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December 31, 2013

Two Thoughts on the Year 2013

"The past year may go down not only as the least productive ever in Washington but as one of the worst for the republic.

"In both the executive branch and Congress, Americans witnessed an unwinding of the country's founding principles and of their government's most basic responsibilities. The rule of law gave way to the rule of rulers. And the rule of reality—in which politicians are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts, as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan liked to say—gave way to some politicians' belief that they were entitled to both their own opinions and their own facts. It's no wonder the institutions of government barely function.

~ Tom Coburn, U.S. Senator (R-Oklahoma)

HT His December 31, 2013 Op-ed at the Wall Street Journal

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"Washington, they say, is Hollywood for ugly people. It’s also debate club for the logically impaired. The past year included its share of fallacies, sophistries, oversimplifications and utter absurdities.

"But a few prominent arguments committed the worst offenses against rational thought. Below are the three worst arguments made in Washington in 2013. These weren’t illogical brain freezes or odd beliefs spouted by backbenchers. These arguments were deliberately devised, promulgated and repeated by prominent politicians, which makes them all the more embarrassing."

~ Timothy P. Carney

HT His December 28, 2013 Column at the Washington Examiner

Both Senator Coburn's op-ed and Tim Carney's column are worth reading in their entirety.

December 30, 2013

OPM Pays Dead Federal Retirees

At Breitbart's Big Government news page today, Edwin Mora reported the Federal government's Office of Personnel Management (OPM):

" . . . erroneously paid $274 million in benefits to deceased federal retirees over the past three years, including over $84.7 million in 2013 alone, according to the agency's annual financial report."

Here is some of the detail from Mora's reporting:

"The good news is the payment errors to deceased federal retirees have started to go down since the OPM Inspector General (IG) sounded the alarm on the issue in a September 2011 audit.

"According to the IG, OPM improperly made more than $601 million in benefit payments to dead federal annuitants from FY 2006 through FY 2010, averaging $120 million annually.

"In FY 2013, OPM made a total of $278 million in improper payments under its retirement program, including the $84.7 million in overpayments to dead retirees.

"OPM also made $74 million in improper payments that year under its Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB).

The $74 million is a sharp decrease from the $213 million in improper payments to health program beneficiaries in 2012.

In total, OPM improperly paid at least $353 million in taxpayer funds to federal employees and retirees in FY 2013, the majority of which was doled out “erroneously or in excess of entitlement” as overpayments."

Mora also points out that "OPM relies on the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to lealrn whether its beneficiaries have passed away." Unfortunately, he adds that "an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on December 27 found that the SSA may not always know who is dead." (emphasis added)

Ah, the wonders of Big Government!

December 29, 2013

Arlington Public Schools Still Area's Most Expensive

The Fiscal Year 2014 "guide" for the Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE), which includes school districts in Northern Virginia and the nearby Maryland school districts, shows the Arlington Public Schools are still the most expensive in the Washington area with a cost per pupil of $18,880. The second most expensive school district is Falls Church costing $16,991 per pupil followed by the Alexandria City Public Schools with a cost per pupil of $16,880.

The cost per pupil for each of the 10 WABE school districts are:

  • Arlington -- $18,880
  • Falls Church -- $16,991
  • Alexandria -- $16,880
  • Montgomery County -- $15,326
  • Fairfax County -- $13,472
  • Manassas -- $11,984
  • Loudoun County -- $11,638
  • Prince George's County -- $11,563
  • Manassa Park -- $10,173
  • Prince William County -- $10,158

Unfortunately, the APS web meisters have not posted the FY 2014 WABE Guide as of today. The WABE webpage shows the page was last modified on October 10, 2012. The Fairfax County Public Schools staff posted the FY 2014 WABE Guide no later than October 17, 2013. We hope APS staff aren't hiding the numbers?

Of the 10 WABE school districts, five showed increases from FY2013 to FY 2014 in their cost per pupil while five showed decreases. APS's cost per pupil increased 1.1%, going from $18,675 in FY 2013 to $18,880 in FY 2014. The range for the other school districts was a 4.2% increase for Manassas Park to a decrease of 6.0% decrease for Prince George's County.

The costs per pupil, however, aren't the only items of interest in the WABE Guide. There is also the sources of revenue for the schools operating fund. For example (numbers may not add to 100% due to such factors as carryover amounts):

  • Arlington Public Schools: 2.5% of revenue comes from the federal government; 12.4% comes from the state; and, 81.0% is from local Arlington County taxpayers..
  • Fairfax County Public Schools:  2.8% of revenue comes from the federal government; 22.7% comes from the state; and, 68.7% comes from local Fairfax County taxpayers.

