« October 2012 | Main | December 2012 »

November 30, 2012

A Thought on Tax Systems

"A good and just tax system should be designed to make the poor rich, not the rich poor. The preoccupation with equality sometimes leads to policies that get that objective reversed, as when Barack Obama says we should raise the capital gains rate even if it doesn't raise revenues for the government, for "the purpose of fairness." How is an outcome that hurts everyone fair?"

~ Stephen Moore, page 5, "Who's the Fairest of Them All?"

HT Barnes & Noble

November 29, 2012

General Assembly Asked to Support Arlington Citizens

According to an online story posted today at the Arlington Sun Gazette by Scott McCaffrey, local Republicans are trying a "new tack to stop" the Columbia Pike Streetcar, which we growled about on October 13, 2012. McCaffrey writes:

"It may be a Hail Mary pass with time ticking away in the fourth quarter, but county Republicans think they may have found a way to derail plans for the Columbia Pike streetcar – or at least force county officials to go to the public for approval.

"The Arlington County Republican Committee on Nov. 28 unanimously adopted a resolution calling on the General Assembly to step in and require that Arlington hold a referendum before selling bonds to support the proposed five-mile transit line, which would connect Pentagon City to Skyline.

“People in this county really want to talk about the Columbia Pike trolley,” said Wayne Kubicki, who proposed the measure. But without legislative action, “this would never be put in front of the voters.”

"Arlington officials aim to sell $120 million in bonds to help pay for the quarter-billion-dollar streetcar system. But they found a loophole around the requirement that taking on the debt must be preceded by voter approval in a referendum."

Kudos to the Wayne Kubicki and the local GOP for their efforts in getting politicians to think they are here to serve citizens rather than citizens serving the state.

November 28, 2012

Are Some States in Financial Death Spirals?

William Baldwin, who writes about investment strategies for Forbes magazine, urges us to be careful where our capital is invested. In an article this week, he writes:

“Thinking about buying a house? Or a municipal bond? Be careful where you put your capital. Don’t put it in a state at high risk of a fiscal tailspin.

“Eleven states make our list of danger spots for investors. They can look forward to a rising tax burden, deteriorating state finances and an exodus of employers. The list includes California, New York, Illinois and Ohio, along with some smaller states like New Mexico and Hawaii.

“If your career takes you to Los Angeles or Chicago, don’t buy a house. Rent.”

According to Baldwin, 11 states qualify as death spiral states. In his view, “(t)wo factors determine whether a state makes this elite list of fiscal hellholes. The first is whether it has more takers than makers. A taker is someone who draws money from the government, as an employee, pensioner or welfare recipient. A maker is someone gainfully employed in the private sector.” He explains the second factor this way:

“The second element in the death spiral list is a scorecard of state credit-worthiness done by Conning & Co., a money manager known for its measures of risk in insurance company portfolios. Conning’s analysis focuses more on dollars than body counts. Its formula downgrades states for large debts, an uncompetitive business climate, weak home prices and bad trends in employment.

“Conning rates North Dakota the safest state to lend money to, Connecticut the most hazardous. A state qualifies for the Forbes death spiral list if its taker/maker ratio exceeds 1.0 and it resides in the bottom half of Conning’s ranking.”

So which are the 11 death spiral states. According to Baldwin, along with their “taker ratios” are:

  1. Ohio -- 1.00
  2. Hawaii -- 1.02
  3. Illinois -- 1.03
  4. Kentucky -- 1.05
  5. South Carolina -- 1.06
  6. New York -- 1.07
  7. Maine -- 1.07
  8. Alabama -- 1.10
  9. California -- 1.39
  10. Mississippi -- 1.49
  11. New Mexico -- 1.53

Forbes includes a video of Mr. Baldwin explaining his analysis, and Real Clear Politics also posts a Fox News video explaining Baldwin’s analysis. Neither is especially long.

If you are leery of the Baldwin analysis, Huffington Post has a column by Mark Yzaguirre. He writes, “While (Baldwin’s) article makes some good points about the problems that an overextended public sector can create for investment in particular states and he provides some decent investment advice, Baldwin uses a simplistic and in many ways insulting method for determining whether a given state is in a "death spiral.”

Unfortunately, Yzaguirre quibbles more with the “maker and taker” terminology rather than making substantial criticisms of Baldwin’s methodology. In fact, he makes no mention of Baldwin’s second factor, the credit analysis by Conning (requires Adobe)

As Fox News is wont of saying, “We report, you decide.”

UPDATE (12/4/12): In a 4:03 minute video, Fox Business News' Steward Varney interviews William Baldwin.

November 27, 2012

Two Good 'Reads' from the New York Post

An editorial in yesterday's New York Post (HT Government Bytes, the blog of the National Taxpayers Union) explain just what 'tax hikes' really mean:

"It’s hard to imagine anything worse for America’s still-foundering economy than a hike in tax rates next year — whether for the “rich,” or anyone else.

"Yet President Obama and his fellow Democrats seem determined to inflict just that kind of pain on the nation.

"And never mind their supposedly promising talks with Republicans in Congress to avoid the fiscal cliff at year’s end.

"Obama claims he won a “mandate” for “making sure that the wealthiest Americans pay a little bit more.”

"“Higher-income people have to pay their fair share,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi harrumphs."

Meanwhile in an op-ed in today's New York Post (HT Mark Levin Show), Robert Rector, fellow at the Heritage Foundation, writes about "'poverty' like we've never seen it." He writes, in part:

"To the average American, the word “poverty” means significant material hardship and need. It means lack of a warm, dry home, recurring hunger and malnutrition, no medical care, worn-out clothes for the children. The mainstream media reinforce this view: The typical TV news story on poverty features a homeless family with kids living in the back of a van.

