not just those that sell food.

“Leggett previously vowed that he would not raise taxes on county residents -- after passing steep energy and cell phone tax hikes this year -- but told The Washington Examiner that because the charge is largely avoidable, he is not breaking that pledge.

"If you don't want to pay the fee, get a reusable bag," he said. "It's that simple. It's not revenue enhancement. It's not like it's filling county coffers."

Yessiree, monkey see, monkey do. Panjandrums. They’re all alike.

And if you think issues never die and go away, take a look at the other items in Arlington's 2011 federal priorities package. Remember the boathouse? It's not dead, yet.

March 16, 2011

Stop Stop-Gap Governance

Yesterday on Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives passed a three week continuing resolution (CR). According to today’s Cypress Times of Texas, Eric Canton, the GOP’s majority leader, said of the bill’s passage in the House:

“In just the last five weeks, House Republicans have achieved $10 billion in spending cuts. This is just the start of our efforts to reduce wasteful government spending so that we can increase economic confidence allowing businesses to grow and people to get back to work. At a time when the government is borrowing nearly 40 cents of each dollar it spends, Washington must tighten its belt and do more with less. We hope that the Senate works quickly to approve this measure which is consistent with the previous short-term CR and H.R. 1 and will prevent a government shutdown."

Terrence Jeffrey of CNS News, however, puts that $10 billion in perspective in an article in today’s CNS News, explaining the national debt increased $72 billion during just the very day the House passed the CR. Jeffrey wrote:

“If Congress were to cut $6 billion every three weeks for the next 36 weeks, it would manage to save between now and late November as much money as the Treasury added to the nation’s net debt during just the business hours of Tuesday, March 15.

“At the close of business on Monday, according to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Public Debt, the total national debt stood at $14.166 trillion ($14,166,030,787,779.80). At the close of business Tuesday, the debt stood at $14.237 trillion ($14,237,952,276,898.69), an increase of $71.9 billion ($71,921,489,118.89).

“Since the beginning of fiscal year 2011--which began on Oct. 1, 2010--the national debt has climbed from $13.5616 trillion ($13,561,623,030,891.79) to $14.2379 trillion ($14,237,952,276,898.69) an increase of $676.3 billion ($676,329,246,006.90).

“Congress would need to cut spending by $6 billion every three weeks for approximately the next six and a half years (338 weeks) just to equal the $676.3 billion the debt has increased thus far this fiscal year.”

Thank goodness for the 54 GOP freshman who were supported by the Tea Party (Roll Call Vote 179) for voting against the resolution. They sure seem to understand the need for substantial budget cutes in order to get the nation's fiscal house in order, and not more short term solutions such as the CR’s.

According to today's Politico, "some GOP lawmakers are becoming increasingly wary of a faction that rejects substantial spending cuts because they want deeper ones or the inclusion of divisive social policy riders." It seems to this scribe that it's some of those old-time GOPers who don't fully understand how critical the nation's fiscal crisis really is. The Daily Caller also reported today that "GOP leaders, mainline caucus fume at conservative 'no' votes on three-week CR."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) is cited in a second Daily Caller article today, which included a quote that was in an op-ed Rubio wrote that appeared in RedState.com:

“I will no longer support short-term budget plans. While attempts at new spending reductions are commendable, we simply can no longer afford to nickel-and-dime our way out of the dangerous debt America has amassed . . . With Congress set to begin another week-long recess next week, every senator and representative should feel ashamed if they have to go home again, look their constituents in the eye, and explain why nothing is being done about our debt crisis.” 

HT Mark Levin Show.

March 15, 2011

How Much Is Your Cell Phone Taxed?

The Tax Foundation recently published a new study of state-by-state cell phone tax rates, noting, “Taxes on mobile phones are significantly higher than many other common consumer items and are often hidden or obscured by state and local governments,” according to a new Tax Foundation analysis (Fiscal Fact #259).

