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February 28, 2014

A Thought on Politicians and Greed

“Politicians never accuse you of 'greed' for wanting other people's money - only for wanting to keep your own money”

~ Joseph Sobran

HT ThinkExist.com

February 27, 2014

Arlington Public Schools: A Budget with iPads for 2nd Graders

Arlington Schools' Superintendent Patrick Murphy released his proposed FY 2015 budget for the Arlington Public Schools today, according to a report today by ARLnow.com. Here's the lede from their reporting:

"The $539.4 million budget — a 3.1 percent year-over-year increase — also provides a cost-of-living salary increase for APS teachers, launches a new early literacy initiative and funds an APS-provided take-home iPad for every 2nd grader and a Google Chromebook for every 6th grader.

"APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board Thursday night. It’s the beginning of a process that will culminate with the School Board’s final budget adoption on May 8.

"Murphy’s budget includes $7.3 million in cuts and “efficiencies.” APS expects to save $1.6 million by merging the Langston High School continuation program into Arlington Mill High School (located at the Arlington Career Center) and by reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22."

ARLnow also reports, "The proposed budget includes the beginning of a number of significant initiatives," and provides these specifics:

"Starting in the fall, every 2nd grader will be issued an Apple iPad and every 6th grader will be issued a Google Chromebook. All 2,150 iPads and 1,650 Chromebooks will be internet-accessible at school (via WiFi) and students will be able to take them home. Officials say the computers will be leased and the cost in FY 2015 will be $200,000. Dubbed the 1:1 Initiative, APS expects to gradually expand the program to every grade level, with 3rd and 7th grades next in line.

"Fiscal Year 2015 will be the first year of a three-year goal to eliminate early release days and to spread foreign language programs (FLES) to all elementary schools. Two of the seven schools with early release days will have the early release eliminated under Murphy’s budget, thus providing additional instruction time for FLES. It’s yet to be determined which two schools will be chosen.

"A third major initiative in Murphy’s budget is early literacy. Murphy hopes to boost reading levels for those in two grade categories — PreK-2 and 3-6 — via investments in technology, summer reading programs and professional development for teachers."

The cost per pupil for FY 2015 will increase 3.03%, from $18,678 for FY 2014 to $19,244 for FY 2015. Information about this calculation can be found on page 46 of the budget document. In the past, some taxpayers have calculated a higher amount since they include all capital projects. However, the $19,244 figure follows the "WABE methodology" and allow comparison to other regional school systems.

Readers are invited to read the comments to the ARLnow.com news article, especially those concerning the iPads for second graders. While we understand the importance of technology. we are reminded of the wisdom of Joseph Sobran, who said, "In one century, we went from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching remedial English in college." (per ThinkExist.com) Consequently, we wonder just how the School bureaucrats will evaluate the value of the iPads in determining accountability.

The Schools' press release is here. The Superintendent's proposed FY 2015 budget, and related budget document are here.

February 26, 2014

Arlington County Board Gets Their Homeless Shelter

At their "recessed" meeting yesterday evening, the Arlington County Board authorized $6.6 million for construction of a year-round homeless facility that will be "located on the second and third floors of 2020-14th Street." The contract was authorized "in an amount not to exceed $5,508,274, plus a contingency of $1,101,655, for a total contract authorization of $6,609,929," according to the Board's February 24 recessed agenda (recessed item 12 with link to the County Manager's report)

Here are a few details from the meeting that appeared in Scott McCaffrey's story today for the Arlington Sun Gazette:

"The contract, worth up to $6.6 million, was awarded to Miller Bros. on a 3-0 vote, with board member Mary Hynes absent due to illness and the seat of former board member Chris Zimmerman awaiting an April special election.

"When complete, the facility will replace the aging Emergency Winter Shelter, located a block north. The current shelter is managed by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), which will run the new facility.

"The construction contract drew criticism from Audrey Clement, a former Green Party candidate for County Board, who objected not to the facility itself, but to the per-bed cost, which she called “exorbitant.”

"Clement said the District of Columbia government recently built a comparable shelter for about half the per-bed cost. While calling spending on the homeless shelter “peanuts” compared to some other planned government construction projects, she said it was excessive, and also criticized the proposed annual operating expenses of $2.5 million.

"County Board Chairman Jay Fisette parried both the thrust of Clement’s comments, and the tone.

“This should be only a time for rejoicing, not complaining,” he said. The new facility, Fisette said, will “help folks, in a difficult period of their lives, pull their lives together.”

McCaffrey ended the article with this warning for taxpayers:

"The construction contract awarded to Miller Bros. includes an unusually high contingency amount, which staff said was prudent given the age and condition of the office building and the amount of retrofitting needed for the space to be transformed."