"But poverty as the federal government defines it differs greatly from these images. Only 2 percent of the official poor are homeless. According to the government’s own data, the typical poor family lives in a house or apartment that’s not only in good repair but is larger than the homes of the average non-poor person in England, France or Germany.

"The typical “poor” American experiences no material hardships, receives medical care whenever needed, has an ample diet and wasn’t hungry for even a single day the previous year. According to the US Department of Agriculture, the nutritional quality of the diets of poor children is identical to that of upper middle class kids.

"In America, about 80 percent of poor families have air conditioning, nearly two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, half have a computer and a third have a wide-screen LCD or plasma TV."

As the NY Post editorial concluded, "Yes, the stakes are high. Better fasten your seat belts."

November 26, 2012

Looking at America's Tax Returns, Part I

Arlington County taxpayers, like most American taxpayers, are aware of the President's efforts and his Democratic cohorts to raise taxes, especially those of "the rich." Thankfully, the  Tax Foundation recently published a "chart book," the goal of which "is to put a face on the ever-changing demographics of American taxpayers. The failure to understand these changes has produced poor tax policy and threatens to undermine efforts to overhaul the tax code."

The chart book is divided into four chapters:

  • Who ears what?
  • Who doesn't pay taxes?
  • Are Americans that unequal?
  • The changing face of America's tax returns

From time to time, we'll look at other aspects of "America's Tax Returns." Today, we start at the "distribution of the tax burden." According to the Tax Foundation's chart book,"we must first understand the distribution of tax filers. The median taxpayer earns roughly $33,000. This means that half of all tax filers (70 million or so) earn less than $33,000 and half earn more. While only about 13% of taxpayers earn more than $100,000, they pay the vast majority of all income taxes in America today." Here's Chart 1 from the chart book:

In the introduction to the chart book, the Tax Foundation points out:

"Inequality has been at the forefront of the nation’s political discourse recently thanks to a number of published reports purporting to show the rich getting richer while the rest of America is stuck in neutral. Indeed, one report suggests that Americans have not been this unequal since the Great Depression in 1929.

"Spurred by this news, support is growing in both Washington and among the public to raise tax rates on the “rich” to reduce inequality in America. Indeed, many believe that the tax policies enacted in 2001 and 2003—which lowered marginal tax rates for all taxpayers—are a root cause of today’s inequality. Therefore, critics conclude, raising tax rates on high-income Americans will halt the growth of inequality.

"As this book shows, much of the perceived rise in inequality is really the natural result of the business cycle as well as social and demographic forces far beyond the role of tax policy. Indeed, there is no evidence of a long-term trend in inequality over the last 20 years, only wide swings up and down."

If you think understanding income inequality is not a primary focus of President Obama, you obviously didn't read the front-page story in the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post. The story, written by Zachary Goldfarb, discusses "(h)ow fighting income inequality became Obama’s driving force." (titled that way in the online edition). Responding to the article, Paul Mirengoff writes at Power Line yesterday:

"But whatever his precise means, Obama’s underlying objective can no longer be doubted. Just as the “wing-nuts” have said all along, the President’s bedrock goal is income redistribution."

To be sure there was no misunderstanding about the blog post, Mirengoff entitled it, "Does this mean it's now okay to say that Obama is a redistributionist?" Kudos to the Tax Foundation, truely a national treasure.

November 25, 2012

The Coming “Regulatory Flood”

We’ve frequently growled about excessive regulation because it increases the cost of government, thus raising the taxes we pay. See these growls: December 22, 2004, July 28, 2005, July 10, 2007, July 30, 2008, May 31, 2009, and October 30, 2010, among numerous others.  

 Consequently, an editorial in the weekend Wall Street Journal caught our eye because of its sub-heading pointing out that “(c)ostly rules held up for the election are about to roll over the economy.” Why the coming 'regulatory flood?' The Journal editorial explains saying, "President Obama's hyperactive regulators went on hiatus in 2011 to get through Election Day. Now with his second term secure, they're about to make up for lost time and then some." See for example the lawsuit filed against the EPA by the Landmark Legal Foundation (requires Adobe):

Of special concern in the editorial was the following proviso:

“We'd report the costs of the major-rule pipeline if we had current data. But the White House budget office document known as the unified agenda that reveals the regulations under development hasn't been published since fall 2011. The delay violates multiple federal laws and executive orders that require an agenda every six months, so we thought readers might like a rough guide to the regulatory flood that is about to roll through the economy.”

The editorial proceeds to focus on several high profile areas such as health care, energy, and financial services. It concludes by putting the real issues into perspective, saying:

“Having come close to losing re-election because of a weak economy, Mr. Obama now keeps saying "our top priority has to be jobs and growth." This new regulatory flood will increase costs and uncertainty and make that priority that much harder to achieve.”

Perhaps the masterminds who are trying to solve the so-called ‘Fiscal Cliff’ should include cutting out the regulatory morass as part of the ‘Fiscal Cliff’ solution.

November 24, 2012

Revisiting the Question of "Tax Fairness"

An editorial in the weekend Washington Examiner revisits the question: "If top 5% paid 40% of taxes, what is their 'fair' share?" Here's the basis of the Examiner's argument:

"Although Obama and his fellow Democrats repeatedly call on wealthier Americans to pay their "fair share," they never specify what percentage of the nation's tax burden the wealthy would have to bear. As matters stand, the top 1 percent of American households paid 39 percent of income taxes in 2009, according to the most recent data compiled by the Congressional Budget Office, and the top 5 percent of taxpayers paid 64 percent. (emphasis added)

"But income taxes, taken in isolation, do not tell the whole story, because lower-income Americans do pay payroll taxes. But even taking into account all forms of taxation, the top 1 percent still paid 22 percent of federal taxes while earning just 13.4 percent of household income. The top 5 percent paid 40 percent of all federal taxes, despite earning only 26 percent of all income. No matter how you slice the numbers, it's hard to understand why anyone would think the wealthy aren't already shouldering a burden commensurate with their blessings." (emphasis added)

Fairness is a subject that we've growled about on many occasions, including here, here, here, here, and here. And that's just since June 25, 2012. Moreover, we're still waiting for liberals/progressives/Democrats to provide an answer. Or, was William Voegeli correct when he titled his book, "Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State?"