Their news release provided these additional findings (emphases in the original):

  • The average U.S. wireless consumer pays taxes and fees of 16.26 percent, of which state-local charges average 11.21 percent.
  • 23 states have average state-local wireless taxes and fees in excess of 10 percent; with federal taxes, some cell phone subscribers pay more than 20 percent in taxes.
  • States favor the taxes because they can raise revenue in a relatively hidden way. For example, Texas sued Sprint because the company listed a state tax as a line-item in its bill, rather than hiding it from customers.
  • Universal Service Fund (USF) charges are modest in most states but particularly excessive in Nebraska and Kansas, where they exceed 4 percent of the wireless bill.
  • Cell phones are taxed at a much higher level than other consumer items, even as much as or more than alcohol or cigarettes. In Nebraska, the combined federal-state-local average rate is 23.69 percent, and in four other states (Florida, Illinois, New York, and Washington), it exceeds 20 percent.
  • Notably among local jurisdictions, Baltimore, Maryland imposes a $4 per line per month tax on wireless users, on top of federal and state charges. Nearby Montgomery County, Maryland imposes a $3.50 per line per month tax. These per line charges are especially burdensome on low-priced "family share" plans.

Virginia ranked 43rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia with an average state-local tax rate of 6.56%. When combined with federal taxes, Virginians pay a 11.61% combined tax rate. By comparison, Marylanders pay a 17.28% combined rate while D.C. residents pay a combined tax rate of 16.63%.

Now that’s a reason for living on the west and south of the Potomac.

March 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

"One of the biggest obstacles to economic recovery is that politicians and the media are both focused on how government can make the economy recover, rather than on how it can let the economy recover. One of the biggest deterrents to investments — and the jobs they could create — is uncertainty over what new bright ideas will come out of Washington to change the rules in midstream."

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT National Review Online Column

March 13, 2011

Factions, Moochers, Parasites and the Welfare State

Lawrence Hunter does a great job of writing about the welfare state in two online Forbes magazine columns -- February 25 and March 10, 2011. Here's the summary paragraph from the second column, which suggests where Hunter is headed in the two columns:

"For a peek at what lies ahead for the welfare state, look at Greece and Madison, Wisconsin.  A collapsing Ponzi Scheme is an ugly sight to behold."

The basis for Hunter's essays begins with the effort by our Founding Fathers to provide us with limited government and "to guard against democracy running amok." As people often say, James Madison and the others would be turning over in their graves if they knew what we have done to what they gave us. Hunter writes:

"James Madison would recognize modern day democracy as the realization of his worst fear.  It consists of a host of parasitic minorities and sometimes majorities (what Madison called “Factions,” what Ayn Rand called “looters, moochers and parasites”) acting strategically in cahoots with politicians and bureaucrats, including vote trading and influence peddling and using the courts and the constabulary to enforce political extortion and blackmail, all in the name of the “public interest.”  The entire exercise is an elaborate game of stealing from each other, exploiting fellow citizens for personal (group) gain under the color of law.  This great circular game of mutual exploitation—Interest Group Liberalism—is the central dynamo at the core of the modern welfare state."

I'm inclined to provide the entire text from the two articles, but I can't and I won't. Rather, readers are encouraged to use the links to visit the Forbes website, and read the two articles at your leisure.

March 12, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Amid all the media hysteria over the price of gasoline and the profits of "Big Oil," one simple fact has been repeatedly overlooked: The oil companies' earnings are just under 10 percent of the price of a gallon of gas, while taxes take 17 percent. Yet who ever accuses the government of "greed"?"

    ~ Thomas Sowell

HT Townhall.com

March 11, 2011

Digging Ever Deeper Into Taxpayers’ Pockets

The most expensive bill in this week’s Taxpayer’s Tab from the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) is H.R. 555, sponsored by erstwhile presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio). According to Congress’ THOMAS website, the Universal Prekindergarten Act would:

“Directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide grants to a designated state agency for development of universal prekindergaten programs for all children three, four, and five years old in the state.

“Requires the state to: (1) match federal funds by at least 20%; and (2) submit with its grant application a plan to establish, coordinate, and implement a statewide universal prekindergarten program.

“Authorizes state agencies to set aside up to 5% of a grant for ongoing professional development activities for teachers and staff of prekindergarten programs that wish to participate.”

NTU reports the annualized cost of the bill would be $30 billion, or $150 over five years. They also described the bill as follows:

“H.R. 555 would require the Department of Health and Human Services to award matching grants to state governments. States would receive funds after submitting an 11 point plan outlining what would be taught, what agencies and departments would be involved in the program, and how they would provide for 20 percent of matching Federal funds.

