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June 30, 2014

Economic Recovery Stymied by Redistribution

Last Wednesday, June 25, Casey Mulligan, University of Chicago economist, received the 2014 F.A. Hayek Prize from the Manhattan Institute for his book, "The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy." According to MI (also see MI's press release):

"Mulligan’s work shows how government policies designed to improve Americans’ economic fortunes have, perversely, weakened the economy."

Today's Wall Street Journal included Mr. Mulligan's op-ed, which was adapted from his remarks on receiving the Hayek Prize. (here at Google's cache for those without a WSJ subscription; HT Real Clear Politics)

Following are excerpts from the WSJ op-ed:

"Why has the labor market contracted so much and why does it remain depressed? Major subsidies and regulations intended to help the poor and unemployed were changed in more than a dozen ways—and although these policies were advertised as employment-expanding, the fact is that they reduced incentives for people to work and for businesses to hire.

< . . . >

"All of these programs have in common that they, like taxes, reduce incentives to work and earn. The cornerstone of "The Redistribution Recession" is to quantify the sum total of these incentives and their changes over time. That's what I call the marginal tax rate, by which I mean the extra taxes paid, and subsidies forgone, as the result of working. Waves of new programs increased the typical marginal tax rate from 40% to 48% in two years.

< . . . >

"Helping people is valuable, but not free. The more you help low-income people, the more low-income people you'll have. The more you help unemployed people, the more unemployed people you'll have.

"That's a cost. For example, you have people out of work who would be productive if it weren't for the help. So there's a trade-off: more help, less economic efficiency.

"I met a recruiter—a man whose job it is to find employees for businesses and put unemployed people into new jobs—and he described the trade-off pretty well. Stacey Reece was his name, and he said that in 2009 his clients again had jobs to fill. But he ran into a hurdle he hadn't seen before. People would apply for jobs not with the intention of accepting it, but to demonstrate to the unemployment office that they were looking for work."

Here are the concluding two paragraphs from Mr. Mulligan's WSJ op-ed:

"So public policy intended to make layoffs less painful actually made layoffs cheaper and more common.

"It's not just politicians or journalists who do not see the full economic picture. It's the top economists in the world, from the International Monetary Fund to university professors, who promised that there was no trade-off and that, at this supposedly special time in history, redistribution would create jobs and grow the economy. The stimulus advocates rarely note the kind of thing that Mr. Reece talked about, and they never, ever, mention that redistribution is a subsidy to layoffs."

Growls readers are urged to read Mr. Mulligan's entire op-ed, and if you have the time, watch the entire 45-minute acceptance speech -- here at the Manhattan Institute. Even better, read Casey Mulligan's book -- available at Barnes & Noble.

Add-in all the regulations added by the Obama administration -- see our May 21, 2012 Growls (or our November 25, 2012 or June 24, 2013 Growls) -- and it's easier to see a "transformed America" -- or as Mark Levin refers to it, Post-Constitution America (here in our August 26, 2013 Growls). For more on President Obama and "fundamentally transforming America," see this October 1, 2013 National Review Online article by Victor Davis Hanson.

June 29, 2014

A Thought on Freedom and Security

"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."

~ Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire"

HT Dr. Walter E. Williams; Collection of Quotations.

June 28, 2014

The EPA Wants to Spend $40,000 for What?

(UPDATE (6/30/14): The original title of this Growls said EPA planned to spend $1.6 million rather than $40,000. In a June 29, 2014 update, the Washington Free Beacon explained the calculation was based upon 195 nights over 24 days rather than 195 room nights over 24 days. Our concerns about the nature of the meeting remains, however.

At the Washington Free Beacon yesterday, Elizabeth Harrington reports, "The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will spend more than $1 million on hotel accommodations for an “Environmental Justice” conference this fall."

Here are the specifics:

"The agency posted its intention to contract with the Renaissance Arlington Local Capital View Hotel for its upcoming public meeting, for which it will need to book 195 rooms for 24 days.

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Office of Enforcement and Compliance, Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) intends to award a fixed-price Purchase Order … to the Renaissance Arlington Local Capital View Hotel,” the solicitation said. “The purpose of this acquisition is to cover the cost of 195 sleeping room nights from Sept. 9 [to] Oct 2, 2014, at government rate for the 50th public meeting of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee of the EPA.”

"Rooms at the Renaissance Arlington run for roughly $349 a night. At 24 nights, the cost of 195 rooms will reach $1,633,320, or $8,376 per room.

"The government per diem rate for lodging is $219 for September. If the EPA receives the per diem rate, the cost will come to $1,024,920 for the duration of their stay."

Say you've never heard of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC)? According to Harrington:

"The NEJAC was established in 1993 to “obtain independent, consensus advice and recommendations from a broad spectrum of stakeholders involved in environmental justice.”

"The council meets twice a year, bringing together members from community organizations, businesses, academic institutions, and state and local governments for “discussions about integrating environmental justice into EPA priorities and initiatives.”

"The EPA defines “Environmental Justice” as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

"The council will give recommendations to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. The group’s latest recommendation outlined “critical elements for conducting public participation and identified core values and guiding principles for the practice of public participation.”

"The panel advised the EPA to “meet people where they are” when engaging in the community, and identified “language and cultural differences,” “lack of cultural competency,” and “lack of trust” among the community as barriers to Environmental Justice.

"Past meetings included presentations on “blocks to sustainability and environmental justice,” health disparities, climate change, and grant writing."

And by the way, the NEJAC has awarded $23 million since 1994. And American wonder why Washington is incapable of reducing the national debt?

Kudos to the Washington Free Beacon for continuing to focus on the waste, fraud and abuse of America's taxpayers by America's taxeaters.

For other thoughts on various forms of social justice, see our January 30, 2012 and December 21, 2013 Growls, or use Growls' search facility, and search for "social justice."

June 26, 2014

June 2014 Porker of the Month Named

"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."

On Tuesday, "Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named U.S. Chief Information Officer (CIO) Steven VanRoekel its June Porker of the Month for his flagrant disregard of the pressing need to fix the federal government’s severely dysfunctional procurement process.  On June 19, 2014, Mr. VanRoekel proclaimed that all is well with federal information technology (IT), leading CAGW to wonder if he should win the first “Are You Kidding Me?” award."

Here's the basis on which CAGW awarded Mr. VanRoekel its June 2014 Porker of the Month:

"Mr. VanRoekel said no legislation is needed to fix federal IT, meaning he is opposed to H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), which passed the House on February 25, 2014, and was included as part of the House-passed fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.  FITARA would save taxpayers billions of dollars, streamline the federal government’s procurement process, reduce wasteful spending, and improve the efficiency of government IT systems.

"For the past 30 years, CAGW has closely monitored numerous federal IT software programs that never made it out of the gate.  For example, in 1998, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) financial system, known as the Core Financial and Logistics System, wasted $249 million after six years of missed deadlines; in 2006, the VA’s Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise, wasted another $110 million; and the Internal Revenue Service’s costly and insufficient Cyberfile program, initialized in 2002, wasted $17 million and duplicates an already existing, well-functioning Free-File system.  The most recent and publicized examples of failed federal IT software programs, such as the botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s HealthCare.gov and the VA’s VistA program, have more importantly proved that government mismanagement and inefficiency doesn’t just cost money; it can also cost lives.

"Mr.VanRoekel expressed his views on IT reform in an online-chat session with Federal News Radio.  He stated, “I don’t actually think we need legislation in this space…I think the increased pressure on the role that technology is playing is going to take us, with good management practices and good policy, in the right direction of where we need to go.”  If the federal government’s procurement woes are as easy to fix as Mr. VanRoekel suggests, there would not be a litany of failed and costly IT projects.

"In fact, Mr. VanRoekel stated that such failed programs are merely “notable risks and failures that teach us how to do things differently in the future.”  After missed deadlines and milestones due to insufficient data collection and poor policy implementation helped waste billions of dollars at the expense of taxpayers, it does not appear that Mr. VanRoekel has learned anything.  If it “takes a village to move federal IT,” maybe Mr. VanRoekel should start with the village that represents the people: Congress."

Thank you, Citizens Against Government Waste, for your work in fighting against waste, fraud, and abuse in government. Read about other Porkers of the Month here. And we urge all Americans to support CAGW.