November 23, 2012

Will California be America's Economic Future?

In an op-ed this week in Investor’s Business Daily, John Merline suggests:

“The contrast in economic policies between California and Texas — which otherwise share many things in common, since both are big-population border states with lots of immigrants — could not be more striking.”

A week earlier, Joel Kotkin wrote in NewGeography.org:

“Conservatives of the paranoid stripe flocked to the documentary “America: 2016” during the run up to the election, but you don’t have to time travel to catch a vision of President Obama’s plans for the future. It’s playing already in California.”

Kotkin adds:

“ . . . Every dream program that the Administration embraces — cap and trade, massive taxes on the rich, high-speed rail — is either in place or on the drawing boards. In Sacramento, blue staters don’t even have to worry about over-reach because the Republicans here have dried into a withered husk. They have about as much influence on what happens here as our family’s dog Roxy, and she’s much cuter.

“California now stands as blue America’s end point, but contrary to the media celebration, it presents not such a pretty picture. Even amidst our decennial tech bubble, the state’s unemployment is among the highest in the country, and is trending down very slowly . . . ."

To highlight the difference between California and Texas, Merline says we “should consider U-Haul rates between California and Texas.” He explains:

“Renting a 20-foot truck one-way from San Francisco to San Antonio, for example, will cost $1,693. But the U-Haul tab to go in the opposite direction is just $983.

“To University of Michigan economist Mark Perry, who has tracked this "U-Haul Index," the difference in these rental rates is the result of straightforward supply and demand.

“Put simply, far more people want to leave California for Texas than vice versa.

Why? Because California's economy is moribund while Texas' is thriving.

"The American people and businesses are voting with their feet and their one-way truck rentals to escape California and its forced unionism, high taxes, and high unemployment rate for a better life in low-tax, business-friendly, right-to-work states like Texas," noted Perry, who is also a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute."

Merline provides the following charts below to show the significant advantage that Texas enjoys over the California.

In a related story in the Washington Examiner last week, senior editorial writer Conn Carroll wonders whether conservatives can "prevent the U.S. from becoming California:

"For starters, it's still in debt. Despite Brown's historic tax hike, the California Legislative Analyst's Office announced this week that the state still faces a $2 billion budget deficit just for the next fiscal year. California's liberal electorate has already racked up an additional $370 billion in state and local debt over that last decade. That is more than 20 percent of the state's gross domestic product.

"According to the California State Budget Crisis Task Force, that comes to more than $10,000 in debt for every Californian. And because the state's credit rating is so low, California taxpayers must fork over about $2 for every new dollar borrowed. In 2012 alone, the state budget included more than $7.5 billion in debt service -- more than most states' budgets."

Think we can have a do-over of this month’s election?

November 22, 2012

Ronald Reagan’s Thanksgiving Day Address, 1985

If you need an uplifting message on this Thanksgiving Day, spend less than two minutes listening to this video, posted at Breitbart News today, of President Ronald Reagan's 1985 Thanksgiving Day address.

Or if you prefer, here is the text of that message that was posted on November 27, 2009 at Accuracy in Media by FamilySecurityMatters.org:

“Good morning, everyone. You know, the Statue of Liberty and this wonderful holiday called Thanksgiving go together naturally because although as Americans we have many things for which to be thankful, none is more important than our liberty. Liberty: that quality of government, that brightness of mind and spirit for which the Pilgrim Fathers braved the seas and Americans for two centuries have laid down their lives.

“Today, while religion is suppressed in perhaps one third of the world, we Americans are free to worship the Almighty as we choose. While entire nations must endure the yoke of tyranny, we are free to speak our minds, to enjoy an unfettered and vigorous press, and to make government abide by the limits we deem just. While millions live behind walls, we remain free to travel throughout the land to share this precious day with those we love most deeply – the members of our families.

“My fellow Americans, let us keep this Thanksgiving Day sacred. Let us thank God for the bounty and goodness of our nation. And as a measure of our gratitude, let us rededicate ourselves to the preservation of this: the land of the free and the home of the brave.

“From the Reagan family to your family: happy Thanksgiving and God bless you all.”

To repeat the words of DTurner12 at Breitbart, "Thank you Mr. President for those uplifting words. We need them now more than ever. If you could only see our country and our government now."

UPDATE (11/23/12): At the Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry, yesterday, Amy Payne asks that you "read President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation." It's not long, just six short paragraphs.

UPDATE (11/30/12): In a column at Forbes, Jerry Bowyer explains "how a failed commune gave us what is now Thanksgiving."