“Local individual schools and programs would also be required to describe how they would collaborate with existing community-based child care providers and Head Start programs, submit a plan to promote parental involvement in the program, and provide data detailing all funding sources -- including private contributions -- received by the program. Class sizes would be limited to 20 children and the programs must maintain at least a 10:1 student-to-teacher ratio.

“The Prekindergarten Grant Program would initially be funded at $10 billion in FY 2012 and increase by $10 billion each of the next five years. The appropriations in H.R. 555 would be in addition to the $8.1 billion in Head Start funding that was requested by the President in his FY 2012 budget.”

Given the nation’s fiscal problems and Congress’ difficulties in reining-in federal government spending, it’s shocking that any member of Congress, let alone a hyper-progressive one, would introduce such legislation. It makes a taxpayer wonder what world some of these members of Congress live in. Rep. Kucinich, who served as mayor of Cleveland in my youth is just Example No. 1 of Congress’ big tax-and-spenders.

If you are concerned with how Rep. Kucinich spends taxpayers’ money, call and tell him. His phone numbers:

  • Capitol Hill -- 202-225-5871
  • Parma, Ohio -- 440-845-2707

Members of his district can write to him here.

March 10, 2011

Ever Increasing Sales Taxes

The Tax Foundation's policy blog reports today on sales tax data provided by Vertex, saying the company found:

"[T]he average combined U.S. sales and use tax rate increased to a record high of 9.64 percent compared to the previous record of 8.63 percent in 2009. Additionally, the average combined rate of 9.64 percent marks the highest average since Vertex started tracking the data in 1982."

The Tax Foundation also reported:

"The report valuably tracks new taxing jurisdictions and changes within existing ones: far from reducing the burdensome number of sales tax jurisdictions, there were 273 new ones created in 2010. Altogether, new and changed sales taxes have been running at about 676 per year."

The blog also discussed a situation in Tuba City, Arizona, where Vertex found a combined sales tax of 13.75%. However, it seems Tax Foundaton interns were unable to confirm that it is being charged. With that exception, there are four localities in Alabama's Tuscaloosa County that charge a combined 11% sales tax.

What a country? Is there any state or local government in America that significantly lowers taxes, let alone sales taxes. We would be happy to give them the kudos they deserve.

March 09, 2011

Be Thankful You Don’t Live in New Jersey

In their most recent annual report on the state-local tax burdens shouldered by taxpayers in each state, the Tax Foundation found that tax burdens in 2009 fell “as New Jersey’s citizens pay the most, Alaska’s least.”

With a goal of focusing on taxpayers rather than on tax collections, the Tax Foundation’s report tries to “answer the question: How much money have state and local governments collected? The Census Bureau publishes the definitive comparative data answering that question.” The Tax Foundation provides the following example:

“When Connecticut residents work in New York City and pay income tax there to both the state and the city, the Census Bureau will duly tally those amounts as New York tax collections, but we will count them as part of the tax burden of Connecticut's residents.”

The Tax Foundation lists four “key findings,” which are:

  • Taxpayers pay taxes not only to the state and local governments where they reside but also to out-of-state governments, both naturally and by design. Nationwide, over a quarter of all state and local taxes are collected from non-residents, and a true measure of the tax burden on the residents of any state must take this into account. This paper attempts to quantify the tax shifting across states and how it affects the distribution of state and local tax burdens.
  • During fiscal year 2009, in the midst of a national recession, both income and taxes shrank, but taxes fell faster than incomes. The result was that tax burdens decreased from 9.9 percent in 2008 to 9.8 percent in 2009.
  • In 2009, the residents of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut paid the highest state-local tax burdens in the nation. They're the only three states where taxpayers give up 12 percent or more of their income in state-local taxes, a full percentage point above the next highest state, Wisconsin.
  • Alaskans, consistently the least taxed in the nation, again paid the least in 2009, just 6.3 percent. The next lowest state, over a full percentage point higher, is Nevada at 7.5 percent.