June 25, 2014

Three Arlington County Board Members Get Slapped Down

First, we apologize for the lack of Growls over the past three days. We promise to make a better effort to avoid a similar occurrence.

In the second "Thumbs Down" on the Opinion page in this week's Arlington Sun Gazette, the newspaper writes:

"To the pro-streetcar majority on the County Board, who continue to fail to understand that they are turning the public against their position just about every time they open their mouths.

"Board members Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada used an excessive amount of time at a meeting last week to blather on about the reasons they wouldn’t support a referendum on the streetcar. (Show of hands out there: Anyone think they were going to move forward with such a vote? We didn’t think so.)

"The long-winded commentary was accompanied by a press release from the county government, which seems to be kept busy of late by churning out one-sided streetcar materials. There was even a video to go with it.

"Then, later last week, we learned that the new contract for management services related to the streetcar includes $650,000 in the first year for “outreach.” Critics again pounced, deriding it as a propaganda slush fund.

"We think the pro-streetcar forces have a case to be made to the community, but if they keep acting so out of sync with the public, the teetering Democratic oligarchy that has held the reins of power in Arlington for two generations is likely to find itself kicked to the curb. Hynes and Tejada, whose seats are up in 2015, would be right to be very, very nervous."

Kudos for the excellent editorial comment. We encourage Growls readers to contact the Arlington County Board to tell them how concerned you are about this overpriced vanity project. Contact information is available in  the "links" section in the column to the right. For letters to the editor of the Arlington Sun Gazette, visit the paper's "contact us" page.

If you haven't kept up on this Arlington County Board vanity project, virtually all of the information you will need to make your case to the Arlington County Board that the Columbia Pike streetcar is way overpriced, visit the website of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST). See also our June 18 and June 21 Growls; you can search for others. Arlington County's webpage for the Columbia Pike streetcar is here.  And, if you can, consider writing AST a check (information available on their website).

Sounds like the Arlington County Board, Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit, and the pro-streetcar forces should be holding more townhall meetings. Or did the County Board get scared off from the one and only townhall event they held more than a year ago?

June 22, 2014

$14.4 Billion of Your Tax Dollars Down the Proverbial Rathole

In the online Washington Examiner on Friday, Kelly Cohen writes, "Medicaid wrongly paid out more than $14 billion last year to managed care organizations (MCOs), often for treatments or services that were not necessary, never performed or weren't eligible for coverage." (HT American Thinker)

According to the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) report, "In fiscal year 2013, the Medicaid program covered about 71.7 million individuals at a cost of $431.1 billion, of which CMS estimated that $14.4 billion (5.8 percent) were improper payments."

Ms. Cohen continues with these details:

"MCOs, which allow Medicaid beneficiaries to get their care though state-run programs are rapidly increasing in popularity through the expansion of Medicaid. The amount of annual improper payments could increase because of Obamacare, GAO found.

"The "size and diversity" of the MCOs have put both state and federal governments at odds on how to oversee the payments, the report said.

"Specifically, the wrong payments made were for treatments or services not covered, not necessary, or billed for but never provided, GAO found.

"States that expand Medicaid programs under Obamacare will receive a 100 percent reimbursement from the federal government for MCOs for the next two years, the report said.

"Given that state and federal governments have recovered "only a small portion" of the wrongly paid money, unless they ramp up their oversight of MCOs, even more Medicare dollars will be "vulnerable to improper payments," GAO said."

If that isn't bad enough, Rick Moran has even worse news at American Thinker, writing:

"Just how bad is Medicaid fraud, waste, and abuse? Liberals dismiss the claims of massive problems with Medicaid, but the facts say otherwise.

"An independent audit of Medicaid recipients by the state of Illinois last year should chill a prudent taxpayer to the bones:

In January, the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, or HFS, began a new project verifying eligibility for Illinois’ 2.7 million Medicaid enrollees. For years, state workers had failed to take adequate steps to ensure the people receiving Medicaid benefits were actually eligible for the program. As an Auditor General report noted, state workers failed to verify basic eligibility criteria, such as income, residency and citizenship status. Worse yet, some of the annual eligibility checks had been delayed for more than five years.

So state lawmakers pushed HFS to hire an independent vendor who specializes in this kind of work to review Medicaid eligibility. Since January, the independent vendor has reviewed nearly 419,000 case files of individuals currently enrolled in Medicaid. Of those, the vendor identified more than 210,000 that were ineligible for benefits, which amounts to more than 50 percent of all cases reviewed so far. Another 47,000 cases reviewed so far this year were eligible for some benefits, but enrolled in the wrong program. For example, some individuals enrolled in Medicaid may only qualify for programs with greater cost-sharing. Overall, the review has yielded an eligibility error rate of more than 61 percent.

When HFS receives a recommendation from Maximus to cancel benefits for a particular case, the state gives the enrollee an additional 20 days to submit documentation showing they are still eligible for benefits. The state then removes individuals from the program after verifying that they are no longer eligible.

Unfortunately, the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees has initiated a legal challenge which may slow or halt this progress. AFSCME wants the state to terminate its contract with the expert vendor reviewing eligibility and instead hire new dues-paying state workers to do the job. Never mind the fact that state workers’ failure to do the job adequately prompted the state to hire an independent vendor in the first place. With another 347,000 cases currently pending review, and thousands more on the way, this challenge becomes all the more worrisome.

"Eventually, the auditor found that fully half of the 700,000 + Medicaid beneficiaries investigated were ineligible for benefits or receiving an improper amount of benefits.

"And that's from one state.

"So, on top of this broken program, the Obama administration is adding about 7 million new recipients. Most of those 7 million will be using MCO's for their health care needs.

"What could go wrong?"

What indeed? Just wondering, but if the pay of workers in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (MCS) -- the responsible agency for Medicare and Medicaid -- was dinged 25% until the amount of "improper payments" was reduced to zero, would the amount of "improper payments" be reduced to $0? Taxpayers would like to know! Better yet, taxpayers deserve to know.

Kudos to Kelly Cohen and Rick Moran.

June 21, 2014

A $650,000 Public Relations Campaign to do What?

According to the online BusinessDictionary.com, an advertising campaign is defined as:

"A coordinated series of linked advertisements with a single idea or theme.

"An advertising campaign is typically broadcast through several media channels. It may focus on a common theme and one or few brands or products, or be directed at a particular segment of the population. Successful advertising campaigns achieve far more than the sporadic advertising, and may last from a few weeks and months to years."

In a 'must-read-in-its-entirety' article in today's Washington Post, Patricia Sullivan reports that "Arlington County has launched a new public relations campaign to promote its controversial Columbia Pike streetcar project and is exploring whether the project could advance more quickly if it is built without using federal funds.t "

Ms Sullivan develops her lede, writing:

"Officials say they are trying to convince voters of the project’s merits after a tide of criticism by opponents, including County Board members John Vihstadt (I) and Libby Garvey (D). The county plans to ramp up promotions on social media and at the county fair in August, and it is considering a public bus tour.

"A day after the board’s three pro-streetcar members announced that they would not let the public vote on the long-planned, $358 million project, the county unveiled video testimonials from prominent residents, and posted informational posters and other material on a county-administered streetcar Web site.

This is not an advertising campaign,” County Manager Barbara Donnellan said. “There are sound bites out there, a lot of misinformation. I’m not trying to advertise or promote, I’m trying to get information out.” (emphasis added)

Misinformation? No where in Sullivan's article, or at anytime since the Board launched its uber-expensive vanity project, has there been a claim the anti-streetcar forces have promulgated misinformation. Sullivan addresses this, writing:

"But opponents say there is already plenty of information available. What there is not, they say, is evidence that the board is willing to listen to its constituents, some of whom made their sentiments clear when they put Vihstadt on the board in a special election in April.

“Most people in Arlington have concluded they know what the streetcar is, and they don’t like it,” said Peter Rousselot, a leader of the anti-streetcar group Arling­tonians for Sensible Transit. Vihstadt, one of few registered Republicans to hold elective office in the overwhelmingly Democratic county, made opposing the streetcar a cornerstone of his campaign."

What there has been, however, seems to be an unwillingness on the part of the county masterminds to explain in a clear and forthright manner how the Columbia Pike streetcar option is more cost effective (more cost beneficial?) than the far more economical BRT alternative.