November 21, 2012

A Few Election Day Lessons From Sen. Tom Coburn

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) has an op-ed in the Commentary section of today's Washington Times, in which he emphasizes the importance of talking "honestly about what happened, and what we can do to get our nation back on track." He suggests four important points:

  • truth
  • oversight
  • action
  • accountability

Three quotes from Sen. Coburn's op-ed worth thinking about include:

  1. "The hard reality is this: When the majority of Americans reward the politics of bailouts and benefits ahead of the promise of hard work, freedom and opportunity, conservatives must question not just the viability of our message; but the viability of our country."
  2. "One of the lessons from the 2012 elcetion is that we’ve failed to tell the American people - particularly young voters - the truth about where we are. The truth is, on our present course, the average young person in this country is going to inherit a lower standard of living than their parents. That is unacceptable.
    "America is already bankrupt. Our debt, which is 103 percent of our GDP, now exceeds the size of our entire economy. We’re on the cusp of another downgrade. If interest rates go up one point, we add at least another $160 billion to our deficit every year. If rates return to historic averages, we’ll add about $640 billion to our deficit every year - which is more than our defense budget."
  3. "Our first task is to tell the truth. The second is oversight, which has to happen before setting priorities and getting spending under control.
    "Oversight isn’t very popular in Washington because politicians on both sides prefer to create new programs instead of looking at whether the programs we’ve already created are working. Yet oversight resonates with families because that’s how they live their lives every day. In the real world, people look their budgets and make choices. In Washington, we make excuses, and defer choices to future generations."

Senator Coburn also cites examples from his annual Wastebook report, which we growled about last Thursday, November 15. Kudos to Sen. Coburn for his continuing fight for the conservative principles of lower taxes and limited government. Thank you, Senator Coburn!

November 20, 2012

Head of Teachers Union Fails Fifth-Grade Math

"Dennis Van Roekel, president of the largest teachers union, the National Education Association, failed fifth-grade math last week. The question he failed is: If X (government spending) is growing faster than A (government tax revenue) plus B (new revenue from higher tax rates on “the rich”), when will A plus B equal X?"

~ Richard Rahn

HT His "Liberal Leaders Flunk Math" Column at Washington Times, November 20, 2012

November 19, 2012

Arlington Public Schools Continue as Most Expensive

The Arlington Public Schools continues as the most expensive school district in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, according to an analysis of “cost per pupil” data in the Fiscal Year 2013 Washington Area Boards of Education Guide (requires Adobe), dated September 2012. It is available at the Finance & Management Services department on the Arlington Public Schools website.

The cost per pupil for the school districts participating in the FY 2013 Guide:

  • Arlington County -- $18,675
  • Alexandria City -- $17,024
  • Falls Church City -- $16,612
  • Montgomery County -- $14,880
  • Fairfax County -- $13,564
  • Prince George’s County -- $12,296
  • Manassas City -- $12,108
  • Loudoun County -- $11,595
  • Manassas Park -- $10,619
  • Prince William County -- $10,163

Arlington has been the highest cost per pupil school district for all three years (FY 2011. FY 2012, and FY 2013) shown on page 31 of the WABE Guide. In addition, the largest increase from FY 2012 to FY 2013 belongs to Manassas Park (7.39%) while the largest increase from FY 2011 to FY 2013 is the Arlington schools (7.81%).

Below are the cost per pupil numbers for the participating school districts. As noted on page 31, “Uniform formulas were developed by the WABE committee for consistency areawide. These numbers are comparable; however, the cost per pupil reported here may differ from that reported in individual districts' budget documents or other reports.” That said, here are the numbers from page 31:

School Division -- FY 2011/FY 2012/FY 2013
  • Arlington County -- $17,322/ $18,047/ $18,675
  • Alexandria City -- $16,983/ $17,618/ $17,024
  • Falls Church City -- $16,729/ $16,309 $16,612
  • Montgomery County -- n/a/ $14,776/ $14,880
  • Fairfax County -- $12,597/ $12,820/ $13,564
  • Prince George's County -- $11,611/ $11,753/ $12,296
  • Manassas City -- $11,351/ $11,478/ $12,108
  • Loudoun County -- $10,833/ $11,014/ $11,595
  • Manassas Park City --n/a/ $9,888/ $10,619
  • Prince William County -- $9,577/ $9,852/ $10,163

Should Arlington County taxpayers be concerned with APS having the highest cost per pupil year after year. Consider this: If APS management could provide education services for FY 2013 at the same cost as the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), the would save Arlington County taxpayers almost $112 million dollars, which would significantly drop the average real estate tax bill.

November 18, 2012

A Thought on the 'Fiscal Clif' Negotiators

"Politicians and diapers must be changed often and for the same reason."

~ Mark Twain

HT Jennifer Harper, Inside the Beltway, Washington Times

November 17, 2012

$1.04 Billion Not Enough for County Board Masterminds

What else should Arlington County taxpayers think after learning that $1.04 billion in revenues will still leave the poohbahs at Courthouse Plaza and in the Arlington Public Schools $50 million short ($25 million each for the County and the Schools although that's $50 million looted from Arlington taxpayers). Here's how Scott McCaffrey begins his report in the Arlington Sun Gazette today:

"Top county staff anticipate having a record amount of money – nearly $1.04 billion – to spend in the fiscal year that begins next June, but say it won’t be enough to meet what government officials say are their needs for the year.

"As a result, early projections suggest the government will need to fill a $25 budget gap by some combination of tax hikes and spending cuts, or by dipping into reserve funds.

"That’s the scenario being laid out by County Manager Barbara Donnellan in her initial fiscal 2014 budget forecast sent to County Board members.

"The projection anticipates total revenue of $1.039 billion for the fiscal year, up 0.4 percent from the current year, but sees expenses rising at a rate of 1.2 percent. Costs to operate new facilities like the Arlington Mill Community Center – coupled with rising employee costs, higher contributions to the Metro system and a slightly higher (in dollar figures) transfer to the school system – all impact the bottom line, Donnellan reports.

"And it won’t be a single-year phenomenon . . . ."

The Manager's report to the County Board that provides the financial forecasts for Mr. McCaffrey's report is item 29 (requires Adobe) on Arlington County Board's agenda this morning. See also this press release from the County's "newsroom" on Saturday, which provides a useful summary of the Board's guidance.