Another page in the WABE Guide shows average class sizes for both "classroom teachers" and "teacher-scale positions." For example:

  • Arlington Public Schools: students per classroom teacher include elementary schools (21.1); middle/intermediate (20.4); and secondary/high school (19.5).
  • Falls Church Schools: students per classroom teachers include elementary schools (21.5); middle/intermediate (24.2); and secondary/high school (20.4).
  • Prince William County: students per classroom teachers include elementary schools (23.3); middle/intermediate (30.8); and secondary/high school (30.3).

Finally, here are the "total" SAT scores -- consisting of average math + average critical reading + average writing with percentage of seniors taking tests in parentheses:

  • Alexandria -- 1436 (65.0%)
  • Arlington -- 1645 (69.9%)
  • Fairfax County -- 1663 (72.0%)
  • Falls Church -- 1765 (81.0%)
  • Loudoun County -- 1606 (79.0%)
  • Manassas -- 1457 (73.0%)
  • Manassas Park -- 1496 (67.0%)
  • Montgomery County -- 1649 (69.1%)
  • Prince George's County -- 1207 (87.4%)
  • Prince William County -- 1498 (56.1%)

We'll provide comparative WABE compensation data in a subsequent Growls post. We growled about the FY 2013 cost per pupil data on November 19, 2012.

December 28, 2013

Can Wealth be Distributed?

"To say that ‘wealth in America is so unfairly distributed in America’ is grossly misleading when most wealth in the United States is not distributed at all. People create it, earn it, save it, and spend it."

~ Thomas Sowell, "The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy"

HT Mark Perry's Carpe Diem blog at AEIdeas, November 23, 2013

December 23, 2013

Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas

The Arlington County Taxpayers Association wishes all taxpayers and friends of ACTA a Merry Christmas.

ElGrowlerFrande will return to growling after he returns to Arlington after Christmas.

December 22, 2013

Sen. Coburn Identifies Cause of America's Debt Crisis

Last Tuesday, December 17, 2013, we growled about the Arlington County Board's contribution to U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Oklahoma) Wastebook 2013. Number 18 on his list of wasteful spending included Arlington County's $1 million Super Stop on Columbia Pike. The presentation in Wastebook 2013 came replete with pictures.

Oh, and if you don't believe the United States has a deficit and debt problem, check out our December 15, 2013 Growl.

Sen. Coburn appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" this morning. Here's the lede, according to the Daily Caller's Brendan Bordelon (video included):

"Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn turned conventional Washington wisdom on its head Sunday, telling NBC’s David Gregory that “the reason we’re in trouble on deficits and debts is not because we didn’t agree, but because we did.” (emphasis added)

"Coburn appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer to discuss the bipartisan budget deal that scuttled certain sequester cuts in exchange for spending reductions down the road. Gregory asked Coburn whether Republicans, in the wake of last week’s deal, would still demand concessions for raising the debt ceiling by next February.

"Coburn opened with a subtle swipe at his own party. “I guess I can’t really speak for Republicans,” he claimed. “My thoughts are, the American people don’t believe we have a debt ceiling because we always increase it, and they don’t believe we have the discipline in Washington.”

Here's the key quote from Bordelon's write-up:
"So the story coming out of Washington, that we don’t get along? I would dispute that,” the senator declared. “We get along just fine with the status quo of the government being ineffective and inefficient. So we pass a bill that raises spending and raises taxes and denies what we promised the American people, and everybody says “Oh my goodness how great! You grew the government some more and you charged us more taxes and you didn’t fix any of the problems.”
Wouldn't it be nice if Virginia's two U.S. senators were as concerned about deficits and the debt as Oklahoma's Sen. Tom Coburn? Tell your Virginia senators they need to be more like Sen. Coburn. Here's contact information for Virginia's two U.S. senators"
  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024

December 21, 2013

Income Inequality is not about Social Justice

"What the income inequality debate is about is not social justice but social rule. It is about power, about who wields it and to what purposes, and the slogans and statistics that appear in the papers are the weapons by which a caste of liberals organizes its political coalition and vanquishes its opposites.

"Those opposites—the industrial giants, the conservative Masters of the Universe, the extractors of carbon, the Rotarians, the small-town Christians—are defenseless. They have no answer to the problem of inequality because they have never thought it to be a problem. To them it is a condition. But they had better develop an answer to the inequality business soon. What that answer is, I have only the faintest idea."