Additional details about the facility, from the ARLnow.com article, posted by Ethan Rothstein, include (currently has 116 comments):

"The shelter will have 50 year-round beds, 25 winter beds and five medical beds. The construction will include building a separate entrance and elevator to separate the shelter from the rest of the tenants in the building, including the two ground-floor restaurants, which will remain open during construction.

"The total cost estimate for the shelter project is $8.9 million, which includes $1.5 million in design, administration and county staff costs. The contract also includes a $1.1 million contingency, and the contract adds on to the county’s 2011 purchase of the building for $27.1 million. The shelter will be operated by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN) and will replace the Emergency Winter Shelter, just two blocks away.

"When the plan to build the shelter was approved last spring, residents of the adjacent Woodbury Heights Condominiums expressed concern that the facility would be a security hazard. Last night, no neighbors spoke against the item, and only one speaker voiced opposition: former Green party County Board candidate Audrey Clement."

So now Arlington taxpayers are on the hook for $36 million for this homeless facility ($27.1 million to purchase the building + the $8.9 million estimated cost identified above). The county's press release is here.

February 25, 2014

A Thought on Progressive Politics and Economics

"Detroit isn’t a monster — it’s just ahead of the curve. Or it is a monster, in the classical sense of that word: a warning of things to come. We should all be paying attention, but those Americans who should be paying the closest attention are those who are unfortunately least inclined to do so: the happy inhabitants of the gilded communities of Northern California.

"I have written a great deal about Detroit as the inevitable endgame of progressive politics and economics, and those who are disinclined to be persuaded by such analysis as I have to offer respond as with one voice: “San Francisco!” The case bears some examination."

< . . . . >

"Is San Francisco the progressives’ best counterexample to the devastation in Detroit? Ask again in 20 years."

~ Kevin D. Williamson

HT Williamson's 2/17/14 column "The Golden Gate Communities," at National Review Online

February 24, 2014

Two Thoughts on the Minimum Wage

"All sentient human beings should know higher minimum wage laws will mean more unemployment. Just ask them, for instance, what would happen if the minimum wage was raised to $100 per hour. Once they admit that would lead to massive job losses, they’ve accepted the principle and it’s simply an empirical issue of figuring out how many jobs are lost when the minimum wage is $75, $50, $20, $10, $6, etc.

"At the risk of stating the obvious, businesses seek to make money and they won’t hire somebody who can only produce $6 of value per hour if the government says that person has to be paid $7.25.

"But there are those who nonetheless push for higher minimum wage requirements. I’ve previously provided six potential reasons why a person would support such a policy, three of which are because of cynicism and three of which are because of naiveté.

"I strongly suspect Obama and his team are pushing for a higher minimum wage for the first reason, but it’s hard to even care. All that really matters is that people will suffer if the President succeeds.

"And I’m not making a partisan point. Mitt Romney and George W. Bush had the same mentality."

~ Daniel J. Mitchell

HT His 2/24/14 Townhall.com column, "Minimum Wage Laws: Sabotaging the Ladder of Economic Opportunity"

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"Bias often appears in facts someone omits, not in actual inaccuracies. Take the New York Times’ new minimum wage calculator, which shows how difficult it can be to support oneself on just a minimum-wage income. Left unsaid: Few minimum-wage workers do so.

"The Times’ calculator asks users to try to balance living expenses on a minimum-wage budget. No doubt about it – it’s hard. Not much remains after food, rent, utilities, and transportation expenses. Trying to support a family on a minimum-wage job would be incredibly difficult. But few on the minimum wage actually do this.

"The New York Times did not mention that the average family income of a minimum-wage worker exceeds $50,000 a year. How? The vast majority of minimum-wage workers are second (or third or fourth) earners in their family. Minimum-wage jobs are entry-level positions, primarily filled by unskilled and inexperienced workers. Many minimum-wage workers are between the ages of 16 and 24, and two-thirds work part-time.

"So while lots of Americans start out working near the minimum wage, few raise a family on it. Instead, as they gain experience, they become more productive and command higher pay. Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers get a raise within a year. The typical pay increase: 24 percent. (Here are more facts the Times avoided mentioning.)"

~ James Sherk

HT His 2/23/14 post, "Few People Actually Raise Families on Minimum Wage," at the Heritage Foundation's blog, The Foundry

February 23, 2014

As February Closes, CAGW Names Another Porker

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

And the winner for February 2014 is Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts). She won the award for February, according to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) because:

". . . she spouted off about the silly suggestion that the United States Postal Service (USPS) should be permitted to expand its now limited activities deeply into financial services.  Sen. Warren’s comments came shortly after the publication of a January 27, 2014 USPS Office of Inspector General Report (OIG) report that explored the possibility of having the agency, which currently sells money orders, dabble more extensively into what the IG called “non-banking services,” such as payment services, savings options and credit services."