Incidentally, in our November 2, 2012 Growls asking if Arlington needed a $72 million swimming palace, we wrote in  the last paragraph about a six-year financial forecast that had not been prepared for at least two years even though the County's CIP requires its preparation annually. Well, it won't surprise anyone familiar with Arlington County to learn a six-year forecast has suddenly appeared. In fact, there are two included as part of Agenda Item 29, the Manager's report to the Board masterminds -- one labelled "slow assessment growth scenario" and a second labelled "normalized assessment growth scenario." Not bad but at least six months late since staff was asked about it when they briefed the Civic Federation in June.

November 16, 2012

America's Declining Fiscal Health

Is the United States on its way to jumping into the  same fiscal basket with Greece, among several other European countries? See, for example, this entry at the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty.

Well, the trend isn't going in a positive direction according to the chart below. Mercatus Center research scholar Veronique de Rugy used "data from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Report of the U.S. Government for fiscal 2011 and previous years," for the chart below, which "compares the year-over-year change in the United States’ end-of-year net position." She explains the chart this way:

"Net position is calculated by netting the government’s assets against its liabilities, as recorded in the U.S. Government Balance Sheet. Just as in the financial statement of a company, this metric provides a general picture of the fiscal health of the United States. It has been steadily declining since 2000.

"Assets are primarily comprised of federal property, Troubled Asset Relief Program assets, physical structures, facilities, and equipment, while liabilities are mainly debt held by the public, accrued interest, and federal employee benefits. In fiscal 2011, the federal government held $2.7 trillion in assets and $17.4 trillion in liabilities. As a result, the net position of the government in 2011 was –$14.7 trillion, a 10 percent deterioration from 2010."

She adds this proviso:

"While the image depicted (below) is dramatic, the true situation is far worse: exposures for future Medicare and Social Security expenditures are not taken into account in the calculation of net position. According to the Financial Report, also unaccounted for are social insurance net expenditures, or unfunded liabilities from social insurance programs, that cost up to $40 trillion."

Here's the chart:

If the chart worries you, it should. We've growled before about the "war on children," aka the fiscal gap -- see our August 26 and September 1, 2012 Growls from earlier this year.

November 15, 2012

Defense Spending and the "Department of Everything"

CNS News reported today that "(i)n a 74-page report entitled ‘Department of Everything,’ Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) outlined how $67.8 billion dollars can be saved by cutting non-defense spending at the Department of Defense, including $6 million on researching the science behind storytelling, medical research and alternative energy."

CNS News reporter Penny Starr concluded her report writing:

"Coburn said he is a “budget hawk and a military hawk” and he wants to see money spent to benefit the men and women who serve in the U.S. military and efforts made to reduce the nation’s debt.

"I believe in peace through strength, but we cannot be strong militarily unless we are strong economically,” Coburn said in a press release announcing his report. “And we cannot be strong economically if we treat politically sensitive areas of the budget as sacrosanct.”

"Coburn said military leaders call the nation’s debt a national security threat and refocusing defense spending on the Pentagon’s core mission could help reduce that debt.

“I prepared this report because the American people expect the Pentagon’s $600 billion annual budget to go toward our nation’s defense,” Coburn said."

A press release today from Sen. Coburn's office included the following statement:

"I prepared this report because the American people expect the Pentagon’s $600 billion annual budget to go toward our nation’s defense,” Dr. Coburn added. “That isn’t happening. Billions of defense dollars are being spent on programs and missions that have little or nothing to do with national security, or are already being performed by other government agencies. Spending more on grocery stores than guns doesn’t make any sense. And using defense dollars to run microbreweries, study Twitter slang, create beef jerky, or examine Star Trek does nothing to defend our nation.”

"The $67.9 billion in savings in the “Department of Everything” report could pay for a third of the cost of the planned fleet of new strategic bombers for the Air Force. It could, likewise, pay a third of the cost of the fleet of Ohio-class replacement nuclear submarines for the Navy. For the Army, $16 billion over ten years – about 25 percent of the savings in the report – could mean robust funding for modernization or purchase of new rifles and light machine guns for every soldier."

The press release also noted the report found there is a "Pentagon-branded beef jerky"; "(a) reality cooking show called Grill it Safe featuring two “Grill Sergeants” who performed a 46-minute cooking video"; "(a) smart phone app to alert users when to take a coffee break" "(a) A workshop asking “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?'"; and (m)ore flag officers per troop than at the height of the Cold War."

The entire report is here (requires Adobe).

Kudos to Sen. Coburn for publishing  these reports on government waste. Now only if his colleagues would just read and act on them.

UPDATE (11/15/12): At the Cato Institute's blog, Cato@Liberty, Chris Prebble says  any "solution to Fiscal Cliff should include Senator Coburn's $68 billion in Pentagon spending cuts.

November 14, 2012

A Thought on Conventional Wisdom

"Very few people know, for example, that the gap between black and white incomes narrowed during the Reagan administration and widened during the Obama administration. This was not because of Republican policies designed specifically for blacks, but because free market policies create an economy in which all people can improve their economic situation.

"Conversely, few policies have had such a devastating effect on the job opportunities of minority youths as minimum wage laws, which are usually pushed by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. But these facts do not "speak for themselves." Somebody has to cite the facts and take the trouble to show why unemployment among minority youths skyrocketed when minimum wage increases priced them out of jobs."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His Townhall Column Today

November 13, 2012

Kudos to Arlington County Voters

A year ago, on November 20, 2011, we growled, and asked "who should property owners really fear?" The growl was written after a story in the Arlington Sun Gazette said local jurisdictions were afraid of the impact of the proposed constitutional amendment that would strengthen Virginia’s eminent domain legislation.

Well, "We the People" spoke last Tuesday, and the eminent domain Constitutional Amendment passed in the Commonwealth with 74,41% voting YES. Voters in Arlington County supported the amendment by a percentage of 57.33% although it received higher support in Fairfax County (63.48%), Loudoun County (69.91), and Prince William County (79.82%), according to vote totals at the State Board of Elections website.