~ Matthew Continetti, Editor in Chief, Washington Free Beacon

HT His column posted December 20, 2013 at Washington Free Beacon

December 20, 2013

A Thought on the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare

"The problem with ObamaCare is not that it is poorly designed or sloppily implemented. The problem is in the nature of things: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as it has been envisaged, is inherently impossible. To see this, forget ObamaCare for the moment. Think health care in general. Health care can be many things for many people:
  • It can be universal (extended to all people) or selective (available to some people).
  • It can be comprehensive (covers all conditions and cures at any age) or rationed.
  • It can be affordable or prohibitively expensive.

"But there is one thing that a health care system cannot be. It cannot be everything for everyone. It cannot simultaneously be 1) universal, 2) comprehensive, and 3) affordable.This is the impossible trinity of objectives.

  • If it is universal and comprehensive, it is prohibitively expensive and hence unaffordable.
  • The only way to make it universal and affordable is to ration services, but then the system is not comprehensive.
  • If it is comprehensive and affordable, it can be such only for those who can afford it, and hence not universal.

"As in the Omnipotence Paradox, even God can do only what is in the nature of His (and our) universe and cannot do what is ontologically impossible, viz., cannot make 1+1=3. Let alone the 44th president of the United States."

~ Michael S. Bernstein, Fellow, Hoover Institution

Source: His op-ed posted at FoxNews.com (HT Rick Moran @ American Thinker)

December 19, 2013

Americans Think Big Government Biggest Threat to U.S.

The Gallup polling organization reported yesterday that Americans saying Big Government is a bigger threat than either Big Business or Big Labor had reached a new high of 72% --"a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question."

According to Gallup, 72% thought Big Big Government is a bigger threat while 21% thought Big Business is the bigger threat. Only 5% thought Big Labor the biggest threat. Here's the graphic from Gallup's reporting:

The results come from a poll conducted December 5 - 8, and "documented a steady increase in concern about big government since 2009, rising from 55% in March 2009 to 64% in November 2011 and 72% today. This suggests that government policies specific to the period, such as the Affordable Care Act -- perhaps coupled with recent revelations of government spying tactics by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- may be factors."

Gallup also said that American's views of the threat of Big Government varied by political party affiliation -- 92% of Republicans thought Big Government the greatest threat with 71% of Independents and 56% of Democrats thinking the same. However, Gallup noted how this view varied over time:

"Even though Americans have always viewed big government as the greatest threat, the degree to which they do so has varied. In recent decades, since the start of the Clinton administration, perceptions of big government as a threat have varied depending on the party of the president. Since Barack Obama took office in 2009, an average of 64% of Americans have named big government as the greatest threat. That is up from an average 56% during George W. Bush's administration from 2001-2008, but similar to the 65% average from 1993-2000 during the Clinton administration.

"This pattern is largely driven by Republicans, who generally are more likely to be concerned about the size and power of government, and this concern is amplified when a Democrat is president. Democrats are more likely to see government as a threat when a Republican is in office; however, they tend to see government as less threatening than Republicans do, and their concern about big government topped out at 62% in 2005 under Bush.

"During the Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations, party differences were much more modest than they are today."

Gallup sees the following implications, in part, from this polling data:

"Americans have consistently viewed big government as a greater threat to the United States than either big business or big labor, but never more than they do now . . . .

"In the future, Americans likely will continue to view big government as the greatest threat of the three, partly because of Republicans' reluctance to rely on government to solve problems, and because Democrats and independents are also inclined to view big government as a greater threat than big business or big labor. But the percentage of Americans viewing big government as the greatest threat will also likely to continue to vary, in response to current conditions in the political and business environments."

Kudos to the Gallup organization.

December 18, 2013

A Thought on Power

"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."

~ James Madison, essay in the National Gazette, 1792

HT PatriotPost.us

December 17, 2013

County Board's $1 Million Bus Stop Ranks Only #18 in Waste

Ah, yes, Arlington County's world famous $1 million bus stop on Columbia Pike is now immortalized in Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Oklahoma) Wastebook 2013 (earning the #18 spot; pages 32 and 33; footnotes dropped).

For the record, we growled about this edifice to local government waste most recently December 9, 2013 and November 1, 2013.

The Wastebook entry includes three pictures of the $1 million edifice to local government waste. The third includes the caption, "Can't take the cold, the SuperStop can hardly be described as a bus "shelter." A December storm left the bench dusted with snow." (emphasis added) Here's a portion of the justification:

"With a total cost was(sic), the bus stop cost more than most single-family homes.

"It is large enough to accommodate two buses at a time, but has room to shelter only 15 people. And where it lacks practicality, it seems to make up for in presentation: The glass-and-steel roof swoops up like a bird taking flight" and "a wall made of etched glass opens the rear vista to newly planted landscaping."