Now comes the news that Arlington County's masterminds will spend (waste?) $650,000 to market the Arlington County Board's platinum-plated Columbia Pike vanity streetcar project. According to Ms. Sullivan, "Although the county’s campaign so far has been run by its own employees, a county spokeswoman said that an $8 million contract with a consultant who will oversee the streetcar plans includes up to $650,000 for communications and outreach during the first year."

Let's see: $1 million bus stops; an overbudget Artisphere; an out-of-control aquatics center; Taj Mahal schools; an already over-budget Columbia Pike streetcar. And they're considering a bus tour to promote the streetcar? As one well-known county pundit wrote to me, "That's rich!" Misinformation, or a bunch of spendthrift, out-of-control masterminds? Hmmmmm!

Be sure to read the entire article since Ms. Sullivan also discusses a request by Board chairman Jay Fisette to the County Manager "to develop an alternative funding plan, one that requires neither federal funding nor general obligation bonds that would put a financial burden on Arlington homeowners."

And, by the way, the "communications" the county's poohbahs have planned sounds like an advertising campaign to ElGrowlerGrande.

June 20, 2014

Thoughts on LBJ's So-Called War on Poverty

Today, we have wars on this and wars on that, e.g., the 'war on coal' or the 'war on women,' but presidents have been waging wars on various issues of the day for many years. One such war was Lyndon Baines Johnson's War on Poverty, which he announced in his 1964 State of the Union speech (LBJ Library, transcript at Miller Center, NPR, and You Tube).

Here is the lede from a January 8, 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed. "How the War on Poverty was Lost" by Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation (available here):

"On Jan. 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to announce an ambitious government undertaking. "This administration today, here and now," he thundered, "declares unconditional war on poverty in America."

"Fifty years later, we're losing that war. Fifteen percent of Americans still live in poverty, according to the official census poverty report for 2012, unchanged since the mid-1960s. Liberals argue that we aren't spending enough money on poverty-fighting programs, but that's not the problem. In reality, we're losing the war on poverty because we have forgotten the original goal, as LBJ stated it half a century ago: "to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities."

"The federal government currently runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care and targeted social services to poor and low-income Americans. Government spent $916 billion on these programs in 2012 alone, and roughly 100 million Americans received aid from at least one of them, at an average cost of $9,000 per recipient. (That figure doesn't include Social Security or Medicare benefits.) Federal and state welfare spending, adjusted for inflation, is 16 times greater than it was in 1964. If converted to cash, current means-tested spending is five times the amount needed to eliminate all official poverty in the U.S.

"LBJ promised that the war on poverty would be an "investment" that would "return its cost manifold to the entire economy." But the country has invested $20.7 trillion in 2011 dollars over the past 50 years. What does America have to show for its investment? Apparently, almost nothing: The official poverty rate persists with little improvement. (emphasis added)

Talk about the law of unintended consequences? Rector asks readers to "consider LBJ's original aim," which he notes was "to give poor Americans "opportunity not doles," planning to shrink welfare dependence not expand it. In his vision, the war on poverty would strengthen poor Americans' capacity to support themselves, transforming "taxeaters" into "taxpayers." It would attack not just the symptoms of poverty but, more important, remove the causes."

Although unintended consequences can be positives, more often, they seem to be either negative or perverse, as suggested by Wikipedia. Growls readers are urged to read Mr. Rector's entire op-ed.

June 19, 2014

A Thought on the Price of Oil

"The next time you fill your car up at the pump, please realize that you are paying a few extra cents per gallon because of bad decisions made in Washington. The price of oil is set by global supply and demand, and the United States cannot fully insulate itself from the effects of global oil-price spikes. However, what the nation can do is allow much greater production and efficient transportation (which is equally important) of oil and gas to reduce regional price variations. Increased production by the United States, coupled with an end of the restrictions on exports, would both stabilize global prices by adding a major new supplier, and allow America to directly benefit, rather than be just a victim, when oil prices spike for geopolitical reasons."

~ Richard W. Rahn, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute, and Chairman, Instiute for Global Economic Growth

Source: His June 17, 2014 Washington Times column

June 18, 2014

Three County Board Members are Indeed the Masterminds

In an online article today for the Arlington Sun Gazette today, Scott McCaffrey reports the three pro-streetcar Arlington County Board members said "nyet" to a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar project.

Here's the essence of McCaffrey's reporting:

"In an orchestrated series of speeches at the board meeting, County Board Chairman Jay Fisette, Vice Chairman Mary Hynes and board member Walter Tejada each covered familiar ground in their support for the streetcar project. They said procedural hurdles stood in the way of putting the matter before the electorate.

“I understand the impulse to put the streetcar to a vote,” Fisette said, but said there was no feasible way to do it:

• While some Virginia localities have state authorization to conduct advisory referendums, Arlington does not.

• To put an issue on the ballot, the County Board would need to authorize the sale of general-obligation bonds for the project. Fisette, Hynes and Tejada said they would not support the use of such bonds to help pay for the project.

"All three repeated the mantra of pro-streetcar forces that the time for debate is over.

“The issue has been decided by our community. The time has come to act,” Fisette said.

"Decided? Maybe not. The streetcar was a dominant issue in April’s County Board special election, likely will be a key issue in the November general election, and could be a seminal issue in the 2015 County Board election, where the seats of Hynes and Tejada will be up.

"Should anti-streetcar board member John Vihstadt retain his seat in this November’s election, anti-streetcar forces could go after Hynes and Tejada in 2015."

In regards to holding a referendum, McCaffrey took note that: "Several key Democrats – Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), Treasurer Frank O’Leary, Commissioner of Revenue Ingrid Morroy and Howze among them – earlier in the spring called for a referendum to decide the fate of the five-mile-long, $350 million streetcar line that is slated to run from Pentagon City west to Skyline. Few, however, expected a referendum to be placed on the ballot, and both pro-streetcar and anti-streetcar forces were dubious about the idea."

The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan reports the coordination by the three Board members was almost certainly a surprise, writing:

"Board members John Vihstadt (I) and Libby Garvey (D) — as well as other referendum proponents — seemed to have been caught off guard by the coordinated statements delivered by their colleagues at the board’s workshop session Tuesday afternoon. They warned that voters would have their say at the ballot box this fall.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a free streetcar,” Garvey said. “We all are going to be paying for this streetcar.”

ARLnow.com also posted a lengthy report this morning, including this response from the Board's chairman:

“After careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I do not support a referendum on streetcar,” Fisette said in his statement. “Under Virginia law… a referendum question must be tied to a vote on General Obligation bonds — and it is my commitment that we will use zero homeowner-financed general obligation bonds to build the streetcar.”

“I will walk away from the project rather than violate that pledge,” Fisette continued.

(About $71 million of the expense will be shared with Fairfax County, since the Pike streetcar will extend to Skyline.)

So put a referendum on the ballot that obligates $1.00. How's that any different than an advisory referendum?Fisette also ruled out waiting for Virginia General Assembly authorization to hold an advisory referendum.

ARLnow.com readers have posted nearly 300 comments as of 10:30 PM, including this sampling of comments:

  • Ivan: "Don't care what they say, I will vote against them until they are gone."
  • Issuevoter: "They can either have a trolley referendum now, or we will hold the referendum when they are each up for election again. I believe they have chosen unwisely."
  • Orwell: "So put a referendum on the ballot that obligates $1.00. How's that any different than an advisory referendum?"
  • Um: "I thought Vihstadt was the streetcar referendum."

The county spinmeisters posted a detailed press release, which includes links to the Board chairman's statement, comments of the other pro-streetcar Board members, and miscellaneous links.

One curious item in the press release, however, is the statement, "(Chairman Fisette) and his colleagues “are determined that the streetcar will be built in a cost-effective and timely manner. We will closely oversee this project.”"

If that's true, how can the assertion by Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (see document, "Bus Rapid Transit - Not Streetcar - for Columbia Pike" at AST's "Get the Facts" webpage) that a Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative would cost $260 million less than the county's streetcar option also be true? Either the one is true, or the other is true, but both cannot be true.