In a story posted last Thursday at the online Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey wrote:

"Property rights apparently trumped fealty to the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s sample ballot on Election Day.

"Arlington voters, who often (although not always) find themselves at odds with the downstate electorate, were on the same page with the rest of the commonwealth in their support for an amendment to the Virginia constitution that supporters say will strengthen the rights of property owners, but critics contend will lead to more litigation and higher costs for taxpayers.

"More than 62,000 county voters – about 57 percent of the electorate – cast ballots in support of the amendment, despite opposition from the county’s Democratic leadership and warnings from County Board members that the impact of the amendment could be disastrous for local governments."

So, kudos to Arlington's voters for supporting the Constitutional Amendment and upholding the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.

Background Information: Kelo v. New London, Connecticut; Washington Post June 24, 2005 story by Charles Lane; and Institute for Justice summary of case. In addition, the link for the November 20, 2011 Growls post cites a compressive policy report on eminent domain in Virginia from the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.

UPDATE (12/7/12): A online story in the Arlington Sun Gazette reports on the efforts by Democrats "to explain their loss on eminent domain amendment."

November 12, 2012

A Though About Democratic Government

"A democratic government is the only one in which those who vote for a tax can escape the obligation to pay it."

~ Alexis de Tocqueville

Source: BrainyQuote.com

November 11, 2012

Parks & Rec Bond Post-Mortem

For historical purposes, we growled on November 2 asking whether Arlington County needs a $72 million swimming palace, and then on November 3, we argued why Arlington taxpayers should vote NO on the Parks & Rec bond.

An analysis of the final, unofficial vote tally from the November 6 by precinct showed support by the following percentages:

  • President Obama: 69.1%
  • Eminent Domain Constitutional Amendment: 57.3%
  • Arlington County Board” 60.3%
  • School Bond: 80.9%
  • Community Infrastructure: 72.9%
  • Parks & Recreation Bond: 63.4%
  • Metro/Transportation Bond: 80.1%
  • Number of precincts with greater than 65% -- 18 including absentee ballots
  • Number of precincts with greater than 60% -- 17
  • Number of precincts with greater than 55% -- 8
  • Number of precincts with greater than 50% -- 7
  • Number of precincts with less than 50% -- 3 (Rock Spring, 47.03%; Madison, 42.57%; and Buckingham, 40.86%)

Both Taylor Holland and Scott McCaffrey reported the story in the Washington Examiner and Arlington Sun Gazette, respectively.

In the Washington Examiner, Taylor Holland began his report by saying:

“Arlington County voters approved funding for a nearly $80 million aquatics center along the Potomac River on Tuesday, but opponents of the colossal facility say the measure passed only because the wording on the ballot was vague about what the money would buy.

“What voters were asked to approve on Election Day was a $50 million bond issue that would pay "the cost of various capital projects for local parks and recreation, and land acquisition for parks and open space." It said nothing about most of the money going toward the construction of a waterfront swimming complex at Long Bridge Park in Crystal City, and critics said that was done intentionally to avoid opposition to the project.”

In the Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey began his report this way:

“It garnered more than 63 percent of the vote – that’s called a landslide in most political circumstances – but the controversial $50.5 million county parks and recreation bond finished well behind the three other bonds on the ballot.

“Those competing facts give both sides in the debate over the bond something to trumpet.

“Obviously, someone was paying attention – 20,000 more voters said ‘no’ to the parks bond when compared to the schools and transportation referendums,” said Wayne Kubicki, who led opposition to the park bond and its major component: the proposed Long Bridge Park aquatics center and fitness facility.”

Take a few minutes to read the entirety of both news reports.

We thank all Arlington voters who voted against another vanity project for the Arlington County Board masterminds.

November 10, 2012

A Thought about Congress

"The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."

~ Alexis de Tocqueville

HT BrainyQuote.com (HT Mark Levin Show, 11/9/12)

November 08, 2012

Did the Mainstream Media Influence Tuesday's Election?

Yesterday, Rich Noyes of Fox News wrote, "If, in celebrating his victory Obama wanted to give credit where credit is due, he might want to think about calling some of America's top journalists, since their favorable approach almost certainly made the difference between victory and defeat."

He then proceeded to identify "five ways the media elite tipped the public relations scales in favor of the liberal Obama and against the conservative challenger Mitt Romney." According to Noyes, the five ways were:

  1. The Media’s Biased Gaffe Patrol Hammered Romney.
  2. Pounding Romney With Partisan Fact Checking.
  3. Those Biased Debate Moderators.
  4. The Benghazi Blackout.
  5. Burying the Bad Economy.

To support that last way the elite media "buried" the bad economy, Noyes wrote:

"Pundits agreed that Obama’s weakness was the failure of the US economy to revive after his expensive stimulus and four years of $1 trillion deficits. But the major networks failed to offer the sustained, aggressive coverage of the economy that incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush faced in 1992, or even that George W. Bush faced in 2004 — both years when the national economy was in better shape than it is now.

"According to a study conducted that year by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, from January through September of 1992, the networks ran a whopping 1,289 stories on the economy, 88% of which painted it in a dismal, negative light. That fall, the unemployment rate was 7.6%, lower than today’s 7.9%, and economic growth in the third quarter was 2.7%, better than today’s 2.0%. Yet the media coverage hammered the idea of a terrible economy, and Bush lost re-election.

"In 2004, the economy under George W. Bush was far better than it is today — higher growth, lower unemployment, smaller deficits and cheaper gasoline — yet network coverage that year was twice as hostile to Bush than it was towards Obama this year, according to a study by the Media Research Center’s Business and Media Institute.

