Arlington County’s 10-Year Record of Profligacy
On two occasions in 2014, Arlington County voters thought their County Board was profligate, based upon such vanity projects as the $350 million Columbia Pike streetcar project, the $80 million aquatics center, and a $1 million bus stop (still famous as evidenced by its appearance on this news report last week), not to mention a $5 million bailout of Signature Theatre and the subsidies poured into the Artisphere before the plug was pulled on this tax-laundering scam earlier this month.
Tomorrow, the County Board chair will set her 2015 priorities , much as the 2014 Board chair did at the January 1, 2014 so-called organizational meeting. (see this January 1, 2014 press release) At the Board’s organization meeting last year, the 2014 chair said the county would “deepen (its) commitment to reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Unfortunately, he was referring to “his passionate commitment to the environment” rather than to the efficient and economical use of taxpayer resources. (See above press release).
The important question, then, is whether the 2015 Board chair will put taxpayers ahead of Board vanity projects or the many special interests seeking to feed at the county trough.
The question must be asked because of our just-completed analysis of statistical data, specifically Table D-1, General Governmental Expenditures by Function (linked here) in Arlington County’s Fiscal Year 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which contains the latest audited financial statements. The FY 2014 CAFRe was released at the Board’s December meeting. General government expenditures account for most general government function of the County and the Schools.
Table D-1 shows:
- Total governmental expenditures increased from $793.41 million in FY 2005 to $1,185.96 million in FY 2014, an increase of 49.5% over the 10-year period.
- The table breaks down expenditures by such functions as public safety, public works/environmental services, health and welfare, education, debt service, and transit (WMATA).
- Ten-year increases ranged from 51.37% for public safety, 56.95% public works/environmental services, 28.35% for health and welfare, 30.16^ for culture/recreation, 47.41% for education, 64.58% for debt service, and 138.93% for transit (WMATA).
Table D-1 table has one positive light in the Board’s 10-year history of profligacy. Although the annual increase in total spending averaged 4.95%, the increase from FY 2013 to FY 2014 slowed to 2.73%, or just above the 10-year annual rate of inflation of 2.58%.
Most importantly, however, let’s look at what total spending would have been “if” the Arlington County Board had been able to limit spending to increases in population and inflation, the same as the look taken by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission (JLARC) when it looks at the 10-year increases in state spending (see our December 7, 2014 Growls).
From July 2004 to June 2014 (the start of FY 2004 to the end of FY 2014), CPI-U increased 25.84%, according to Table 24 of the September 2014 CPI Detailed Report (page 71). over the same period, Arlington County’s population increased from 198,267 in FY 2005 to 215,000 in FY 2014, according to Table K of the CAFR (page 187), or 8.44%.
Some computations are now in order:
- Total per capita spending in FY 2005 was $4,001.71
- Total per capita spending in FY 2014, using the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI Inflation Calculator, would be $4,838.75.
- Adjusted for both inflation and population increases, total county spending in FY 2014 would be $1,040.33 million rather than $1,185.86 million.
So, according to the logic presented above, we can now measure just how profligate the Arlington County Board was for the period FY 2005 through FY 2014. The answer is the Board was profligate to the tune of just over $145 million. Bringing that down to a more understandable number, over 10 years, the County Board grabbed about an extra $725 from each Arlington resident, or an annual average of $73 per capita.
Call it Arlington County’s “vanity tax,” if you will. And how was that “vanity tax” used? Obviously, it's not possible to tell from the CAFR, but it is entirely possible that the "revenue" from the "vanity tax" was used to pay for the County Board’s vanity projects.
If you are an Arlington County taxpayer reading this Growls, and you are concerned with the pace of county spending, you are urged to write or call the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:
- Write to the Arlington County Board via e-mail, or
- Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130.
If they ask, tell them ACTA sent you!