Growls urges Arlington County taxpayers to take a few minutes to tell the three pro-streetcar members of the Arlington County Board what you think of their decision to say no to an advisory referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar. Also, ask them which of the alternatives is the most cost-effective option, and then tell them again when you vote in the November 4, 2014 elections. You can e-mail the Arlington County Board by using the link in  the right-hand column.

UPDATE (6/19/14): In addition to Scott McCaffrey's article cited above, he also posted comments at his Editor's Blog yesterday, including this comment:

"Despite accusations by both the pro-streetcar and anti-streetcar factions that we in Sun Gazette-land favor the other side, we try to play this issue down the middle. But lordy, it was not fun to watch another hour of my life pass by yesterday listening to elected officials regurgitating the same talking points, on both sides of the issue, we’ve heard for years."

UPDATE (6/20/14): In his weekly column yesterday for ARLnow.com, Mark Kelly, former Arlington County GOP Chair and two-time candidate for the Arlington County Board talks about the tone deafness of the three pro-streetcar Board members, and suggests that if the Board did hold a referendum on Columbia Pike streetcar, the referendum would indeed lose.

June 17, 2014

Schools Budget Group Urges Slowing Growth in Spending

Today, at the online Arlington Sun Gazette, Scott McCaffrey reports, "The Arlington Public Schools' Budget Advisory Council isn’t exactly asking school officials to stomp the brakes when it comes to spending. But it is calling for a certain level of judiciousness in applying the accelerator."

He continues, writing:

"Noting that Arlington’s per-student spending is racing ahead of every other jurisdiction’s in the Washington suburbs, the committee’s end-of-year report suggests school officials take prudent fiscal steps to slow the rate of growth.

“It is unlikely that APS stakeholders would support drastic changes that would actually lower per-pupil spending, but they might support incremental changes that reduce the rate of cost growth (bringing Arlington more in line with neighboring jurisdictions over time),” the committee recommends in its end-of-year report, slated to be presented tonight to School Board members.

"Arlington’s per-student cost will rise to a near-record $19,244 under the $539.4 million fiscal 2015 budget approved May 22. Up 3.1 percent from the adopted fiscal 2014 budget, the per-student rate tiptoes closer to the record $19,539 set in fiscal 2009 – a time both before the recession and when far fewer students were in Arlington classrooms.

"The Washington Area Boards of Education, which compares spending across jurisdictions in the local suburbs, pegged Arlington’s fiscal 2014 per-student spending at 11 percent higher than the next highest spender (Falls Church), 40 percent more than neighboring Fairfax County and 86 percent more than Prince William County, which spends the least in the local suburbs."

We last growled about the WABE's per-student spending numbers on December 29, 2013 while Scott McCaffrey reported on May 27, 2014 about the Arlington Schools' FY 2015 (see our May 27, 2014 Growls).

McCaffrey also noted, "The Budget Advisory Council echoes the recommendations of a recent efficiency audit, which recommended that Arlington school officials consider raising student-teacher ratios so they are more in line with other local jurisdictions’." We growled about the efficiency review, which was paid for by the Commonwealth of Virginia, in a series of three-Growls (click here for the May 27, 2012 Growls, which contains links to the other two Growls).

For the record, assuming the $19,244 per-student spending figure holds during this fall's FY 2015 WABE reporting, this represents a 1.93% increase over the $18,880 figure for FY 2014. Although not materially significant, we hope the School Board will work to claw back some of the $30 million, which the state efficiency review pegged as the cost of the Arlington Public Schools having  the lowest, or virtually the lowest, student-teacher ratios among the WABE school districts.

June 16, 2014

What's the Point of the So-Called 'War on Carbon Dioxide'?

James Delingpole, British columnist for the UK Telegraph and author of such books as "Watermelons:How the Environmentalists are Killing the Planet, Destroying the Economy and Stealing Your children's Future, reduces President Obama's "green strategy," aka 'war on carbon,' "to one damning equation," writing at Breitbart's London branch:

19 million jobs lost plus $4.335 trillion spent = a reduction in global mean temperature of 0.018 degrees C.

Delingpole explains, "Yes. Horrifying but true. These are the costs to the US economy, by 2100, of the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory war on carbon dioxide, whereby all states must reduce emissions from coal-fired electricity generating plants by 30 per cent below 2005 levels." He quotes from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study. He then adds:

"But surely, surely, for all this misery and expense we're going to be rewarded with fantastical benefits, possibly up to and including the salvation of the entire world from catastrophic man-made global warming?

"Nope. Not according climatologists "Chip" Knappenberger and Pat Michaels:

Using a simple, publically-available, climate model emulator called MAGICC that was in part developed through support of the EPA, we ran the numbers as to how much future temperature rise would be averted by a complete adoption and adherence to the EPA’s new carbon dioxide restrictions*.

The answer? Less than two one-hundredths of a degree Celsius by the year 2100.

0.018°C to be exact.

More on the failure of the so-called computer models, can be found at the Heartland Institute's Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and in Climate Change Reconsidered II: Physical Science. Additionally, articles by S. Fred Singer, posted at the American Thinker, provide a wealth of information. Other sources would begin with Climate Depot, and the newsletter, The Week That Was, from the Science & Environmental Policy Project.

June 15, 2014

A Thought on Government and Prosperity

“Government cannot make man richer, but it can make him poorer”

~ Ludwig von Mises

Source: ThinkExist.com. For information about Ludwig von Mises, click here for the Library of Economics and Liberty.

June 14, 2014

The Social Security Administration Hard at Work? NOT!

In a report on Tuesday of this past week at the Washington Free Beacon, Elizabeth Harrington writes, "A new report details massive waste in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) disability programs, revealing how federal judges have rubber-stamped nearly $400 billion in benefit claims, “eroding” credibility in the agency." Here are more details from her report (emphasis added)

"The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform released a  on Tuesday examining administrative law judges (ALJs) who approve disability claims more than 75 percent of the time. The so-called “red-flag” judges approved benefits for 1.3 million people between 2005 and 2013, amounting to $394 billion in lifetime disability payments. (emphasis added)

"The report takes a closer look at three judges who have approval rates over 90 percent, and accounted for the distribution of $10 billion in benefits alone: Charles Bridges, David Daugherty, and Harry Taylor.

“These ALJs awarded benefits in nearly every decision they made, issued an extremely large number of allowances without holding a hearing, and were subject to numerous complaints from employees within their offices,” the report said."

Ms. Harrington also provides some historical background on this program administered by the Social Security Administration (SSA):

"The SSA oversees two disability programs, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which have grown “unsustainably” in recent decades, and now enroll 19.4 million people. The disability trust fund will be depleted by 2016, unless the programs are reformed, according to the Social Security Board of Trustees.

"Individuals applying for disability benefits must be denied twice before their case reaches an ALJ.

"If an applicant is first denied by their state’s Disability Determination Service (DDS) office, they can appeal to a different reviewer. If denied again, they can appeal to an ALJ."

And here, Ms. Harrington explains why it's important for ALJs to take great care in properly adjudicating disability cclaims, and why it's important that SSA provides oversight over their decisions:

"Judges can have a tremendous impact on the amount of benefits distributed through the programs. Overall, ALJ’s added more than 3.2 million people to federal disability between 2005 and 2013, at a cost of nearly $1 trillion.

“If an ALJ improperly awards disability benefits to just 100 people, they increase the present value of federal spending by $30 million,” the report said."

Such questionable decision-making at the SSA isn't new, apparently. On December 3, 2013, Ms. Harrington reported:

"Incompetence at the Social Security Administration (SSA) has cost taxpayers millions, according to a new report that highlights cases of easily identifiable fraud in the program.

"The report, released Tuesday by the nonprofit advocacy organization Our Generation, documented 10 examples of fraud in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, totaling $8,321,190.

“All too often, the Social Security Administration fails to weed out legitimate disability claimants from those who are capable of working and are attempting to defraud the system by receiving regular income without having to get a job,” the report said. “As a result, countless Americans are scamming SSDI by collecting taxpayer-funded disability benefits improperly.”

And it's not just ALJs and questionable disability claims, either. Ms. Harrington reported on April 1, 2014, that SSA wastes millions in vacant office space, writing:

"The Social Security Administration (SSA) is wasting over $6 million annually in unused office space, according to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

"The agency has planned to consolidate its offices, which are headquartered in Woodlawn, Md., since 2012. The OIG released an audit on Friday, finding that the SSA wastes $269,010 each year in vacant workstations alone.