The Wastebook 2013 write-up of the $1 million bus stop even includes a comment by the former chairman of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.Here's why this edifice to local government waste earned the attention of Sen. Coburn's staff:

"The county is hoping to build 23 similar SuperStops and has received $8 million in federal funding since Fiscal Year 2004 to do so. To date, only $1.5 million in federal funds has been spent on the project, leaving $6.5 million in the bank. In FY 2013, $102,986 in federal funds were spent on the SuperStop project."

Bookmark the 2013 Wastebook. Read it whenever you need to raise your blood pressure. Be sure, however, to read the two-page executive summary, and remind your favorite politicians of the waste whenever they start yammering about raising taxes or being unable to cut the budget.

Additional resource: A just-published CNN report by Leigh Ann Caldwell that "Coburn shows what $28 billion in government waste looks like."

December 16, 2013

Will the Arlington County Board Register at Neiman Marcus?

Last Friday, ARLnow reported, "The Arlington School Board will vote next week (i.e., December 19, 2013) on whether to limit school employee gifts to $100."

ARLnow's Ethan Rothstein explained:

"Arlington Public Schools staff has been working to develop a more detailed gift policy, and initially the proposal called for limiting gifts from a single donor to $50 over the course of a school year.

"After meeting with community groups like the PTA, the Arlington Employee Association, the Budget Advisory Council and school principals, the School Board decided to double the proposed gifts cap.

“The PTAs were satisfied that [increasing the limit to $100] would be fine,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael said at last week’s School Board meeting. “They’re not giving individual gifts to individual staff members that exceed that.”

You can read staff's presentation to the Arlington School Board and the draft policy documents here (December 19, 2013, action item F.4.).

Putting aside the pressure on families, especially poorer families, this treats teachers like waiters and waitresses, and not like the government professionals they are forever asking to be treated. Unless, of course, the rest of Arlington County government follows suit.

So here's a suggestion. The Arlington County Board could register at Neiman Marcus, building inspectors at Macy's, planning staff at Crate&Barrel, and prosecutors and judges at Barnes & Noble. The County guidance might be $100 per citizen helped. Beneficiaries of the Artisphere, the streetcar/trolley, and the aquatics center might want to bundle gifts in view of the dollars being wasted in their interest.

What's next? Teacher gifts to principals, Superintendent, and School Board? Sounds like the beginning of crony employment practices.

December 15, 2013

A Thought on Fiscal Sustainability

"The US is bankrupt -- not in 30 years, 20 years, or 10 days. It's bankrupt today."

~ Laurence Kotlikoff, Professor of Economics, Boston University

HT His Research Paper, "Assessing Fiscal Sustainability," Mercatus Center, George Mason University

December 14, 2013

How Big Do Liberals/Progressives Want Government To Be?

In a post yesterday at AEIdeas, the blog of the American Enterprise Institute, James Pethoukoukis provides an answer, including how much it will cost. We've growled about this here, here, here, here and here, but especially at the March 5, 2011 Growls, which focused on "Never Enough: America's Limited Welfare State" by William Voegeli.

Pethokoukis begins with this introduction:

"Love or hate Paul Ryan’s budget plans, at least they present a long-term vision for America and put a price tag on it. President Obama, on the other hand, likes to stick safely within the 10-year budget window. Based on his budgets, you would almost think the progressive project is pretty much complete other than raising the minimum wage, building some high-speed rail lines, and closing some tax loopholes.

"Actually, left-of-center thinkers have some pretty big plans in store for America — even if like-minded politicians are reluctant to talk about them. But acclaimed University of Arizona sociologist Lane Kenworthy outlines one version of the progressive path to prosperity in his ambitious and must-read new book, Social Democratic America . . . ."

He then provides a list of of "how Kenworthy would 'safeguard against risk and enhance fairness.'" Such things as one-year paid parental leave and reduced incarceration of low-level drug offenders. The sum total "would cost about 10% of GDP," writes Pethokoukis.

He provides the following chart labelled "toward the good society."

The ultimate utopians -- today's liberals/progressives? Sheesh!

December 13, 2013

The True Agenda of the Environmentalists?

"Occasionally, environmentalists spill the beans and reveal their true agenda. Barry Commoner said, "Capitalism is the earth's number one enemy." Amherst College professor Leo Marx said, "On ecological grounds, the case for world government is beyond argument." With the decline of the USSR, communism has lost considerable respectability and is now repackaged as environmentalism and progressivism."

~ Walter E. Williams

HT His December 11, 2013 column at Townhall.com

December 12, 2013

Answers Needed on Aquatics Center

The Arlington Sun Gazette editorialized on Tuesday that because of the $4 million projected operating deficit, "on top of perhaps $6 million in annual debt service," the county must provide answers to a number of questions before moving forward with the aquatics center.