Virginia ranked 33rd in FY 2009 with a state-local tax burden of 9.1%. By comparison the U.S. average state-local tax burden was 9.8%. Three states stand out, however, because their state-local tax burdens are 12.0% or higher. At the other end of the spectrum is Alaska, where the tax burden is 6.3%.

Chart 3 tracks state-local tax burden from 1977 to 2009. Overall, the U.S. state-local tax burden ranged from 10.4% in 1977 to a low of 9.4% in both 1980 and 2000. Virginia’s state-local tax burden ranged between 9.8% in 1977 and 9.1% in both 1980 and 2009.

Below is a Tax Foundation map that identifies those states with the highest (darkest), lowest (unshaded), and states in the middle (lighest):

 

March 08, 2011

Pushing Arlington County Taxpayers Too Far?

The Arlington County School Board made their annual visit to the Arlington County Civic Federation last Tuesday, March 1, to present what amounts to a “state of the Arlington Public Schools (APS)” presentation. A copy of the School Board’s slide presentation is available under "Membership Meeting" at the Civic Federation website.

School Board member Sally Baird’s opening comments addressed the school system’s “capacity challenges.” She said the “stark reality” is that APS faces “5000+ additional students by 2016.” She noted that from 2001-2005, they saw “declining” enrollment, but that began “increasing” in 2006. However, it’s “crowded everywhere” now.

On another slide, Baird noted that in the mid-1960’s, APS had 26,000+ students and 35 elementary schools. Enrollment dropped to 14,000 in the mid-late 1980’s, and it’s estimated to be 26,000 by 2016 with 22 elementary schools.

Let’s look at it another way. According to one slide, there was a system-wide shortage of 834 seats by 2013 and a shortage of 3,387 seats by 2016. In studying capacity needs, Ms. Baird explained they look at resident live births and both student generation factors from different housing types as well as from Arlington’s various neighborhoods.

Ms. Baird said staff is making various recommendations, including increasing class sizes, the use of relocatables, and various lease options. The most expensive of the staff recommendations would be to construct a new elementary school for 2016, which would provide 600 seats.

Will the School Board include in their legislative priorities for the 2012 General Assembly a recommendation for school choice? Just asking, but some taxpayers would like to know. At least school vouchers. But another $35 -- $50 million elementary school? Sheesh!

March 07, 2011

RSA Dies. Keep The RSA Dead!

Several slides in the Arlington County Manager’s presentation on revenue at a budget worksession on February 22, 2011 dealt with the revenue sharing agreement (RSA), which was initially adopted in 2001. The "(i)ntent was to provide ‘consistent and stable forecast of revenue for annual fiscal planning.’” In the intervening years, “(n)umerous revision” have been made, especially since 2005, “primarily to exclude revenues for County needs.” Most of those revisions were made in the fall 2009.

The Manager’s presentation went on to explain that the “(c)urrent agreement provides (a) disproportionate share of revenues to the Schools as enrollment increases.” As a result, she went on, “the Schools transfer for FY 2012 would have been 51.2% of shared local revenue for a total transfer of $391 million or $31 million over the FY 2011 adopted level.” Moreover, the county’s portion would have resulted in only “an $8 million increase over FY 2011.”

The County Manager then recommend that “(N)ew revenue growth ($38.7 million” (be) split based on FY 2011 share of All local tax revenue” be split 53.9% County and 46.1%. In addition, she urged a simplified methodology, primarily by eliminating exclusions, and then reworking the agreement in the fall.

The slide presentation contained a great deal of informative detail, including such information as the “county transfer per student,” which increased from $10,780 in FY 2002 to $17,922 in FY 2009, dropping slightly to $17,010 in the proposed FY 2012 budget.

At the School Board’s own budget worksession following the Superintendent’s presentation of his proposed FY 2012 budget on February 24, 2011, the Board’s discussion was focused on a table titled “County Transfer Summary.” In addition, the School Board asked for a “chart which shows the percentage of total County tax revenue APS has received over the past five years. Schools staff provided their chart in “School Board Question #05,” which you can find in the School Board material for their March 8, 2011 budget worksession.

By the way, during their annual visit to the Arlington County Civic Federation on March 1, 2011, the School Board was asked about the RSA by two ACTA delegates, and they were told, among other comments, that the RSA has indeed been modified a number of times, and that they do plan to look at it in the fall.