CAGW took pains to point out the following background information about the US Postal Service:

"The USPS reported a $5 billion loss in fiscal year (FY) 2013, the seventh consecutive year of losses.  According to September 6, 2011 testimony by the GAO before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the USPS business model is “broken.”  The GAO’s recommendations to fix the problems at the USPS did not remotely suggest that the agency should expand into new lines of business.  Indeed, since delivering the mail is the agency’s business, it strains all limits of credulity to believe that starting another business could save its primary business."

The complete justification is rather lengthy, but CAGW closes by saying:

"For her preposterous idea to allow the USPS to play Mr. Monopoly in order to chase profits without a scintilla of structural reform and expand into new businesses instead of preserving its core business, while setting the stage for another enormous taxpayer bailout, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is CAGW’s February Porker of the Month."

Rather than trying to find ways of growing the U.S. Postal Service, Congress should be looking for ways to downsize the Postal Service. As smart phone apps grow ever smarter, it seems inevitable that use of the Postal Service will become ever more limited. Besides, delivery services such as FedEx and UPS could "deliver whatever "mail" remains. After all, the pony express eventually bit the dust.

Please note: CAGW is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.  Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

February 22, 2014

Arlington County Board Advertises an Effective Rate Increase

At their monthly meeting this morning, the Arlington County Board voted to EFFECTIVELY increase the real estate tax rate by 4.63%. For the record, inflation from January 2013 to January 2014, according to the Department of Labor's CPI-U index was 1.58%.

Note that is the "effective rate increase," and is not the "no increase in the real estate tax rate," which the County Board voted to advertise this morning (see county's updated press release here).

At the online Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey updated his earlier story, which we cited in our Thursday, February 20, 2014 Growls. His lede reads:

"Arlington homeowners would not see a tax-rate increase but still would have to dig deeper to pay the higher cost of government under the fiscal 2015 budget detailed Feb. 20 by County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

"Under Donnellan’s billion-dollar spending package, the typical – if mythical – Arlington household would see its total local-tax-and-fee burden jump $368 to a record $7,371, and maybe higher if county officials opt to further increase trash-collection rates on single-family homeowners."

The mechanics of computing the "effective" tax rate increase are in § 58.1-3321 of the Code of Virginia, which is titled "Effect on rate when assessment results in tax increase; public hearings" In addition, the County Manager's report to the Board (Item 20.A. on its 2/22/14 agenda) provides background information. Several attachments provide historical information. Attachment V has the information to compute the "effective rate increase." The following text from the Code of Virginia explains the difference between the "effective rate increase" and the "advertised" real estate tax rate:

"When any annual assessment, biennial assessment or general reassessment of real property by a county, city or town would result in an increase of 1 percent or more in the total real property tax levied, such county, city, or town shall reduce its rate of levy for the forthcoming tax year so as to cause such rate of levy to produce no more than 101 percent of the previous year's real property tax levies, unless subsection B of this section is complied with, which rate shall be determined by multiplying the previous year's total real property tax levies by 101 percent and dividing the product by the forthcoming tax year's total real property assessed value."

Mr. McCaffrey included comments from our February 20 Growls in his updated reporting.Cool

February 21, 2014

A Thought on States and the Control of Washington, D.C.

" . . . . The states were supposed to help control Washington, D.C.

"The states were given a powerful tool with which to exercise this power: the United States Senate.  According to the original Article I, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution, state legislatures were to elect Senators to represent the state’s interests in Washington.  For a century they did so, and states remained the preeminent polities in America.  Even after the Civil War and the great centralization effected by the 14th Amendment, states remained considerably more powerful than they are today.

"That ended in 1913.  Well-meaning Progressives believed the Senate was an undemocratic institution (an accurate description the Founders would have taken as a compliment), and successfully fought to overthrow it.  The states lost their check on the federal government.  This is no arcane bit of procedural minutiae.  The Founders set up the checks because they knew “ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  Federal officeholders and bureaucrats in Washington are ambitious.  They have legitimate powers and responsibilities.  But unless someone else’s ambition is made to counter their own, they will go beyond their legitimate powers.  This is as certain as a law of nature. (emphasis in the original)