Here's the main thrust of the Sun Gazette's editorial this week:

"The public has a right to demand that county officials answer a simple set of questions: Why did a projected $1.5 million annual operating deficit balloon to more than $4 million? What has changed in the intervening year? Did county officials have an inkling of the higher costs before voters cast ballots? And, most importantly, what are county officials going to do to ensure that the projected annual deficit comes down – way down – as they move forward with the planning process?

"Years ago, we warned on this page that the Artisphere cultural center in Rosslyn was a sure-fire white elephant, sitting in a location that would attract few visitors. Yet the county government went ahead and proved us right; that center continues to suck up taxpayer subsidies, and apparently Donnellan’s pronouncement that it either make headway toward solvency or be shut down has been forgotten."

The Sun Gazette concludes a well-argued editorial saying:

"It’s time for County Board members to forthrightly address this whole matter – before approving the construction contract for the Long Bridge Park facility. Between pricey arts centers and million-dollar bus stops, we’ve had enough boondoggles in recent years."

ARLnow summarizes the county's explanation for the higher aquatics center costs, based upon a statement from the county's director of parks and recreation. The county's "non-explanation explanation" is the higher costs result from an "apples to oranges" comparison rather than an "apples to apples" comparison.

December 11, 2013

Living Well at the United Nations

As we growled on July 6, 2007, American taxpayers pick-up approximately 22% of of the cost of operating the United Nations.

Now thanks to the reporting Monday of Daniel Wiser at Washington Free Beacon, we learn "(t)he pay gap between professional United Nations employees and their United States government counterparts has widened considerably in the last decade. according to a report "last month by the Heritage Foundation." According to Wiser, Heritage found:

" . . . average net salaries of U.N. professional and higher level staff were 19.6 percent higher than comparable employees working in the U.S. civil service. U.N. resolutions require the organization to maintain net salaries that are between 10 and 20 percent higher than U.S. equivalent civil servants to attract and retain top employees.

"The U.N.-U.S. pay gulf has risen steadily since 2002, when it was just 9.3 percent, according to a May Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The five-year average gap in salaries was also 15.7 percent, slightly higher than the target of 15 percent."

Wiser explains the procedure for setting U.N. compensation, writing:

"U.N. compensation levels are determined by equating them to U.S. civil servants and then adding cost-of-living adjustments. Yet while the U.N. uses a cost-of-living ratio of 11.6 percent to adjust for differences between New York and Washington, D.C., the federal government’s ratio is just 3.6 percent, the Heritage report said. The GAO report also said the U.N.’s method for calculating pay “lack[ed] clarity.”

So, the further you get from local government, the less accountability. Sheesh!

Read the entire Heritage Foundation report by Brett Schaefer (Issue Brief #4099, November 26, 2013).

December 10, 2013

A Thought on the Value of Work

"To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it."

~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, 1816

HT Founders' Quote Database at PatriotPost.us

December 09, 2013

Arlington County Board's Runaway Streetcar

Arlington County taxpayers interested in how fiscally responsible their local government is will want to read an opinion piece, which was posted at the Washington Post website this weekend. It was written by William Vincent, a private transportation consultant who served as a director in the U.S. Transportation Department's Research and Special Programs Administration in the Clinton Administration.

Here's the lede from Vincent's opinion piece:

"Virginia is developing a fine tradition of squandering precious public-transit dollars. Rail in the Dulles corridor was originally estimated to cost around $1.5 billion but will end upclose to $6 billion . The Tide line in Norfolk ballooned from around $200 million to nearly $320 million and is one of the poorest-performing light-rail systems in the country.

"Arlington County is following in these footsteps. In 2006, the county board approved a $120 million streetcar for Columbia Pike. By 2010, despite the financial crisis and very low inflation, the price tag had skyrocketed beyond $250 million, which would have rendered the project ineligible for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Small Starts grant that the county intended to seek.

"The county could have taken the escalating costs, and the threat of losing federal financing, as an invitation to consider alternatives to the streetcar. Instead, it made the streetcar appear to cost less than $250 million by shifting various streetcar components to other projects. For example, streetcar stations were moved into the county’s “Superstops” project, and most utility work was budgeted under “other projects either currently in construction, or proposed to be constructed prior to commencement of [the] Streetcar Project.”

"While this shell game was underway . . . ."

The opinion piece also covers the so-called alternatives analysis and the limited ROI study.