My apologies if the above seems a bit verbose. However, the is so much complexity, and so little space. Consequently, the County Manager’s recommendation to simplify the methodology seems especially relevant.  A better idea is to let the revenue sharing agreement die an ignominous death. Rather, the Superintendent and School Board should be required to develop and defend a budget that is needed to provide Arlington students an education. Don’t put the Schools budget on auto-pilot.

March 06, 2011

Quote of the Day

"When government uses subsidies to moralize, as with tax preferences for bonds that can be used to finance this but not that, government is speaking. It is expressing opinions about what is and is not wholesome. And once government starts venting such opinions, how does it stop?"

   ~ George Will

Source: Page 64, "As Certain As Death -- Quotations About Taxes," TaxAnalysts.com

March 05, 2011

Can The American Welfare State Be Changed?

You’re missing a lot if you’ve never watched an Uncommon Knowledge video. The videos feature Hoover Institution fellow Peter Robinson interviewing political leaders, distinguished scholars, and leading journalists.

One of the latest is Robinson's interview with William Voegeli, author of “Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State.” (see book cover below). I still have a few more pages to read, but I can say that it’s a book worth reading if you wish to understand the growth of America’s welfare state. Here’s what GoodReads.com says about Voegeli’s “Never Enough:”

“Since the beginning of the New Deal, American liberals have insisted that the government must do more-much more-to help the poor, to increase economic security, to promote social justice and solidarity, to reduce inequality, and to mitigate the harshness of capitalism. Nonetheless, liberals have never answered, or even acknowledged, the corresponding question: What would be the size and nature of a welfare state that was not contemptibly austere, that did not urgently need new programs, bigger budgets, and a broader mandate? Even though the federal government's outlays have doubled every eighteen years since 1940, liberal rhetoric is always addressed to a nation trapped in Groundhog Day, where every year is 1932, and none of the existing welfare state programs that spend tens of billions of dollars matter, or even exist.

Never Enough explores the roots and consequences of liberals' aphasia about the welfare state's ultimate size. It assesses what liberalism's lack of a limiting principle says about the long-running argument between liberals and conservatives, and about the policy choices confronting America in a new century. Never Enough argues that the failure to speak clearly and candidly about the welfare state's limits has grave policy consequences. The worst result, however, is the way it has jeopardized the experiment in self-government by encouraging Americans to regard their government as a vehicle for exploiting their fellow-citizens, rather than as a compact for respecting one another's rights and safeguarding the opportunities of future generations.”

Here’s how Big Government introduces Peter Robinson’s interview with Voegeli:"

“The welfare state isn’t going anywhere.  The current debate is, as our recent guest William Voegeli argues, simply “narcissism of small differences.”  It will surely mean a nasty fight, but it won’t end with any dramatic changes to the public’s philosophy of government and what it is meant to do or provide.  The truth is – people like getting stuff.  And politicians have no incentive to be clear about how the welfare state works.  Instead, they are comfortable with the vast majority of the public fundamentally misunderstanding social security and welcome the welfare state’s ability to buy off voters.

“Why so pessimistic?  As Voegeli argues in the episode below, “liberal victories advance liberalism.  Conservative victories postpone liberalism.”  Even in the reign of the Republican Party from 1980 – 2007 (where the GOP controlled any combination of the White House, House and Senate), the cost of the welfare state ballooned 77%.

“No one under the age of 45 has any memory of government being organized any differently  – FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society fundamentally changed the intellectual framework for our government,  We went from a limited constitutional government to a more energetic, powerful government that can (try to) solve people’s problems.   Voegeli, while submitting to the reality of a continued welfare state, argues that the GOP needs to find a welfare state that we can live with and admire.  One that creates a social safety net that actually helps those who really need it, without propping up and enabling those that don’t and/or spending money that we simply do not have.

“For a historical look at the creation of the welfare state, its growth and continuation (and thoughts on what to do about it) . . . .”