"History bears out the verdict.  The history of federal policy since 1913 includes the New Deal, the Great Society, the departments of labor, education, health and human services, housing and urban development, energy, transportation, and homeland security, the FDA, SEC, EPA, FCC, NEA, NEH, NIH, TVA, AID, DEA, ATF, NASA, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Sallie Mae, Freddie Mac, and scores of other agencies, boards, commissions, and corporations.  Some are good programs, some are not.  The point is that their existence as federal programs dates after the 17th Amendment.  Virtually everything the federal government does today, outside of taxation, trade, and national defense, started after 1913.  The federal budget in 1913 was roughly around $20 billion in today’s dollars.  It has grown 20,000 percent since then." (emphasis in the original)

~ Paul David Miller

HT His February 21, 2014 Essay, "How Tocqueville Anticipated Our Culture of Dependency," at TheFederalist.com

February 20, 2014

Political Greed Benefits from Higher Real Estate Assessments

Today saw the opening round in the FY 2015 budget battles as Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan released her proposed budget during a budget work session this afternoon (see 'budget news' here, or DM&F's budget section here). The budget battles will last until April 22 when the Arlington County Board adopts the FY 2015 budget and sets the real estate tax rates, among other tax, fees, and other revenue.

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey seems to have the first news report on this afternoon's budget work session. Here's his lede:

"Arlington homeowners would not see a tax-rate increase but still would have to dig deeper to pay the higher cost of government under the fiscal 2015 budget detailed Feb. 20 by County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

"Under Donnellan's billion-dollar spending package, the typical - if mythical - Arlington household would see its total local-tax-and-fee burden jump $368 to a record $7,371, and maybe higher if county officials opt to further increase trash-collection rates on single-family homeowners.

"The projected tax burden - based on the owner of a home assessed at the county average of $524,700 this year - is up more than $1,300, or nearly 22 percent, from the same burden on county homeowners in 2009, according to government figures."

Note that while the average home's assessment is up 22% since 2009, actual inflation (CPI-U), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is up less than 11% over that same period. Shouldn't the Arlington County Board actually be trying to cut the real estate tax rate? Why should the County Board masterminds benefit from rising real estate values?

McCaffrey also reports these important points:

"Donnellan has recommended that County Board members maintain the existing real estate tax rate of $1.006 per $100 assessed valuation for residential property, but average assessments up more than 5 percent from last year will push the average residential real estate bill up about $280 to $5,560 in 2014. (While the county government's budget year runs from July through June, the real estate tax rate and annual assessment is always retroactive to the start of the calendar year.)

"County Board members can set an advertised tax rate above Donnellan's proposal if they wish; the advertised rate becomes the maximum that can be adopted later in the budget season. Board members will set the advertised rate on Saturday."

McCaffrey also notes that "property owners would pay 3.4 percent more for water/sewer service and, for single-family homes, at least 2.4 percent more for government-run trash collection and recycling."

Amazing. A county with a population just over 200,000, but a budget of over $1 billion, or about $5,000 per capita. Yet the masterminds manage to fund such vanity projects as the $1 million so-called "bus stop," an aquatic center fast  approaching $100 million, and a streetcar project on Columbia Pike Boulevard currently pegged at $250 million, but could be significantly more.

In addition, while losing the National Science Foundation to Alexandria, the county will construct a facility for the regional homeless in the Courthouse area. Unfortunately, the only issue a one-party government wants to debate is how to spread the cost of its massive and growing wasteful spending between assessment increases, rate increases, and an increasing debt per capita, but these will only result in downward pressure on home prices and upward pressure on rents.

We badly need an Inspector General, not to mention two-party government yesterday, or we won't like tomorrow very much. Just ask Detroit.

A more detailed outline of the County Manager's proposed FY 2015 budget is available in this press release.

February 19, 2014

The Federal Budget from 30,000 Feet

The dollar above is from Heritage Foundation's Federal Budget in Pictures series.

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute, has written a concise, two-page, description of the federal budget. In just two pages, he shows "how to spend $3.9 trillion." To summarize, he writes:

"The federal budget includes a vast array of programs in hundreds of agencies. But when boiled down, the budget consists of just five basic spending activities: compensation, giving aid to state and local governments, transferring wealth through subsidy and benefit programs, and paying interest on the federal debt.

The federal government spent $3.9 trillion in 2013, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Transfers were the largest spending activity at $1.98 trillion, followed by purchases at $571 billion, aid to the states at $510 billion, interest at $414 billion, and compensation at $407 billion."

Chris includes two charts in the two-page paper. One shows budget growth from 2000 to 2013. The other shows federal spending in the five categories, as a percentage of GDP, in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2013. He also suggests four ways for cutting spending.

Print out the February 2014 Tax & Budget Bulletin. You may find yourself carrying it with you to use in explaining the federal budget to family and friends who may not be familiar with the federal budget. And, kudos to Chris Edwards for a very helpful document.