"When Republican presidents have faced reelection, network reporters made sure to spotlight economic “victims” — the homeless man, the woman without health insurance, the unemployed worker, the senior citizen who had to choose between medicine and food. But this year, with an economy as bad as any since the Great Depression, those sympathetic anecdotes have vanished from the airwaves — a huge favor to Obama and the Democrats."

If the Fox News article doesn't convince you, an op-ed by Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center in today's Investor's Business Daily should. He writes that the "media stay in the bag for Obama during 2012 election." His lede paragraphs:

"Throughout the very long presidential election cycle, two trends remained consistent: The media lauded Obama no matter how horrendous his record, and they savaged Obama's Republican contenders as ridiculous pretenders.

"From the start of the Republican race in 2011, every candidate who took the lead took an unfair beating. They even slimed Sarah Palin in case she decided to run. Martin Bashir announced she was "vacuous, crass, and, according to almost every biographer, vindictive, too."

Bozell even cites a New York Times article that essentially admits as much, concluding:

"This passage from Peter Baker of the New York Times says it all about Obama's press avoidance all the way to Election Day: "Nor has Mr. Obama faced many tough questions lately, like those about the response to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, since he generally does not take questions from the reporters who trail him everywhere.

"Instead, he sticks to generally friendlier broadcast interviews, sometimes giving seven minutes to a local television station or calling in to drive-time radio disc jockeys with nicknames like Road Kill."

"How can you read that and not think journalism is road kill?"

So, did the mainstream media influence the election? Read both articles in their entirety, and then, as Fox News likes to say, "We report, you decide."

November 07, 2012

A Look at the Exit Polls from Yesterday's Election

Your humble scribe is still recovering from the results of yesterday's elections, especially at the national level. During my personal recovery, let's take a look at the exit polls since Fox News provides us with a comprehensive exit poll summary. Their entire report prints 11 pages, but here is the "top" summary:

"An examination of the exit polls sheds light on how a president facing unemployment near 8 percent, debt topping $16 trillion and mounting questions over the Libya terror attack was able to win a second term in office.

"Obama’s win Tuesday night came from a strong showing among core Democratic constituencies, being more likeable than his opponent, and an economy that voters felt is doing well-enough to give him another four years. Also, the president’s response to Hurricane Sandy in the final days of the campaign was an important factor to many voters.

"Obama’s key groups made the difference -- both in their makeup of the electorate and, for the most part, their strength of support for him.

"Non-whites made up 28 percent of the electorate, up a bit from 27 percent in 2008.  This group largely backed Obama:  71 percent of Hispanics (it was 67 percent last time), and 93 percent of blacks (down a touch from 95 percent).

"Republican challenger Mitt Romney won among white voters by 20 percentage points.  That’s up from John McCain’s edge of +12 points in 2008.  In addition, the share of votes cast by whites was lower (72 percent) than it has been going back to at least 1992"

Fox does a good job of including comparable numbers for the 2008 election. So if you're interested in learning who voted yesterday, use the above link to read the report.

November 06, 2012

A Thought on the Results of Elections

"All see, and most admire, the glare which hovers round the external trappings of elevated office. To me there is nothing in it, beyond the lustre which may be reflected from its connection with a power of promoting human felicity."

~ George Washington, letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham, 1790

HT Patriot Post/Founders' Quote Database

November 05, 2012

Preserve Independence and Liberty, Vote Tomorrow

"[T]o preserve ... independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude."

~ Thomas Jefferson, 1816

HT Patriot Post/Founders' Quote Database

November 04, 2012

Food Stamps Grows 75 Times Faster Than Job Creation

The Washington Post's Brad Plumer writes in Workblog, "The very last jobs report before the election is out — and the numbers are fairly positive. The U.S. economy added 171,000 payroll jobs in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

But, as the American Thinker's Rick Moran wrote on Friday:

"The last jobs report before the election contains some good news for the president and some bad news. (emphasis added)

While the "official" unemployment rate rose from 7.8% to 7.9%, the economy added a middling 171,000 jobs."

With that context in mind, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee, said in a press release on Friday "that for every one person added to the jobs rolls since the President took office, 75 people were added to the food stamp rolls." The explanation in the press release:

“Simply put, the President’s policies have not produced jobs. During his time in office, 14.7 million people were added to the food stamp rolls. Over that same time, only 194,000 jobs were created—thus 75 people went on food stamps for every one that found a job.

"This is a product of low growth. Post-recession economic growth in 2010 was 2.4%, and dropped in 2011 to 1.8%. This year it has dropped again to 1.77%. Few, if any, net jobs will be created with growth of less than 2%.”

"NOTE: While only 194,000 net jobs have been created since 2009, the working age population has increased by approximately 5 million—almost 25 times that amount. In other words, a shrinking share of working age adults have or are even looking for a job. The real unemployment number (U-6), therefore, is 14.6 percent. To put this month’s job creation in historical perspective, in October of 1984, 286,000 jobs were created—67 percent more—at a time when the U.S. working age population was 26 percent smaller than it is today. The U.S. also remains 4.23 million jobs below the (December 2007) pre-recession employment level of 137.98 million people."

To see "the disparity between employment and food stamp growth" in chart form, the chart below is from the Budget Committee:

Something else to consider as you go to the polls on Tuesday?

November 03, 2012

Why You Should Vote NO on Parks & Rec Bond

First, a picture of the latest vanity project (see yesterday's Growls for a larger photo) that flits around in the 'tax-and-spend' minds of the Grand Poobahs on the Arlington County Board:

If you didn’t see the ACTA ad in the weekly Arlington Sun Gazette, dated November 1, 2012, below are 10 reasons for opposing it. They explain:

Why can’t we afford a ‘world-class’ $72+ million swimming palace?