You can watch the interview at either of:

Mr. Voegeli also appeared at a “book event” at the Heritage Foundation on June 22, 2010. The event’s video is just under 56 minutes in length, and is described as follows:

“While politicians blame party rivals for the impending economic and political crisis, the growing reliance on government assistance, and the projected $10 trillion debt over the next decade, the American people are left with ambiguous rhetoric, unanswered questions, and anxiety over their financial futures.  In his debut publication, Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State, William Voegeli argues that the failure to speak clearly and candidly about the welfare state’s limits has wide-reaching and grave consequences, as America continues to incur obligations it can’t afford while failing to establish priorities for the welfare state’s finite resources.  Devoting particular attention to liberals’ failure – or refusal – to provide a limiting principle and rigorous criteria for the welfare state, Voegeli shatters liberal arguments that the government needs still more dramatic expansions of its spending and programs to meet its obligations.  Never Enough assesses what liberalism’s lack of a limiting principle means for the decades-old argument between liberals and conservatives as well as the policy choices confronting America in a new century.”

Additional resources include this 7-minute C-SPAN video, this George Will column at the Albany Times Union, or this book review by history and humanities professor Fred Siegel posted at the Claremont Review of Books. Professor Siegel summarizes his book review this way:

Never Enough, the best book written on liberalism in recent decades, is an essential read for understanding how we came to this pass. It articulates the understandings of what the Tea Partiers fear and denounce but aren't able to explain. What's missing, however, is the sense of how liberalism transformed itself over time from believing in the possibilities of human perfectibility, to believing in government as an inexhaustible source of patronage and entitlements. The rapaciousness of this new framework may undermine itself. If so, Voegeli's well-argued critique will have been too pessimistic.”

Available at Barnes and Noble

March 04, 2011

FY 2012 Budget Overview, Arlington’s Government Schools

The Superintendent presented his proposed FY 2012 budget to the School Board on February 24. The schools’ press release, announcing release of the FY 2012 budget, provides a lot of information, including the following:

“The FY 2012 budget totals $469.8 million which is a 6.3% increase from the FY 2011 Adopted Budget.  The cost per pupil in the proposed budget is $18,115, which is slightly greater than the cost per pupil for the current school year, but still significantly less than what it was even four years ago when APS budgeted for almost 4,000 fewer students.”

In brief, the county schools are funded by the following sources, according to the Superintendent’s FY 2012 budget (all funds):

  • County Transfer -- 80.8%
  • State Revenue -- 10.6%
  • Local Revenue - 3.4%
  • Federal Aid -- 2.8%
  • Carry Forward -- 2.3%

Here’s where all that money goes (all funds expenditures):

  • Salaries -- 59.2%
  • Employee Benefits -- 19.3%
  • Contractual Services -- 14.5%
  • Materials and Supplies -- 3.1%
  • Other Operating Costs -- 1.8%
  • Equipment -- 1.7%
  • Staff Development -- 0.4%

Source: graphs on pages 32 and 35, Superintendent’s FY 2012 Proposed Budget.

Come back for more detailed information on the APS FY 2012 budget.

March 03, 2011

Looking "Like Jackasses"

Thanks to “a provision inserted by Sen. (Tom) Coburn (R-Oklahoma) into a law that raised the federal borrowing limit last year,” the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on Tuesday that detailed “34 major areas of wasteful government spending,” according to the the Wall Street Journal and the Foundry, a blog of the Heritage Foundation.

According to the cover letter of GAO's report to Congress (requires Adobe):

“This is GAO’s first annual report to Congress in response to a new statutory requirement that GAO identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives, either within departments or governmentwide, which have duplicative goals or activities. Congress asked GAO to conduct this work and to report annually on our findings. This work will inform government policymakers as they address the rapidly building fiscal pressures facing our national government. GAO’s most recent update of its annual simulations of the federal government’s fiscal outlook underscores the need to address the long-term sustainability of the federal government’s fiscal policies.”

Damian Paletta wrote in part in the Wall Street Journal article: “The agency (i.e., GAO) found 82 federal programs to improve teacher quality; 80 to help disadvantaged people with transportation; 47 for job training and employment; and 56 to help people understand finances . . . .”

