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June 30, 2015

A Thought on the Politics of Delusion

"Exchanges established by the federal government are exchanges established by the state. Rachel Dolezal is black. Iran will honor an agreement not to develop nuclear weapons. ISIS is a JV team. There’s an epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses. Michael Brown had his hands up and pleaded “don’t shoot.” Caitlyn Jenner is a woman. Obamacare is working. 2+2 doesn’t necessarily equal 4. The polar ice caps are disappearing. The IRS is doing a decent job. The border is secure.We’ve ended two wars responsibly. Hillary Clinton turned over all work-related e-mails. An $18,200,000,000,000 debt can grow without mention. People who burn down buildings and overturn cars aren’t thugs. The OPM hack is manageable. We’ve reset relations with Russia. Entitlement reform can be kicked down the road. We’re more respected around the world.

"When a nation engages in mass delusion in an era of worldwide terrorism, intense competition, and nuclear proliferation, things are unlikely to end well."

~ Peter Kirsanow

Source: His June 26, 2015, post at National Review's blog, The Corner (HT Thomas Lifson, American Thinker). Lifson would add another item to the list -- lower GDP is really a sign of a better economy).

June 28, 2015

Of Repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Federal Deficits

Last Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold that part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) upholding health insurance subsidies to qualifying Americans received most of the media's news involving the ACA the past week or so. (see this in-depth Washington Post article).

Less attention, however, was paid to a report, dated June 19, 2015, from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) about the budgetary and economic effects of repealing the ACA. In a nutshell, CBO said, "repealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over the 2016–2025 period." But CBO also said:

"For many reasons, the budgetary and economic effects of repealing the ACA could differ substantially in either direction from the central estimates presented in this report. The uncertainty is sufficiently great that repealing the ACA could reduce deficits over the 2016–2025 period—or could increase deficits by a substantially larger margin than the agencies have estimated. However, CBO and JCT’s best estimate is that repealing the ACA would increase federal budget deficits by $137 billion over that 10-year period."

CBS News' MoneyWatch column did cover the news of the CBO report here while the very liberal Politico reported the story here. National Public Radio (NPR), aka government radio, also covered the CBO report here. And in a Tuesday, June 23, 2015, column for Forbes magazine, Howard Gleckman began by writiing :

"This is what the Congressional Budget office really said about the budgetary and economic effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act: It has no idea.

"That, of course, it not what the political partisans are saying in the wake of CBO’s Friday release of a report on this exceedingly controversial topic.

"Backers of the law gleefully embraced CBO’s projection that repealing the ACA would increase the federal debt by $137 billion from 2016-2025 including macroeconomic effects, or by $353 billion under traditional scoring. ACA critics, by contrast, highlighted CBO’s projection that repealing the health law would increase economic output over the period. This is proof, they said, that the ACA is a millstone around the economy’s neck.

"But in reality, as CBO candidly admitted, it doesn’t really know whether repealing the ACA would increase the deficit or cut it, or boost the economy or hurt it."

So let's turn to Charles Blahous, a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center and public trustee for Social Security and Medicare. In an article published at both the Manhattan Institute's free-market economics think tank Economics21 and at the Mercatus Center, Blahous concludes:

"Again, CBO's latest does not provide enough detail for us to know how much repealing the ACA would lower federal deficits. But we can be highly confident that it would. In my 2012 paper on the fiscal consequences of the ACA I found that through 2021, only a little more than one-third of the Medicare savings credited to the ACA under the scorekeeping convention was actually new savings relative to prior law. Through 2025 we would expect the proportion to be still less.

"Thus, although the scorekeeping conventions require CBO to find that repealing the ACA would increase Medicare spending by roughly $800 billion, the actual figure is almost certainly below $250 billion--or, at least $550 billion lower than the directed score. Given that this total score shows repeal adding either $353 billion or $137 billion to the deficit, depending on whether economic feedback effects are included, the actual change in law under repeal would clearly reduce the deficit.

"All this can be verified by cross-checking CBO publications against one another (or by consulting other sources such as CRFB) to confirm that its scorekeeping conventions, as required by lawmakers, deviate significantly from actual law. Given the importance of these deviations with respect to Medicare spending, CBO should consider disclosing these realities more directly in future evaluations of the ACA, such as the one it may need to issue after King v. Burwell.

"In the meantime, however, we have yet another report showing the ACA's finances turning out worse than previous projections and, properly understood, also showing that repeal--whatever its other policy virtues or drawbacks--would improve the fiscal outlook."

So, If you suspect the mainstream media is spinning the news, it's worth asking whether those reporters and editors are acting, as Forbes' contributor Howard Gleckman warns, as political partisans. If so, it's worth turning to a free-market or libertarian think tank for an alternative opinion.

June 27, 2015

Another Month, Another 'Porker 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), which grew out of President Reagan's Grace Commission, has "named Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Virginia) its June Porker of the Month "for his absurd attempt to submerge the cost of a submarine program."