  • $25 million projected budget deficit in FY 2014.
  • Steep increases in office vacancy rates (due to BRAC, etc.) and impending federal budget sequestration (cuts) are already weakening the commercial tax revenue stream.
  • Acute classroom shortage with almost $500 million in planned construction to meet current needs only. What will happen if school enrollment continues to skyrocket?
  • $38 million already spent at Long Bridge Park to construct 3 soccer fields, an over-priced and often-underwater parking lot, plus a walkway to “nowhere.”
  • $54 million in new spending -- all of it subsidized by taxpayers to cover debt service and operating costs over 9 years solely for Long Bridge Park swimming pool.
  • Waning public support for high-priced vanity projects like the $250 million Columbia Pike trolley; the $17 million Artisphere; and now a $72 million swimming pool.
  • Justified by a County Board member as a way to impress French tourists, saying the new pool will “put Arlington on the map.”
  • $ _?_: What will “memberships” to this “public” pool cost? The county still won’t say.
  • Board members acknowledge there is no final business plan for the pool.
  • In the market survey county officials tout for its support, lap swimming ranked 4th among “activities residents would be most likely to participate in.”

Before voting in favor of the $72 million swimming palace on Tuesday, November 6, ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. Is project a “want” or a “need”?
  2. Where else might these funds have been used if they hadn’t been committed to a very expensive park enhancement?
  3. How much more in taxes do I want to pay so that we can build a “world-class” swimming palace?

For more information, refer to yesterday’s Growls. In addition to a schematic of the aquatics center "envisioned" by the Grand Poobahs on the Arlington County Board, there are links to the three Growls that provide more information about the $72 million swimming palace.

November 02, 2012

Does Arlington Need A $72 Million Swimming Pool?

Let’s start the final argument on the Parks & Recreation bond referenda that will be on the Tuesday, November 6 ballot by looking at just what ACTA opposes. We've previously growled about the aquatic center on June 6, October 4, and October 12, 2012. The following schematic is from the county’s Long Bridge Park webpage.

A letter to the editor of the Arlington Sun Gazette in the October 25 edition (accessible online here) argued the aquatics center was both affordable and needed. The writer also claimed the opposition to this latest Arlington County Board vanity project was being “misled by a small, vocal minority, led basically by two individuals.” One of those two individuals, Wayne Kubicki, recently responded with the following letter outlining his opposition to the $72 million swimming Taj Majal:

“A letter posted on The Sun Gazette website on October 23 suggested that opposition to the Parks & Recreation bond on next Tuesday's ballot had limited opposition -- basically me and the editor of this newspaper.

“Fact is, that is just not true.

“The Revenues & Expenditures Committee of the Civic Federation, which I chair, voted unanimously to oppose the Parks bond. The Federation as whole voted overwhelmingly to support the other three bonds on the ballot (Schools/Transportation/Infrastructure) - but the Federation vote to support the Parks bond only carried by a small four vote margin.

“The Arlington Taxpayers Association, the Arlington Green Party and the Arlington Republican Party have also opposed the Parks bond. Many attendees at the recent Committee of 100 program on the aquatics center also expressed a high degree of skepticism.

“The reasoning behind the opposition?  Both cost and priority of County spending.

“The $72 million aquatics center uses the vast majority of the Parks bond funding. The County projects the annual impact on our annual operating budget (including debt service and tax-supported annual operating cost deficits for the facility) at as high as $7 million per year.

“In the context of the overall budget, this is $7 million per year we don't appear to have.

“Just within the last week, County staff has projected a $50 million combined County/Schools deficit for fiscal year 2014. County Manager Donnellan has asked her department heads to identify budget cuts for next year, and County Board Chairman Hynes has suggested a raise in the car tax rate.

“We already have other pressing budget needs on the immediate horizon -- the increasing enrollments on our Schools, the year-around homeless shelter and new operating subsidies for the new Arlington Mill Community Center and Metro's Silver Line are just four of the examples.

“Couple these real needs with an increasing office space vacancy and the certain impacts on Arlington from a realignment of the federal budget, it is little wonder that County Manager Donnellan herself used the phrase "the rabbit is dead" when summing up her view of future County revenue growth.

“Against this overall background of stagnating revenue, budget cuts and other new spending which most Arlingtonians would classify as a "true need", why should we be voting to build a $72M luxury aquatics center with an annual cost of up to $7 million, that a limited number of Arlingtonians will ever use?

“All of this is why I'll be voting YES on the bond questions for Schools, Transportation & Infrastructure -- but voting NO on the Parks bond.  I urge Sun Gazette readers to do the same.”

/s/ Wayne Kubicki

If you’re still undecided whether or not to support the Parks & Recreation bond referenda, the Arlington Mercury posted a summary of the Committee of 100 debate between Mr. Kubicki and County Board member Jay Fisette over the merits of the aquatics center. In addition, they provided links to the video of Mr. Kubicki’s presentation and the video of Mr. Fisette’s presentation. They’re about 10 minutes long, each.

And finally, if you're watching Mr. Kubicki's C100 presentation, at about the 3:45 minute mark, he mentions a six-year annual budget forecast that hasn't been done. After the Committee of 100 meeting, I asked Mr. Fisette about the six-year forecast, but he claimed ignorance. He asked me to e-mail him the information about it, and he would obtain an answer from staff. So after arriving home, I sent him the requested information on October 10, 2012. Now 23 days having passed, I am still waiting for Mr. Fisette to obtain the information from staff.

November 01, 2012

Thought for Today

"There is far more danger in public than in private monopoly, for when Government goes into business it can always shift its losses to the taxpayers. Government never makes ends meet-and that is the first requisite of business."

~ Thomas A. Edison

HT Forbes' "Thoughts on the Business of Life"