The Washington Examiner began their editorial yesterday this way:

“Nobody with even minimal knowledge of how public bureaucracies work should be surprised by the Government Accountability Office's conclusion that there is a "staggering level of duplication" in the federal government. Duplication is inevitable when professional politicians in both major parties go for decades using tax dollars to buy votes among favored constituencies, and reward friends, former staffers, family members and campaign contributors with heaping helpings from the pork barrel. With the inevitable program duplication also comes an endless supply of official duplicity as presidents, senators and representatives rationalize spending billions of tax dollars on programs they know either don't work as promised, or that perform the same or similar functions as existing efforts and are therefore redundant.

"This report will make us look like jackasses," Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., predicted Monday when he read an advance copy of the GAO report . . . .” (emphasis added)

Here is a link to the GAO report, but be forewarned that it’s 345-pages long. You may want to start with a look at Table 1, which provides a summary of the 34 major areas, and begins on page 5. Two examples:

  • Economic Development: Area identified: The efficiency and effectiveness of fragmented economic development programs are unclear. Federal agencies and programs where duplication, overlap or fragmentation may occur: USDA, Department of Commerce (Commerce), Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Small Business Administration (SBA); 80 programs involved
  • Social Services: Area identified: Actions needed to reduce administrative overlap among  domestic assistance programs. Federal agencies and programs where duplication, overlap or fragmentation may occur: USDA, DHS, and HHS; 18 programs involved

In their cover letter, GAO summarizes the results of their work this way:

“Overlap and fragmentation among government programs or activities can be harbingers of unnecessary duplication. Reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of tax dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services. The areas identified in this report are not intended to represent the full universe of duplication, overlap, or fragmentation within the federal government. We will continue to identify additional issues in future reports.”

If Senator Coburn’s remark about the report making Congress looking like jackasses raises your blood press or get your blood boiling, I can only wonder why you are even reading Growls. But if the GAO report does indeed upset you, then start calling your Congress Critter on Capitol Hill -- 202-224-3121 -- or, join your local Tea Party organization.

UPDATE (3/4/11). Two items.

First, Brandon Greife blogs at the National Taxpayers Union's blog, Government Bytes writes about the GAO report:

Eliminating bureaucratic waste while making government more efficient for taxpayers should be a no-brainer for Congress. But as Reagan said, “no government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size.” Fortunately, Rep. Jeff Duncan, has introduced a bill to resurrect the “Committee on Reduction of Nonessential Federal Programs” tasked with identifying and cutting redundant federal programs. The idea, a throwback to the “Byrd Committee,” which sought out government waste to ease the stress on the nation’s finances prior to World War II, is a welcome idea given Congress’ $1.65 trillion overspending problem. It’s also the perfect prescription given the GAO’s grim diagnosis.

Second, in their weekly wastebasket today, Taxpayers for Common Sense writes:

We’re going to assign some required reading for lawmakers searching for money-saving ideas as they tackle the upcoming budget bills. The taxpayers’ in-house watchdog, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), just produced a report the length of a winter novel outlining government programs that waste dollars by duplicating functions in other agencies. The list reads like a tragicomedy: From Agriculture to Defense, Economic Development to Energy, Homeland Security to Income Security, the report reveals money lying in plain sight for programs we are paying once, twice, three times or more for. Sure we’ve heard about some of this before, but we can’t afford any more dithering, we need concentrated action from Congress.

The report highlights many programs that Taxpayers for Common Sense has long warned are at risk for waste. The agency was cautious about assigning a dollar figure to eliminating duplicative programs, but Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) ventured a guess of up to $200 billion. Why the hesitancy? Because the potential for savings is so dependent on how much actual overlap there is and how deep the reforms and consolidation would go. But with the country staring down the barrel of a $1.65 trillion budget deficit, there’s no time like the present for Congress to ramp up oversight of these programs and lay down clear, well-defined, and measurable metrics for success.

March 02, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Another false remedy for poverty is the progressive income tax, as well as a very heavy burden of capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes, and corporate income taxes. All of these have  the effect of discouraging production, investment, and capital accumulation. To that extent they must prolong rather than cure poverty."

   ~ Henry Hazlitt

HT As Certain as Death -- Quotation About Taxes (2010), TaxAnalysts.com

March 01, 2011

Quote of the Day

“If history could teach us anything, it would be that private property is inextricably linked with civilization.”

    ~ Ludwig von Mises

HT OnPower.org