“During our walkthroughs of SSA’s headquarters main campus buildings, we identified 429 workstations that were not occupied or being used,” the audit said. “We also identified 141 vacant workstations SSA was using to store office supplies, boxes, obsolete computer equipment, and furniture.”

"While the OIG noted that empty cubicles can “provide flexibility” for personnel, the unused space is costly. In the SSA’s Annex building there are 171 empty workstations—a total of 11,115 square feet—which amounts to $100,480 in rent each year.

"Additionally, the audit found that the agency spends $84,985 to keep vacant space that is used for storage, and $5,698,466 in rent for buildings that are only half full."

Thank goodness for the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration. Imagine the waste, fraud and abuse that would go on in this huge federal agency if there was no IG office? Now imagine the waste, fraud, and abuse that surely goes on in the Arlington County government because there is only a token internal audit/inspector general presence. So we thank Board member John Vihstadt. For more on his efforts to increase internal auditing and/or an inspector general presence in Arlington County government, see our May 10, 2014 Growls. Note especially the discussion of Footnote 33 in the "budget guidance" document we link to. Without the efforts of Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt, it's virtually certain that Arlington taxpayers would remain frustrated there would be no oversight over our tax dollars.

June 13, 2014

Political Donors, Political Appointments, Board of Visitors

Subsection E of § 2.2-2901. Appointments, promotions and tenure based upon merit and fitness, of the Code of Virginia reads:

"The Board of Visitors of public institutions of higher education shall establish policies for the designation of administrative and professional faculty positions at institutions of higher education. Those designations shall be reserved for positions that require a high level of administrative independence, responsibility, and oversight within the organization or specialized expertise within a given field as defined by the Board of Visitors. The authority under this subsection to establish policies for the designation of administrative and professional faculty positions shall be granted only to those institutions that meet the conditions prescribed in subsection B of § 23-38.88." (emphasis in the original)

In a story for Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau, posted at Townhall.com, investigative reporter Kathryn Watson reports that "even for university posts, making donors political appointees is business as usual" in Virginia. Below is her complete report:

"ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Some of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s latest appointments to posts at Virginia’s prestigious public universities have also donated generously to his political campaign — up to $130,000, in one case.

"Of McAuliffe’s 65 appointees to university and college governing boards, about 17 percent of them had contributed a substantial sum to his campaign, and two more — former Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms — broke ranks with Republicans to support McAuliffe’s campaign.

"That’s nothing new, really. Many of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s university appointees were also generous donors. Appointing donors to political positions — positions that aren’t subject to General Assembly approval — is business as usual.

"Peter Quist, a research director with the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics, said appointments should be scrutinized on a case-by-case basis. After all, donors can be highly qualified for their posts.

“The practice of appointing major contributors to politically appointed positions, whether or not that’s good or bad really depends on a case-by-case scenario of how qualified that person is for the position,” Quist told Watchdog.org.

"In a state where the governor wields more political power than perhaps anywhere else in the nation, however, it isn’t easy to stay on top of scrutinizing the thousands of political appointments each term.

"The sudden firing and rehiring of University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan by that university’s criticized governing board fresh in many minds, Virginians began to pay a little more attention to who is really running the state’s 15, four-year higher ed institutions.

"McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, told the Daily Progress that donors weren’t a factor in the governor’s decision on UVA governing members.

“The governor’s selections for these and all appointments are based on one standard: who is the best person for the job?” Coy told the Charlottesville newspaper in an email. “These leaders have the experience and vision to help lead Virginia’s higher education system forward to better prepare Virginia students to compete in a global economy.”

"Here are the new college and university appointees who donated to McAuliffe’s campaign efforts, according to a Watchdog.org analysis of data provided by the Virginia Public Access Project."

  • "University of Virginia
    • Barbara J. Fried, $130,000 to campaign
    • Frank Maxwell “Rusty” Conner III, $52,338 to campaign, $10,000 to inaugural committee
  • College of William and Mary
    • Christopher M. Little, $35,000 to campaign
    • Lisa Roday, $10,000 to campaign
  • George Mason University
    • Claire Dwoskin, $16,000 to campaign
    • Jon Peterson, $10,000 to campaign
  • James Madison University
    • Edward Rice, $65,000 to campaign, plus $160,00 to VA Democratic Party
  • Old Dominion University
    • Carlton Bennett, $22,556 to campaign
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    • William Ginther, $4,500 to campaign and inaugural committee
    • Alexander B. McMurtie, Jr. $15,200 to campaign
  • Virginia Military Institute
    • Conrad M. Hall, $5,000 to gubernatorial campaign
  • State Board for Community Colleges
    • Michael Schewel, $5,300 to campaign
    • Henry D. Light, $8,500 to campaign"
Another piece of information to keep in mind before casting your ballot. And add the Watchdog.org websiteto your bookmarks so you can do you due diligence before casting your ballot on election day. And thanks Katie Watson.

June 12, 2014

A Thought on Political Thinking

"Before the progressives, the dominant political thinkers in America were Madisonians. James Madison, who kept the notes at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 — notes that eventually formed much of the language of the Constitution — made clear what the purposes of the Constitution were: to prescribe discrete areas of human endeavor in which the new federal government could legislate; to set forth open-ended areas of human behavior in which no government could legislate; and to leave the remaining areas of governmental endeavor in the hands of the states. The areas delegated to the federal government are only 17 in number and generally are referred to as federal powers. The areas in which no government may regulate are infinite and generally are referred to as natural rights.

"The progressives have turned this philosophy on its head. Roosevelt and Wilson believed that the federal government could regulate any behavior, right any wrong, tax any event and curtail any freedom, subject only to the express prohibitions in the Constitution itself. This view of American government not only contradicts Madison, but it also contradicts the language of the Constitution itself, particularly the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which state in writing what Madison said many times throughout his life."

~ Andrew Napolitano, former judge, Supreme Court of New Jersey

SOURCE: His June 12, 2014 column posted at the Washington Times.

June 11, 2014

Don't Ask the CBO for ObamaCare's Long-Term Costs!

In an editorial on Sunday, the Washington Examiner said the Congressional Budget Office "gives up on projecting long-term costs of ObamaCare." Here's what the Examiner's editorial had to say:

"One of the great subjects of debate during the fight over President Obama's health care law concerned the effect that the legislation would have on long-term deficits. When it became law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Obamacare would reduce deficits, but critics, pointing to multiple accounting gimmicks Democrats used to game the CBO score, questioned whether the projection would prove accurate. Now, Americans may never get an answer - at least from the CBO. More than four years after Obamacare passed, the CBO is now saying it is “not possible” to do another complete analysis on the effect of the law on the nation's deficits.

"It's worth clarifying the distinction between costs and deficits. On the one hand, Obamacare costs a lot of money - mostly due to the expansion of Medicaid and the provision of subsidies for individuals to purchase coverage through government-run insurance exchanges. At the time of passage, the CBO projected that the gross cost of expanding insurance through Obamacare would be $938 billion over a decade - but this vastly underestimated the actual cost of the program.

"The reason is that the original CBO score was for the 2010 through 2019 budget window. Because the major spending provisions – Medicaid and exchange subsidies – didn’t kick in until 2014, the first 10-year score only included six years of real spending. In the most recent estimate in April, the CBO revealed that the cost over the new 2015 to 2024 budget window would be more than $1.8 trillion, or roughly double the first projection.

"Though the law increases health care costs by trillions, it also includes tax increases and cuts to projected Medicare spending aimed at offsetting those costs. At the time of passage, the CBO concluded that once everything was factored in, the law would reduce deficits by $143 billion over the first decade. In July 2012, an updated forecast shrunk that estimate to $109 billion. The CBO has not done a complete deficit forecast since that July 2012 report, though it has continued to provide updates to the spending forecast.

"In its April update, however, the CBO included a footnote, highlighted recently by Roll Call, noting that, “CBO and (the Joint Committee on Taxation) can no longer determine exactly how the provisions of the (Affordable Care Act) that are not related to the expansion of health insurance coverage have affected their projections of direct spending and revenues… Isolating the incremental effects of those provisions on previously existing programs and revenues four years after enactment of the ACA is not possible.”