In conclusion, Vincent writes, "Citizens deserve honest, independent cost estimates and analyses. They also deserve elected officials who are capable of reevaluating when promises and expectations prove to be wildly off the mark. Until this happens, we will continue wasting public transit resources by spending too much and accomplishing too little."

Vincent is a member of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit. Kudos for the must-read op-ed.

December 08, 2013

Wind Farms Get 'Federal Hunting License" for Eagles

Bridget Johnson reports for Pajamas Media that a "rule change" from the U.S. Department of the Interior will "let wind farms kill eagles." Here's the lede from her story:

"The Interior Department issued a rule change to allow renewable energy producers lengthier permit periods under which they can “take” — kill, injure or disturb — bald and golden eagle populations.

"Wind-energy producers used to be able to get five-year permits from the federal government that allowed the “taking” of these all-American birds during the course of production activities. Now, they’ll be able to get a permit good for up to 30 years.

"Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) called the news “appalling.”

“By now it’s no secret this administration will go to great lengths to tilt the scales to benefit the wind industry at great cost to taxpayers, and at the cost of killing a great symbol of freedom,” Alexander said.

"Interior began its permitting program in 2009 under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which authorizes the “programmatic take” of eagles, according to the department, “associated with, but not the purpose of, an otherwise lawful activity and does not have a long-term impact on the population.”

"Interior said the five-year permit “does not reflect the actual operating parameters of most renewable energy projects or other similar long-term project operations,” and the 30-year permit has a review built in every five years. That review would include determining that a wind producer hasn’t exceeded its limits in the number of eagles they’re allowed to “take.” The government claims that the five-year reports of eagle deaths will increase transparency and accountability in the industry."

Stephen Dinan, at the Washington Times on Friday, December 6, 2013, points out, "Killing bald or golden eagles is generally prohibited by federal law, but gives the government the power to grant exemptions."

At the American Thinker, Rick Moran quotes from The Hill and opines:

"The political imperative represented by "renewable" energy trumps the envronmental necessity of protecting eagle species from getting chopped up by these turbines. There is no trade off here. The paltry amount of energy produced by wind farms does not begin to justify the mass killings of these rare and beautiful bird.

"This is politics at its cynical worst."

Besides, as Wikipedia points out, the Bald Eagle, especially, has cultural significance, not to mention that it is the national bird of the United States.

Well said, Mr. Moran!. And thanks to Bridget Johnson and Stephen Dinan for reporting on the needless slaughter of these grand birds.

December 07, 2013

Grading the Management of Arlington County

The Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) for Fiscal Year 2013, which ended June 30, 2013, is now posted in the accounting records of the Department of Management & Finance (DM&F). The statistical section, beginning on page 163, contains a wealth of information that allows evaluation of the county's financial management for the years 2004 to 2013.

Before starting the analysis of the CAFR, let's note for the record that the inflation rate over those ten years -- using the CPI-U numbers -- was 26.97%, or an annual average of 2.7%. Also, population increased from 198,739 to 221,045, or 11.2%. In addition, Arlington Public School enrollment increased 19.1%, going from 19,120 in FY 2004 to FY 2013. Finally, per capita income increased 42.6% from FY 2004 ($57,851) to FY 2013 ($82,491).

So let's start by looking at General Governmental Expenditures by Function (Table D-1, page 169):

  • Total expenditures increased from $1,096 million in FY 2012 to $1,122 million in FY 2013, or 2.3%.
  • Total expenditures increased from $745.8 million in FY 2004 to $1,122 million in FY 2013, 50.5%, an annual average of 5.1%.
  • Public Works/Environmental Services expenditures increased 2.1% from FY 2012 to FY 2013. However, over the ten-year period, Public Works/Environmental Services increased from $38.9 million in FY 2004 to $77.4 million, or an average annual increase of 9.8%.
  • Education expenditures increased 9.3% from FY 2012 to FY 2013, but averaged 5.3% annually from FY 2004 to FY 2013.
  • Debt service increased 4.1% from FY 2012 to FY 2013, but shows an annual increase of 6.3% from FY 2004 to FY 2013.
  • Spending for transit increased 4.1% from FY 2012 to FY 2013, but increased at an annual rate of 13.0% over the 10-years.
  • Adjusting total expenditures for inflation and the increased population means spending still grew 6.6% over the 10-year period after adjusting for population and inflation.

Data for outstanding debt includes debt for both governmental and business-type activities, and includes debt per capita and percentage of personal income information (Table I, page 175):

  • Outstanding debt per capita increased from $2,939 in FY 2004 to $5,874 in FY 2013, an increase of 99.9%, or an annual average of 10.0%.
  • After adjusting for inflation, debt per capita increased 57.4%, or an annual average of 5.7%.
  • The percent of personal income ranges from 5.08% in FY 2004 to 7.89% in FY 2013.