Chris Edwards is also editor of DownsizingGovernment.org, which is "a department-by-department guide to cutting the government's budget."

February 18, 2014

A Thought on Climate Consensus

"Let's also be quite clear that science does not work by way of consensus.  Science does not progress by appeal to authority; in fact, major scientific advances usually come from outside the consensus; one can cite many classic examples, from Galileo to Einstein.  [Another way to phrase this issue: Scientific veracity does not depend on fashionable thinking.]  In other words, the very notion of a scientific consensus is unscientific.

"The degree of consensus also depends on the way the questions are phrased.  For example, we can get 100% consensus if the question is "Do you believe in climate change?"  We can get a near-100% consensus if the question is "Do you believe that humans have some effect on the climate?"  This latter question also would include also local effects, like urbanization, clearing of forests, agriculture, etc.

"So one has to be rather careful and always ask: What is the exact question for which a consensus has been claimed?"

~ S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and director of the Science & Environmental Policy Project.  His specialty is atmospheric and space physics.  An expert in remote sensing and satellites, he served as the founding director of the US Weather Satellite Service and, more recently, as vice chair of the US National Advisory Committee on Oceans & Atmosphere.

HT his 2/17/2014 article, "Climate Consensus Con Game," at American Thinker

February 17, 2014

At 5th Anniversary, 10 Outrageous Stimulus Projects

As background, Voice of America News, the "official external broadcast institution of the United States federal government" (per Wikipedia) reported today, citing a report by Reuters:

"President Barack Obama marked the five-year anniversary of a controversial economic stimulus plan by releasing a report on Monday saying that government spending averted a second Great Depression, setting off a new round of partisan debate about the decision.

"Obama had been in office only a month when he signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $787 billion stimulus that Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives passed over the objections of Republicans.

"Many Americans remain doubtful about how helpful the stimulus was for an economy that still struggles to recover from a deep recession that took hold in 2008.

"The White House, eager to lay to rest those doubts, issued a five-year report that said the stimulus generated an average of 1.6 million jobs a year for four years through the end of 2012.)"

Enough of the hagiography. Thanks to Elizabeth Harrington, reporting today for Washington Free Beacon, we learn which stimulus projects of "the nearly $1 trillion law" are worthy of being classified as examples of waste, fraud and abuse (some may have previously received press coverage):

10) $1.3 million for stimulus highway signs (original text)

9) $152,000 to get lesbians ready for 'adoptive parenthood'

8) $600,000 to plant trees in wealthy neighborhoods

7) $384,949 study of duck penises

6) $1.2 million study of erectile dysfunction in overweight men

5) $100,000 anti-capitalist puppet shows

4) $389,357 for college students to keep a diary of their marijuana and malt liquor use

3) $3.4 million turtle tunnel (in Florida)

2) $8,408 study to see if mice get drunk

1) $535 million on Solyndra (received first loan guarantee from stimulus; has since filed for bankruptcy)

Ms. Harrington notes that "(a)t least four other companies received stimuls money only to later file for bankruptcy." Thanks, Elizabeth, for reminding us that so much government spending is just waste, fraud and abuse.

At Fox News, James Freeman posted an opinion piece today, which included:

"The Obama White House had been egged on by liberal economists like Paul Krugman, who in November of 2008 recommended a stimulus of at least $600 billion. Team Obama worked with Democrats in Congress to exceed his minimum request by more than 30 percent. But after the failure of the stimulus the same liberal economists who had enthusiastically supported the plan would claim that its main flaw was that it was too small.

"Shortly after the passage of the Recovery Act in 2009, Vice President Joseph Biden urged local politicians not to spend the money on "stupid things."

"They ignored his advice, and so did Mr. Biden."

Huffington Post reports on comments in a video by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) in which Sen. Rubio said "'a vibrant free enterprise economy' would have been a better solution than the stimulus."

Hey, don't complain. It's only taxpayers' money. We would agree, however, with Sen. Rubio and his comments about a vibrant free enterprise system.

February 16, 2014

Truth, America, and George Orwell

"In 2013, the IRS confessed it had targeted particular political groups based on their names or political themes — a Big Brother intrusion into private lives that was revealed at about the same time the Associated Press and National Security Agency eavesdropping scandals came to light. In the initial media frenzy, President Obama blasted the politicization of the IRS as "outrageous."

"After the IRS was confirmed to be delaying the tax-exempt requests of conservative groups at a far greater rate than their liberal counterparts, the agency's director stepped down at the end of his term. His replacement subsequently resigned from the agency.