"Obamacare critics - as well as actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services - have questioned whether the proposed Medicare cuts will actually remain in effect as the law projected. The actuaries also wonder if unions, medical device companies, insurers, and drug makers will succeed in undoing any of the tax provisions that affect them. Undoing these provisions would unravel the deficit reduction claims of Obamacare. Regardless, Americans can no longer count on a revised ruling from Congress's official scorekeeper on Obamacare's true costs to taxpayers."

Makes you wonder what it is the CBO does. They aren't there to provide cover for the Congressional masterminds, or are they? It almost makes one a conspiracy theorist.

June 10, 2014

Another $200 Million of Taxpayer Money Wasted?

At Judicial Watch's blog, Corruption Chronicles, we learned on May 30, 2014, "It’s been well documented that the nation’s federal housing agency is a bastion of corruption, but now we learn that severe mismanagement at offshoots functioning independently—yet federally funded—in states across the country have also fleeced taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here's more from this Corruption Chronicles post, a large part of which comes from HUD's Inspector General:

"The disturbing figures were delivered to Congress this month by David Montoya, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the agency that doles out the cash. He testified that his office discovered more than $200 million in questionable spending at local public housing agencies (PHAs) since 2012. PHAs are created by states, operate at the city or county level and administer the federal program, known as Section 8, to provide low-income people with affordable housing.

"Many of these local public housing agencies are run by people with “troubled backgrounds” that somehow manage to remain in high-ranking positions at the agencies, Montoya told lawmakers. “Too often, [PHA] officials have few or no qualifications to effectively discharge their responsibilities. Certification and accreditation of key personnel associated with the running of a PHA are missing links in mitigating opportunity for mismanagement and poor governance,” the HUD IG said.

"When a local housing agency official is busted for wrongdoing, he or she simply gets shuffled around rather than eliminated, according to the watchdog. “We consistently see bad actors who either were under investigation or had questionable activity move from PHA to PHA, and it just exacerbates these problems that we continue to see,” Montoya said. The IG confirmed that these PHAs essentially operate with no oversight even though they are funded with federal tax dollars. In fact, HUD relies on “self-assessments” and other “self-reported” information as its primary form of oversight.

"This insane arrangement is like a fox guarding a henhouse. Actually, it’s even worse because HUD itself is a disaster well known for its many transgressions over the years. The agency is well known for pouring enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars into questionable causes with little concern about how the money is spent. For instance, since 1995 HUD has awarded the fraud-infested Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) nearly $20 million in “housing counseling” grants despite the group’s documented history of corruption.  A Judicial Watch investigation found that the money kept flowing even after Congress banned federal funding for ACORN.

"Here’s a good one; HUD actually wasted $70 million to help local communities spend their federal money more efficiently! The agency explained the absurd allocation by saying that the budget climate challenged state and local governments to do more with less and they needed help to accomplish this. The extra millions from HUD helped communities “ensure that scarce federal dollars are targeted to where they are needed most and can achieve the highest impact,” according to an agency assistant secretary named Mercedes Marquez."

Read the entire post if you need to raise your blood pressure even more. Even better, spend some time each week reading the Corruption Chronicles rather than reading your favorite liberal fishwrap.

June 09, 2014

Paying Benefits to Dead People is Just a Pittance

Yesterday, we growled about the fedrull gummint's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services paying $23 million over three years to dead paople. Now we learn that was only a pittance in comparison to the $272 billion "estimated cost of healthcare fraud for taxpayers."

At the National Taxpayers Union's blog, Government Bytes, today Michael Tasselmyer reports that health care fraud is a "$272 billion mallady." Here's what Mr. Tasselmyer writes:

"Medicaid and Medicare disburse over $1 trillion in benefits per year, representing a massive portion of the $2.7 trillion that goes into healthcare-related spending in the U.S. each year. On top of that, the bureaucratic system that determines who receives those benefits (and how much) has grown increasingly complex over the years: next year, Medicare alone will have nearly 140,000 different codes doctors must choose from to describe their patients' injuries if they want to make a claim through that program. The massive amount of money in the system, combined with the complicated and often difficult-to-enforce regulatory checks in place, makes it a target for those looking to rip off taxpayers for their own monetary gain.

"The estimated cost of healthcare fraud for taxpayers? $272 billion.

"A recent article in The Economist makes note of some of the ways fraudsters can take advantage of the system, including overbilling for treatments and partnering with doctors and pharmacies to obtain, and then resell, prescription drugs for profit. Federal investigators report that incidences of healthcare fraud have increased by four times over the past five years. The problem takes significant resources to fight, but with fraud so rampant and lucrative, doing so can yield significant savings for taxpayers: the Department of Health and Human Services reported earlier this year that over the past three years, enforcement teams have recovered $8 for every $1 they spend to investigate fraud. Last year, the government recovered $4 billion, which is just a fraction of the total amount lost to fraud but represented a record-high success rate.

"Still, the high cost of health care fraud illustrates the dangers that overly-complicated entitlement programs can pose to taxpayers -- they are easy targets for thieves looking to take advantage of a system that offers millions of transactions to hide behind every day."

If you don't have the National Taxpayers Union bookmarked, you're missing out on a great deal of valuable taxpayer-related information.

June 08, 2014

Fedrull Gummint Programs Pay $23 Million to Dead People

The Washington Examiner's Monica Perez reported on Wednesday, June 4, of this past week that dead people received $23 million from a federal program. According to Perez:

"Just because recipients were in the country illegally, sitting in jail or dead didn't keep the federal government from giving them an estimated $190 million in health care payments, according to a government watchdog.

"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mistakenly paid the money between 2009 and 2011, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general.

"CMS is part of HHS. The payments were for services and supplies, including doctor's visits, surgeries and wheelchairs.

"At least $23 million of the payments went to dead people, according to the inspector general." (emphasis added)

But there was more "free" money, according to Perez:

"Much more of the money, however -- nearly $92 million -- went to illegal immigrants that the inspector general diplomatically described as “unlawfully present” persons.

"Another $34 million went to service providers for beneficiaries who were in jail even though prisons typically provide for the medical care of their inmates, the inspector general said.

"An additional $40 million was spent on prescription drug subsidies for undeserving beneficiaries, according to the inspector general."

The cause of all this abuse of taxpayers money? Perez writes:

"The vulnerabilities of EHRs (electronic health records), plus the lack of reporting information on incarceratin or death of beneficiaries, were two of the biggest reasons why CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) made  the incorrect payments, according to the Inspector General."

Has any of the progressive masterminds in government considered whether there would be far less waste, fraud, and abuse of the taxpayers hard-earned taxes if government was far more limited and far smaller? I'd venture that a great many taxpayers would like to know the answer.

June 07, 2014

Arlington County Has No Taxpayer Heroes in Congress

In a press release earlier this week, we learn, "(t)he Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) . . . released its 2013 Congressional Ratings, highlighting the voting records of all 535 members of Congress. The report, which CCAGW has issued since 1989, identifies members whose voting records helped protect and save the taxpayers’ money, as well as those who consistently voted against their interests." As noted in the press release, "The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste is the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste, the nation’s largest nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government."

Not only does Arlington County have no Taxpayer Heroes, or even Taxpayer Friendly members of Congress, all three of Arlington County's members of Congress -- Senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) and Representative Jim Moran (D) -- received scores of 13% from CCAGW, earning each of them a ranking of "hostile." Here is a synopsis of CCAGW's methodology (emphasis added):

"CCAGW scored 80 votes in the House of Representatives and 48 votes in the Senate for the first session of the 113th Congress. By comparison, in 2012, CCAGW rated 76 votes in the House and 58 votes in the Senate. CCAGW rates members on a 0 to 100 percent scale. Members are placed in the following categories: 0-19 percent Hostile; 20-39 percent Unfriendly; 40-59 percent Lukewarm; 60-79 percent Friendly; 80-99 percent Taxpayer Hero; 100% Taxpayer Super Hero."