 General bonded debt includes both general obligation bonds and industrial development issues (Table I-1):

  • Debt per capita grew from $2,525 in FY 2004 to $4,082 in FY 2013, an increase of 61.6% or an annual rate of 6.2%.
  • After adjusting for inflation, debt per capita still increased 27.3%, or an average increase of 2.7%.

Table P on page 184 contains information about debt service expenditures. Of primary interest is that as a percentage of debt service to total general expenditures, the percentage ranged from 7.63% in FY 2004 to 8.28% in FY 2013 with a high of 8.65% in FY 2011 to a low of 7.54% in FY 2007. This percentage is important because it is County Board policy to stay under 10.0%.

The final portion of this analysis involves the number of county and schools employees, shown as full-time equivalents. or FTE (Table M on page 181). For the county, information is by department/function but only total school positions. A few of the departments with noteworthy changes:

  • Staffing in Technology Services increased from 61.7 in FY 2004 to 74.0 in FY 2013, an increase of 19.9%.
  • Office of Emergency Management increased from 51.5 in FY 2004 to 79.5 in FY 2013, an increase of 54.4%.
  • County Attorney staffing increased 27.3%, going from 11.0 in FY 2004 to 14.0 in FY 2013.
  • Library staffing decreased 13.0%, dropping from 155.8 FTE in FY 2004 to 135.6 FTE in FY 2013.

The employment numbers together with the population/enrollment data elsewhere in the statistical section enables a look at just how efficient the County Manager and the Superintendent are managing their operations.

  • County: in FY 2004, there were 18.68 FTE per 1,000 residents, but by FY 2013, county operations became more efficient since there were only 17.05 FTE per 1,000 residents, an increased efficiency of 8.7%.
  • Schools: in 2004, there were 186.02 FTE per 1,000 students, but by FY 2013, there were only 177.79 FTE per 1,000 students, meaning that Schools efficiency increased 4.4%.

So while there is still too much local government in Arlington County, and too high taxes, the numbers above show some numbers such as the efficiency ones are moving in the right direction. Kudos to the Manager and staff for keeping the FY 2012 to FY 2013 increase in total expenditures to less than the inflation rate. Also to the Manager, especially, and the Superintendent for increasing operational efficiency..

December 06, 2013

Wasting Your Taxes on Renewable Energy

Yesterday, in a well-documented story, Breitbart News reported the United States "has wasted $154 billion on 'renewable energy," first noting that President Obama had ordered "the federal government to nearly triple its use of renewable sources for electricity by 2020."

After providing the needed background information for context, we learn:

"Since 1973, U.S. government agencies have spent $154.7 billion on “renewable energy” with very little to show for it. Proponents of solar technology claim that their favored technology is on the verge of being competitive with traditional forms of energy, but they have made the same claim since at least the mid-1990s. Billions of dollars in subsidies later, solar still only comprises at most 0.2 percent of U.S. electricity production according to the Energy Information Administration.

“Green” energy subsidies benefit the politically connected while harming future generations as hundreds of millions of dollars are added to the country’s debt burden with each green failure. It’s time to end all subsidies—for all energy companies, not just green ones—and let the best technologies win."

The bottom line, as noted in a summary of the underlying report by the National Center for Policy Analysis, the "environmentalists push to rapidly deploy existing clean energy technology rather than focusing on innovation has been and will continue to be expensive and likely result in waste and failure."

December 05, 2013

A Thought on Free Markets vs. Big Government

"It took a triumph of hubris for the president to believe he could sign a single law that would replace markets in a U.S. health care sector as large as the economy of France.

"Only God can make a tree, and in his creation, only the invisible hand can make a market.

"When the government tries to replace free markets, it plays God… and does so very badly."

~ Peter Morici

HT His 12/3/13 column posted at Breitbart.com

December 04, 2013

Will Arlington County Board 'Walk Their Talk'

At their Tuesday, November 19, recessed meeting, the Arlington County Board provided budget guidance to the County Manager for preparing the FY 2015 proposed budget (Agenda Item #30).

The most important item of interest for Arlington County taxpayers, in our view, is the County Board's specific direction to the County Manager that she:

"Present a balanced budget that assumes no increase in tax rates and no greater than two percent growth in expenditures over the adopted FY 2014 budget.  Proposed expenditure or service enhancements that are fully offset by fee revenue are excluded from the two percent budget growth limitation." (emphasis added)

In an online article at the Arlington Sun Gazette website, Scott McCaffrey provided the following context:

"County Board members have instructed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to bring them a budget proposal early next year that includes no increase in the existing real estate tax rate of $1.006 per $100 assessed valuation. But even if board members hold the line on the tax rate – recent history suggests they will not – many homeowners will still have to cough up more cash.