"And the IRS official in charge of tax-exempt decisions, Lois Lerner, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before Congress. She and Joseph H. Grant, commissioner of the Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, both abruptly retired from the IRS.

"Congressional committees and the Treasury inspector general for tax administration found that groups loosely associated with the Tea Party were more likely to have their tax-exempt requests put on hold. Yet Obama concluded this entire mess did not entail "even a smidgen of corruption."

"It takes Orwell's doublethink to explain how a scandal might have rated an "outrageous" before the people in charge quit, retired or invoked the Fifth, and then, after their embarrassing departures, was reinvented as an episode without corruption."

~ Victor Davis Hanson

HT His column posted 2/14/14 at Investor's Business Daily

February 15, 2014

How Much Should It Cost to Run The Arlington Public Schools

Two years ago, we growled about a comprehensive efficiency review of the Arlington Public Schools, reviews initiated by then Virginia Governor Mark Warner, which included one especially startling finding. In our May 11. 2012 Growls, we noted this reporting by the Arlington Sun Gazette:

The consulting firm pegs the cost to Arlington taxpayers of keeping student-teacher ratios lowest in the region at $30 million a year, and asks whether those funds could be better used to more directly attack achievement issues. (emphases added)"

Two related Growls are here and here.

Now we learn the Arlington Public Schools rank second among all of Virginia's school districts in spending in support of Virginia's Standards of Quality, as reported by the Virginia Department of Education to top members of the Virginia General Assembly on January 7, 2014. The report provides numbers on something called "required local match" and "required local effort," and is provided "pursuant to Section 22.1-97, Code of Virginia." According to the report's executive summary:

"The report provides the results of calculations made to ensure that each school division has expended sufficient local funds to support its required local effort. The purpose of required local effort is to ensure that each school division has sufficient local operational expenditures to support its local share of the cost of the Standards of Quality. Fiscal 2013 calculations are based on operational expenditures . . . ."

Essentially, the report shows "the degree to which each school division has met, failed to meet, or surpassed its required local expenditures in support of the Standards of Quality."

Several schools districts in Virginia barely met their required local expenditures (RLE). For example, the Lee County schools exceeded their RLE by only 9.58%. The next two were the Nottoway County schools (13.23%) and the Mecklenburg County schools (15.62%).

On the other hand, the West Point school district ranked #1 by exceeding their RLE by 229.4%. The Arlington Public Schools ranked #2 with its FY 2013 actual local expenditures for operations above its RLE by 195.30%.

The February 10, 2014 budget work session of the Alexandria City School Board (presentation slides not currently accessible) included a slide showing the "top ten" Virginia school divisions, "ranked by % exceeded RLE." The school divisions and their percentage above RLE:

  1. West Point -- 229.42%
  2. Arlington -- 195.3%
  3. Sussex -- 184.71%
  4. Alleghany -- 1.76.03%
  5. Alexandria -- 173.46%
  6. Falls Church -- 170.77%
  7. Covington -- 166.20%
  8. Manassa -- 159.21%
  9. Chrlottesville -- 153.28%
  10. Surry -- 152.72%

Two neighboring school school districts in Northern Virginia did not make the top 10, however. They were:

  • Fairfax -- 123.30%
  • Loudoun -- 147.7%

For the record, the West Point school division was only one of two school divisions, which were cited by the Virginia Department of Education, earning "the Highly Distinguised Title I School Division by exceeding all federal Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) achievement objectives in English and mathematics for two consecutive years," and other requirements, according to a January 2, 2014 press release from the Virginia Department of Education. Arlington Public Schools' Henry Elementary also was recognized for its high achievement in the same press release.

It is difficult for the general public, or even those who attempt to diligently observe the public schools, to know just how much school operations should cost. However, from the efficiency review and from the Department of Education's reporting on Required Local Effort (RLE), it is evident there is a need for serious budget tightening in the Arlington Public Schools although we're sure Arlington school officials will be crying large tears for a larger "county transfer" in the next few months as the Arlington County Board considers the County Manager's FY 2015 proposed budget. In fact, the need for a strong internal audit function may actually be greater in the Arlington Public Schools than in the Arlington County government.

February 12, 2014

Two Members of Congress Named January Porkers of the Month

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

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has "earmarked" two members of Congress as their Porkers of the Month for January 2014.  They are "Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-Va.) for their flagrant fiscal fouls during a January 22, 2014 interview with CQ Roll Call regarding the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014."