Only three Senators were rated as Taxpayer Heroes, receiving scores of 100%, from CCAGW in 2013. In the House of Representatives, unfortunately, there were no Taxpayer Heroes in 2013. Here is what CCAGW said about the Taxpayer Heroes:

"In 2013, Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) earned the coveted title of “Taxpayer Super Hero” with perfect scores of 100 percent. Sen. Flake’s 2013 rating marks the first time that a member of Congress has scored 100 percent in the Senate after receiving that rating in the House. There were no Taxpayer Super Heroes in the House in 2013. In 2012, five House Republicans, Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), Ben Quayle (Ariz.), Ed Royce (Calif.), and (now Senator) Jeff Flake (Ariz.), achieved the title of “Taxpayer Super Hero” with grades of 100 percent. In 2012, there were no Taxpayer Super Heroes in the Senate. (emphasis added)

“CCAGW applauds the Taxpayer Heroes and Super Heroes for their courageous votes to cut wasteful spending, reduce taxes, and make government more accountable to taxpayers. In today’s dismal fiscal climate, the actions of these members are a bulwark against the spendthrift behavior of their more wasteful colleagues. Far too many members of Congress in 2013 continued to support a big-government agenda and think first and foremost about satisfying their own special interests. Hopefully, these members will vote more often in 2014 to eliminate the waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement that runs rampant in Washington,” said CCAGW President Tom Schatz."

More detail about the annual ranking, including an overview, state delegations, vote descriptions, and a summary can be found here.

According to BrainyQuote.com, Ralph Nader reportedly said, "The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." Apparently, however, when members of Congress are compared on their voting records, differences between the two parties become clearer. For example, tabulations of the 1st session of the 113th Congress in the annual ranking's summary shows:

  • Total Senate -- 45%
    • Democrats -- 8%
    • Republicans 89%

Take a few minutes to scan the other tabulations in the summary.

So bookmark this Growls, and before going to the polls for the November 4, 2014, general elections take a look at the CCAGW annual rankings. Decide if you want the incumbent to continue or do you want someone who will vote more to your liking. Even if the incumbent is not running for reelection, do you want someone who would vote like the incumbent.

Kudos to the three Taxpayer Super Heroes in the U.S. Senate, and to the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) for conducting their annual ranking! Taxpayers need to do more, however, to influence members of Congress so they vote more frequently with the interest of taxpayers as their top priority.

You can find more information about CCAGW here.

June 06, 2014

Oh That Spendthrift Arlington School Board

An online report by Scott McCaffrey this morning in the Arlington Sun Gazette reminds us that Arlington school officials are nearing the completion of "refining" the Schools' Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The Arlington School Board has now held three "numbered" CIP work sessions, and have a fourth work session scheduled for June 10 (see School Board's meeting schedule here).

Here's the lede from McCaffrey's reporting:

"A $149 million expansion of the Arlington Career Center and a $121 million mid-rise secondary school in Rosslyn have made the cut as School Board members continue refining their 10-year, nearly half-billion-dollar capital-spending plan.

"Board members on June 5 also confirmed their desire to build a new elementary school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and construct an addition to Abingdon Elementary School to address a capacity crunch in South Arlington, and to build a 300-seat addition at Washington-Lee High School for the time when younger students move into the secondary level.

"School officials say they will have the funds available for the $434 million package, but not necessarily soon enough to build everything they want on their timetable. Most of the projects will require bond funding; a final decision on when bonds can be sold, and for what projects, rests with the County Board.

"The June 5 meeting marked the second lengthy public hearing on the capital-spending plan, which is set for adoption June 16 (a date change from the previously scheduled June 17).

"The hearing marked a heavy turnout, which was no surprise to School Board members."

Readers are urged to study McCaffrey's reporting carefully. You will learn, for example: "The most contentious issue of the past month has been the idea of moving the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program from its longtime home in the former Stratford Junior High School building to the new, 1,300-student Rosslyn secondary school."

McCaffrey includes an informative and itemized chart showing the cost of the Schools CIP to be $434 million as of the June 5 School Board meeting. One item included on the chart is $50.25 million for a new elementary school adjacent to the Thomas Jefferson Middle School. The school's capacity would be 725 students with an estimated completion date of 2018, resulting in a $69,310 cost per pupil.

We focus on that project because the Arlington Schools awarded a contract for an elementary school on the Williamsburg Middle School site just this past March 2014. According to school construction cost data at the Virginia Department of Education, this school would have a maximum operating capacity of 684 students and a total cost of $32,305,808, or $47,231 per pupil.

A little number-crunching shows the cost of the elementary school adjacent to TJ Middle School will cost 46,7% more than the E.S. at the Williamsburg M.S. site. Even with the construction industry emerging from the Great Recession, it's hard to imagine construction costs escalating at  close to 12% per year.

More questionable, though, are the numbers for the 136-seat addition at Abingdon E.S. and the 300-seat addition to Washington-Lee H.S. since the costs per seat are $150,735 and $16,667, respectively. Consider, too, the $20.5 million addition at Abingdon is more than the $20.3 million entire cost of the 905-seat E.S. in Prince William County.

Worse, however, is a comparison of the cost of the E.S. at the Williamsburg site to one in Prince William County where the contract was awarded in December 2013 (details available at the Virginia Department of Education's website).

  • Arlington Elementary School: Capacity -- 684 students; Total Square Feet -- 97,588; Square Feet per Pupil -- 143; Building Only Cost per Square Foot -- $288.97; Total Cost per Pupil -- $47,231
  • Prince William County's Devlin Road School:  Arlington Elementary School: Capacity -- 905 students; Total Square Feet -- 107,273; Square Feet per Pupil -- 119; Building Only Cost per Square Foot -- $150.89; Total Cost per Pupil -- $22,415.

Now that the Arlington Public Schools have hired a director of internal auditing, it seems a review of the capital project cost estimating process could prove to be a great place to start. The potential payback could be a large number, indeed. Without a thorough review of the planning documents, we can't say there is any gold-plating, but the numbers above suggest the need for the adults on the School Board and among the senior bureaucrats to take a hard look at what is being planned. The fact the School Board is now considering a 300-seat addition to the Washington-Lee High School after a new school was recently completed literally boggles the mind. Where is the accountability?

June 05, 2014

Civic Federation Talks, County Board Listens?

Less than 28 hours after the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported the Arlington County Civic Federation had drawn a line in the "fiscal sand" for the aquatics center (see link at yesterday's Growls), the masterminds of Arlington County's government announced today "it could be at least a year before they return to plans for the controversial Long Bridge Park aquatics center, having failed to find ways to cut high costs on the project," according to a follow-up story today by McCaffrey.

McCaffrey went on to report:

"Officials announced that they will not be moving forward with a proposed construction contract, because they were unable to find agreement with the contractor on reducing costs.

"Construction bids received in December came in far higher than expected, leading County Manager Barbara Donnellan to put the project on hold. (Related coverage from January: http://ow.ly/xG6AO  http://ow.ly/xG6Jj )

"Now, Donnellan says her staff will work on ways to fund the project without asking the public for more money. Just Tuesday, the Arlington County Civic Federation went on record opposing any additional taxpayer funding beyond the $42.5 million approved in a 2012 referendum. (See that story: http://ow.ly/xG5F6)

"A county statement hinted that the future of the project could depend on whether the Washington area becomes a U.S. finalist in the competition to hold the 2024 Summer Olympics."

But wasn't it whispers about a previous effort to bring the Olympics to the D.C. area that started the Long Bridge Park idea rolling in the first place?

The reporting at ARLnow.com today was more extensive, and included the following two paragraphs:

"The decision to cancel the bids for the facility follows an effort by County Manager Barbara Donnellan and her staff to work with construction companies to “value engineer” the project and lower costs. The bids initially came in well above the level necessary to keep the aquatics center within its original $79 million projected cost. Even with cheaper furnishings and other cut corners, however, we’re told the revised cost estimate “got close but not close enough.”

"With $42.5 million in bond funding and a $15 million developer contribution already in place, that puts the County Board in a position in which it must approve additional taxpayer funds, scale back the design of the facility, or seek private funding. For now, the county will seek private funds."

The county's spinmeister's press release is here. One astute commenter at ARLnow.com writes:

"As I've said all along. Arlington officials should simply drive over to the Fairfax County government center and ask them how they were able to build a similar facility, Cub Run Recreation Center, for less than $40 million. Problem solved.

"Please put my small $500,000 consulting fee in the mail today please."