"County officials anticipate that the assessed value of residential real estate countywide will grow at a rate of 5.5 percent over 2013’s figure, bumping the average assessed value of a home from $524,700 to more than $550,000. If the tax rate stays the same, the average tax bill will jump from $5,279 this year to $5,569 in 2014 – an increase of $290.

"While residential assessments are expected to rebound, those in the commercial sector are forecast to be flat or declining. Overall, county officials expect the assessed real estate valuation of all taxable property to rise 2.6 percent over the current year."

Mr. McCaffrey included comments by former GOP Board candidate Mark Kelly and the inestimable budget watchdog Wayne Kubicki. In addition, the article included the following comments by ACTA's president:

"But Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, wondered when enough was enough.

“The County Board provided the manager with a long list of services that should be ‘protected’ – liberal feel-goods such as affordable housing or environmental sustainability,” Wise said. “That will make it difficult for the board to control its impulse to spend.”

Use the embedded links to read the entire text of the Board's budget direction to the County Manager and Scott McCaffrey's detailed reporting. And then use the link in the right-hand column to tell the Arlington County Board whether their budget direction is sufficiently restrictive.

Additional background information about the Board's budget direction is available in the county's press release.

December 03, 2013

A Thought on Engineers, Reality and Inconvenient Facts

"What engineers know that lawyers and politicians often don't is that in the world of things, as opposed to people, there's no escaping the sharp teeth of reality. But in law, and especially politics, inconvenient facts are merely inconvenient, something to be rationalized away."

~ Glenn Harlan Reynolds

HT His 11/25/13 column at USA Today

December 02, 2013

Don't Want to Swim, You're Still on the Hook for $10 million

The Arlington County Board's #1 vanity project -- the Long Bridge Park aquatics center -- is getting set to be even pricier." In an online story today at the Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey reports that the "expected annual operating deficit of $1 million to $1.3 million has now ballooned to more than $4 million." McCaffrey then adds:

". . . according to projections included in County Manager Barbara Donnellan’s updated budget forecast. Factoring in the cost of paying off debt to build the facility, taxpayers could be spending upward of $10 million a year over the next decade even if they never set foot in the Crystal City complex." (emphasis added)

The Sun Gazette story includes the following:

“Given Arlington’s financial picture, it’s hard to make a convincing case that we can afford this, and certainly there are other priorities that arguably should come before building a luxury pools facility,” said Wayne Kubicki, a veteran budget-watcher and critic of the project.

"Kubicki said the new projected operating deficit is roughly 350 percent of the amount anticipated prior to the 2012 parks referendum that included funding for the facility.

"Voters approved the bond by a substantial majority; it included about $45 million for the aquatics/fitness center, and County Board members recently agreed to provide developer Vornado with extra density for a Pentagon City project in exchange for cash to offset additional construction costs.

"In a 2012 forum on the need for the aquatics/fitness center, County Board member Jay Fisette – a big booster of the facility – told the Committee of 100 that it could recoup most or all of its operating expenses through selling memberships, offering classes and renting the facility out. On the same dais, Kubicki predicted an annual shortfall (counting operating and debt expenses) of $8 million to $9 million, and said the facility would likely become another Artisphere: a pricey, underutilized monument to the county government’s effort to create “world-class” facilities. (emphasis added)

"Asked about the whopping increase in projected annual expenses for the aquatics center, county officials said that Donnellan’s recent long-range budget forecast was preliminary and could well change over time."

McCaffrey notes the ballooning estimates took boosters of the aquatics center by surprise, saying "they wanted to be briefed by county officials on the new figures before commenting on them."

As we growled about the aquatics center -- most recently on August 15, 2013 -- " Gee, with a Board member up for reelection in November, will he be getting any questions about this SNAFU on the campaign trail? Seems the only link between Arlington and accountability is that both start with an 'a.'" Of course, we would have to update now since there's an upcoming special election."

The budget estimates referenced above were part of Item #30 on the Arlington County Board's November 19, 2013 meeting.

December 01, 2013

How Big Government Harms America's Young People

The newest "Economics 101 video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity Foundation explains how "big government is undermining the future of America’s youth." According to the CF&PF, today's youth face four major challenges:

  • High youth unemployment
  • Unreasonable healthcare burdens
  • Poor returns from Social Security
  • Burgeoning student loan debt

The video is just over six minutes long, and is narrated by Jenna Huhn of the Cato Institute. You can watch it here.