CAGW justified "earmarking" Senator Shelby and Representative Wolf this way:

"In response to anti-earmark crusader Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) floor remarks lambasting appropriators for “overstepping their bounds” and comments that he believes the “flawed” omnibus process leaves the bill “wide open for pork, Sen. Shelby responded by saying, “We have no earmarks in there. No bill’s perfect, but overall this is a good bill.” Rep. Wolf followed suit by stating, “This is what Congress is here for, to have policy. So there are no earmarks in this bill, but these are policy issues that make a difference for the country.”

"Earmarks are not policy; they are good old-fashioned pork. CAGW’s initial analysis of the omnibus uncovered at least a dozen examples of earmarks tucked away inside the 1,532-page bill, including $341 million for the Army Corps of Engineers for construction and investigations, $45.1 million for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, $5 million for abstinence education, and $4 million for aquatic plant control.

"While the omnibus includes a few provisions that would increase transparency and help eliminate wasteful spending, including a $49 million reduction for the biofuels program and a prohibition on food stamp advertising and outreach to foreign governments, the bill fails to take significant steps toward eliminating duplicative and overlapping programs identified by the Government Accountability Office over the past three years, which according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) costs an estimated $295 billion annually.

"Earmarking in any form and under any definition continues to present opportunities to abuse the taxpayers’ hard-earned money. Since members of Congress believe there are no earmarks in the omnibus, there is no transparency or accountability and no names attached to programs or projects.

"Sen. Shelby’s and Rep. Wolf’s remarks prove that members of both parties still haven’t gotten the message and are more than willing to pull the wool over taxpayers’ eyes if given the chance. By encouraging more earmarks to slip past the moratorium, Sen. Shelby and Rep. Wolf further entrench Washington’s culture of waste and double-talk, making them CAGW’s January Porkers of the Month."

Kudos to Citizens Against Government Waste for their continuing efforts to identify waste,fraud and abuse in government. Readers of Growls are urged to call or write their Congressional representatives. If you live in Virginia's Arlington County, they are:

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

February 11, 2014

A Thought on Academic Indignation

"It is fascinating to see academics full of indignation over the "exploitation" of low-wage workers by multinational corporations in Third World countries, when it is common on their own academic campuses to have young men get paid nothing at all for risking their health, and sometimes their lives, playing football that brings in millions of dollars to the college and often gets coaches paid higher salaries than the president of the college or university."

~ Thomas Sowell

HT His February 11, 2014 "Random Thoughts" Column at American Spectator

February 09, 2014

A Definition of the 'Tax Wedge'

"The central economic lesson of (Jude Wanniski's) The Way the World Works, however, did not concern the bow-shaped curve relating tax revenues and rates, but rather another doctrine of Laffer's, this one with a long pedigree in academic economics. This was the concept of the "tax wedge." The tax wedge, or simply "the wedge," is that additional product which government compels persons to make if they want to make some other product in the first place. As Wanniski described it: "If Smith and Jones each want to trade sixteen hours of their skills with each other, but in order to complete t he transaction each must give the government two hours of their skills, the two much do thirty-six hours of work to transact thirty-two. The four hours 'tax' is the wedge between them." Wanniski noted that Smith and Jones may choose not to do the transaction if the work required takes thirty-six hours; what brought them together in the first place was the prospect of doing just thirty-two. The wedge could be sufficient to quash the production in question."

~ Brian Domitrovic, page 156, "ECONOCLASTS: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity"

HT Barnes & Noble


February 08, 2014

Putting the Economic and Jobs Recoveries in Perspective

Our friends at the National Taxpayers Union took notice of the reports published earlier this week by the Congressional Budget Office at their blog, Government Bytes. Specifically, Michael Tasselmyer posted "three graphs that put the recovery in perspective."

It's important to understand just who is responsible for today's poor economy. As Rick Moran wrote at American Thinker on Friday (with a link to the CNN poll):

"A new CNN poll shows that a plurality of the American people still blame President George Bush for the bad economy more than 5 years after the "official" end of the Great Recession."

Back to Tasselmyer's post at Government Bytes. He notes that CBO's report on recovery of the labor market "examines current job market conditions and projects where employment figures are heading relative to historical trends." Before providing the graph below, Tasselmyer quotes from the CBO, saying, "The economy is taking much longer to recover than it has after past recessions. Consumers are still hesitant to buy as many goods and services as they did before the downturn, which means employers aren't in any rush to hire." (emphasis in the original).

Take a few minutes to study Tasselmyer's other two graphs, which provide perspectives on the labor participation rate and on the share of the population that is employed.


1) For a more extensive discussion of so-called Obamanomics and jobs, see this January 24, 2014 Forbes column by the inimitable Peter Ferrara. As Ferrara noted in another Forbes column last month:

"President Obama has been promising us economic recovery, restored economic growth, and jobs, since before he was elected. He and his Democrats spent nearly a trillion dollars on so-called “stimulus” to deliver on those promises. But all that was stimulated was government spending, deficits and debt, with the worst recovery from a recession than under any other President since the Great Depression, and even before."