A second commenter at ARLnow.com, "Taxpayer" writes:

"1. I am still wondering if there is any location in Arlington that is less accessible (e.g., walking, biking, public transportation, etc.).

"2. I understand now -- this is a "strategic investment" according to the County. What capital investments does the County undertake that are not "strategic"?"

Those sound like very wise words for the Arlington County Board masterminds. Right?

UPDATE (6/8/14): From Friday's Washington Post, Patricia Sullivan reports that "Arlington regroups on building pool facility (page B3 of paper edition, Metro section) with the following lede paragraph: "Arlington’s county manager said Thursday that she will not award a construction contract for the controversial Long Bridge Park aquatics center as originally planned — further delaying a project that has been on hold for months after bids came in millions of dollars higher than expected."

June 04, 2014

Civic Federation Sends the County Board a Message

At its monthly meeting yesterday evening, delegates of the Arlington County Civic Federation sent a very strong message to the Arlington County Board, according to an online report by Scott McCaffrey posted at the Arlington Sun Gazette website.

Civic Federation delegates "overwhelmingly supported a resolution calling on the county government to spend no more on the stalled project than already has been approved by voters in a series of referendums." McCaffrey also reported:

"That limit? About $42.5 million, in addition to the $20 million in developer contributions the county government has banked to move the project forward.

"The 45-9 vote, with three abstentions, was particularly wide given the stirring defense of the project, and questions about the resolution’s intent, that were brought up by some delegates during debate. (emphasis added)

"The final vote should not be taken as a sign that the Civic Federation doesn’t want the project built, said Jay Wind, who chairs the group’s parks and recreation committee and backed the resolution.

“In the long run, it will be a wonderful place,” Wind said of the aquatics center.

"But passage of the resolution, floating around since January, was another signal that federation delegates are unhappy with what critics say are gold-plated spending projects foisted on the community by the County Board. (emphasis added)

To its boosters, though, the aquatics center is seen as the centerpiece of Long Bridge Park, located in the north end of Crystal City. But the project has been bogged down and dogged by bad luck for years.

We growled about the aquaticsphere most recently on May 16 and May 17, 2014.

McCaffrey also provided a timeline of recent news events concerning the aquatics center. In addition, McCaffrey wrote:

"While many Civic Federation delegates voiced support for the aquatics center if it can be held to a tight budget, not all were supportive.

"Jim Pebley, a former Civic Federation president, long has opposed the location of the facility, as it sits near the flight path of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

“This is a terrible place to put a building with kids,” Pebley said."

If you are concerned about this vanity project, we ask you to write to the Arlington County Board. You can use the link in the right-hand column. And tell them ACTA and ElGrowlerGrande sent you!

NOTE: We'll add a link to the Civic Federation's resolution after the Federation's website is updated.

June 03, 2014

A Thought on the Rising Appeal of American Populism

"Bad economic times breed angry politics. We remain in bad economic times, irrespective of what our leaders in Washington say, and the political climate is getting more and more angry. America is moving into a period of heightened populism of both left and right. The result will be increasing political polarization on top of the polarization we already have experienced in recent years. The next couple of election cycles will be raucous.

"To understand all this, it helps to understand populism as a recurrent American political impulse and also to understand its conservative and liberal variants. (emphasis added)

"As a general outlook, populism is the angry response of people who feel abused by people and institutions more wealthy or more powerful than themselves. It could be the followers of President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s, who thrilled at his effort to kill the Second Bank of the United States because it represented too much concentrated economic power. It could be the Southern farmer circa 1890 — beset by a constricted money supply, low crop prices and pressures from the town banker — who felt that the politicians always seemed to favor that banker over him. It could be the followers of Louisiana’s Huey Long in the 1930s, who felt that the great villain of the Depression era was the big financial establishment of Wall Street.

"The central cry of the populist is the need to smash institutions of entrenched power that, in the populist view, distort the American system to benefit themselves at the expense of the broad mass of citizens. When William Jennings Bryan, one of history’s greatest populists, ran for president in 1896, his campaign was touted as “the masses vs. the classes.” Populists particularly go after people who can be labeled as American “oligarchs” or “plutocrats.”

"There are two strains of populism in the American political tradition, though — liberal and conservative. Both are rising in today’s political environment. (emphasis added)

"The central target of liberal populism is the wealthy — in today’s political lexicon, the so-called “1 percent.” Large financial institutions and big corporations also are found in the cross hairs of these populists. Their main goal is to redistribute wealth, which means they must enlist government as their ally . . . .

< . . . >

"Conservative populists, if they are true to their heritage going back to Andrew Jackson, despise bigness in all forms — big business, big finance, big labor and big government. They aren’t particularly exercised by the wealthy, except when their wealth is used to tilt life’s playing field. They particularly despise cozy alignments between government and these other institutions. “Crony capitalism” drives them nuts."
~ Robert W. Merry
Source: His June 2, 2014 front-page, commentary section, essay, posted at the Washington Times website. It is worth reading in its entirety.

June 02, 2014

A Thought on Goals, Rhetoric, and Consequences

"Liberals don't talk -- or perhaps even think -- in terms of the actual consequences of their policies, when it is so much more pleasant to think in terms of wonderful goals and lofty rhetoric."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His April 24, 2014 column, "The High Cost of Liberalism, Part III," posted at Townhall.com

June 01, 2014

CAGW Releases 2014 Congressional Pig Book

"A "pork" project is a line-item in an appropriations bill that designates tax dollars for a specific purpose in circumvention of established budgetary procedures. To qualify as pork, a project must meet one of seven criteria that were developed in 1991 by CAGW and the Congressional Porkbusters Coalition."

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has released its "annual compilation of the pork-barrel projects in the federal budget." The 11-page, "2014 Congressional Pig Book Summary gives a snapshot of each appropriations bill and details the juiciest projects culled from the complete Pig Book."

Here are just three of the porky morsels that appear in CAGW's 2014 Congressional Pig Book. To better understand how CAGW selects the pork to include in the pig book, Growls readers are urged to first read the introduction. CAGW also provides a searchable database for its 2014 pork projects.
  • $10,000,00 for high energy cost grants through the Department of Agriculture. The grants are intended to assist communities whose energy costs exceed 275 percent of the national average by funding the construction, installation, and repair of energy distribution facilities. This may sound like a bright idea, but the RUS Electric Loan program is intended to achieve the same objective. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations have attempted to eliminate the high energy cost program. President Obama’s FY 2013 version of Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings noted that low-interest electric loans are available through the RUS to residents of rural areas served by the high energy cost program. The grants are available in Alaska, Hawaii, several communities in certain other states, and in U.S. territories. Since FY 2002, high energy cost grants have received five earmarks totaling $103.5 million.
  • $25,000,000 for the National Predisaster Mitigation Fund (NPMF). The Obama administration first proposed eliminating the NPMF in its FY 2013 budget, yet Congress continues to earmark funding. Since FY 2008, there have been 205 NPMF earmarks, requested by more than 100 members of Congress, costing taxpayers $125.6 million. $21,094,000 for the National Exercise Program, which aims to assess and improve the country’s preparedness and resiliency. This program also received a $50 million earmark in FY 2004.
  • $866,400,000 for 26 earmarks for health and disease research under the Defense Health Program, including five earmarks worth $255.5 million for cancer-related research. The Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2014 provided $4.9 billion for the National Cancer Institute, making the defense cancer research redundant. Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) November 2012 report, The Department of Everything, pointed out that the DOD disease earmarks added by Congress mean that “fewer resources are available for DOD to address those specific health challenges facing members of the armed forces for which no other agencies are focused.” According to the report, in 2010 the Pentagon “withheld” more than $45 million for overhead related to earmarks, which means those funds were unavailable for national security needs or medical research specifically affecting those serving in the military.

A March 14, 2012 Washington Post article stated that DOD Comptroller Robert Hale proposed decreasing the DOD health budget in part by eliminating “one-time congressional adds,” which totaled $603.6 million in FY 2012 for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. On March 23, 2013, Sen. Coburn offered an amendment to the FY 2013 Budget Resolution that would have eliminated programs at the DOD that were not related to defense, which would include such unnecessary health and disease research. Sen. Coburn’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 56-43.

For a tax-deductible contribution, CAGW will send you a copy of the 2014 Congressional Pig Book Summary (click here).