2) The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis has an extensive series of charts comparing recessions and economic recoveries, which respond to the two questions: "How bad was this recession, and how quickly is the economy recovering? How does this recession and recovery compare to previous cycles?"

February 07, 2014

The Cost of Promoting Bike Riding in Arlington County

Your first reaction to the title of this growls may have been, "Well, it's not free!" And you would have been correct, but you might be shocked to learn just how much such efforts by the Arlington County Board masterminds is costing the taxpayers of Arlington County.

In Monday's Washington Times (use Google's news search to find the story entitled "Safety, cost concerns follow Arlington's efforts to promote bike riding" at PressDisplay), Kenric Ward discusses the safety and cost concerns being raised by one Arlington critic who "charges that the county is pressing ahead without proper traffic studies." Ward writes:

"The county sees itself as a model for livability and sustainability. In reality, it's creating unsafe situations," said Joe Warren, a member of Arlington's Transit Advisory Committee."

Ward digs into the county's Master Transportation Plan, and says it "envisions benefiting 'the greatest number of people and to maximize return on investment,'" but Ward then notes:

"But critics say neither of those objectives is being reached by bike.

"The county has dedicated more than $12 million in capital spending for bicycle projects through 2019. It's earmarking millions more for the Capital Bikeshare program that rents out bicycles.

"But Mr. Warren, a cyclist himself, said bike ridership on Arlington's major roads and streets remain 'infinitesimally small.'

"A survey of Capital Bikeshare users found that 42 percent would take a bus or Metro if the bike rentals were not available.

"There's very little diversion [of car traffic]," Mr. Warren said. He called the county's multimillion-dollar adventure 'a tax on everyone else.'

 Bikeshare's Arlington branch forecasts that its $304,356 operating deficit in 2013 will more than double to $$687,230 by 2018."

Sure seems like once again the Arlington County Board masterminds don't understand the concepts of core services and funding only priority services.

Kudos to Kenric Ward for his efforts to bring another abuse of Arlington County taxpayers by the masterminds on the Arlington County Board. And kudos to Joe Warren for sharing the cost information.

February 03, 2014

New Economic Analysis for Columbia Pike Trolley Due Soon

According to an online report this morning in the Arlington Sun Gazette, "County government officials say they in coming weeks will release an updated analysis of the projected impact of the Columbia Pike streetcar project on the local area’s economy."

The news, reported by Scott McCaffrey, is the economic analysis will be completed by EOM February, if not sooner. However, as the headline indicated, the report will "leave controversy" in it's "wake." Peter Rousselot of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit " said the group "has 'very low expectations' for the independence of the study." According to McCaffrey:

"The consultants have an incentive to tell the County Board what a majority of board members want to hear, Rousselot said.

“Unless the consultants working on this ‘study’ want to starve, we know already that it will produce a ringing endorsement of the streetcar,” he said."

Additional information about Arlingtonians for Sensible Transportation (AST) is available here. A meeting of AST supporters is scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, from 7:00 -- 9:00 P.M., at the Walter Reed Community Center, 2909 South 16th Street. You can find a list of ACTA's growls about the Columbia Pike Streetcar by clicking-on here.

February 02, 2014

A Though on Money and Politics

“When buy­ing and selling are controlled by legislation . . . the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.”

~ P. J. O'Rourke

HT Matt Mitchell, article on crony capitalism

February 01, 2014

Arlington County Vanity Project Gets More Attention

Last month, on January 8, we growled about that the financial troubles of a Arlington County Board vanity project, the aquatics center just north of Crystal City, or as we like to call it the Aquaticsphere. Specifically, we pointed out that it was cited during a discussion of fiscal responsibility by the Vienna Town Council in Fairfax County.

Now, another County Board vanity project, the Columbia Pike Streetcar, has the attention of a supervisor in neighboring Fairfax County. Here's the lede from a story yesterday by Brian Trompeter and Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette:

"A member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is sounding a caution over the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar, saying his jurisdiction could be on the hook for more costs than had been anticipated.

"Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) on Jan. 28 voiced concern that federal and state dollars to help fund the project may not come through for what he called the 'Columbia Pike Trolley Folly.'" (emphasis added)

The reporters noted that Herrity's opposition is "nothing new" since "he has consistently voted not to have Fairfax County partner with Arlington on the five-mile streetcar line." What's interesting, however, is that the Arlington County Board's fiscal follies have the attention of their colleagues in neighboring jurisdiction.