CAGW justified their selection of Rep. Forbes, who represents Virginia's 4th Congressional District (see map), this way (emphases in the original):

"The Navy’s Ohio-class submarines transport 70 percent of America’s nuclear arsenal.  They were first built in the 1970s and are rapidly approaching retirement age.  In April 2014, the Navy released specifications for 12 new subs at an estimated total cost of $58.8 billion, or $4.9 billion per sub.  But in December 2014, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the total cost would exceed $90 billion; $12.4 billion for the first sub and $6.6 billion for each additional one, or an average of $7.5 billion per sub, which is 53 percent higher than the original estimate.

"While the need for the new subs is not in dispute, Congress usually provides such funds through the acquisition and procurement account in the defense authorization and appropriations bills.  But in 2014, Rep. Forbes sponsored a new “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” which would run afoul of the standard budget process and keep the new sub program off-budget.  Rep. Forbes claimed in a June 2015 Politico article that the subs require this off-budget account because their cost could overwhelm the Navy’s budget and crowd out other procurement programs.  This includes Forbes’s own district, which according to his website encompasses “our nation’s most important military assets and installations,” which “directly employ 34,168 active duty members and civilian jobs.”

"Faced with a similar national security need to modernize outdated equipment in 2002, another member of Congress attempted to be equally creative in keeping a major procurement program off budget.  Then-Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) tried to set up a $21 billion off-budget lease to procure new Air Force refueling tankers to replace an aging fleet.  After this concept was roundly criticized by groups like CAGW and members of Congress, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the tanker procurement was put back into the Air Force’s normal budget.

"Apparently, Rep. Forbes has ignored the outcome of this prior attempt to undermine the budget process.  He has argued that the submarine project “is a very big lift, and it has to get done.”  Therein lies the trouble with budget gimmickry: “It has to get done” can be used to justify off-budget spending for virtually any program, for any purpose, on either side of the political aisle.  Rep. Forbes would have Congress meander down a slippery slope to fiscal disorder, where the taxpayers’ money would be frittered away through furtive funding schemes with limited oversight and accountability.

"In order to enable the Department of Defense to spend the taxpayers’ money more effectively, Sen. McCain has proposed changes in defense acquisition that would devolve procurement authority from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense to the acquisition executives of the individual services.  The plan also provides incentives for containing cost overruns and institutes penalties for reckless spending on programs.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “Rep. Forbes’s attempt to circumvent the normal process does a disservice to taxpayers and should be quashed.  In order to pay for essential programs, less critical programs should be set aside and waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement should be eliminated.  Budget gimmicks should never be the solution.”

Kudos to Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) for their continuing efforts on behalf of America's taxpayers.

We urge Growls readers to ask their members of Congress what they are doing to bring fiscal sanity to federal spending. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

June 26, 2015

Arlington County Board Chair's 'State of the County' Speech

In a speech on Wednesday, June 24, the Chairman of the Arlington County Board gave what was billed as her "State of the County" speech to the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. As reported yesterday by Scott McCaffrey for the Arlington Sun Gazette, Board Chairman Mary Hynes told those attending the Chamber event that "Arlington must confront ‘multi-dimensional’ challenges."

McCaffrey began his reporting of the "State of the County" speech, writing:

"Prioritizing economic development while keeping focus on issues ranging from affordable housing to siting of public facilities – and not losing sight of community input – are the challenges for current and future Arlington leaders, County Board Chairman Mary Hynes told the business community on June 24.

"“We have decades of strategic investment to build on,” Hynes said at the annual “State of the County” address, sponsored by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce and held at the DoubleTree by Hilton Crystal City.

"The goal for current and future leaders is to develop “the second generation of smart-growth – learn from what we did before and apply it to new circumstances,” Hynes said.

“Our challenges are real and they are multi-dimensional,” Hynes said. “Those incredible ‘ups’ that we had [during the years when development around Metro stations brought major growth] are not going to come Arlington’s way again.”

"Facing record-setting office-vacancy rates that top 20 percent countywide and surpass 30 percent in some corridors, the county government has put additional resources into economic-development efforts.

“The team [at Arlington Economic Development] is out there,” Hynes said, noting recent forays to conventions featuring retailers and entrepreneurs. She added that the county government, which for years offered little in the way of financial incentives for businesses to relocate in the county, has re-evaluated that policy – although it remains a work in progress, she said."

We growled about the challenges of economic development faced by county government in an extensive Growls on March 13, 2015. We growled after the county's new chief of economic development proposed a costly "Way Forward" plan. That Growls eventually became the basis of a report on Arlington Economic Development, which the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures committee presented to Civic Federation delegates at the June 2, 2015 monthly meeting. (the report has not yet been posted to the Federation's webpage; see the Growls update below if it has).

Arlington economic development was the topic of the June 10, 2015 meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 (but the You Tube video of the meeting has not been posted).

The county's spinmeisters also released a press release yesterday, and included three bullet points:

  • A fundamental questioning of ourselves”
  • Opportunity to be leading edge of 2nd generation Smart Growth
  • Must honor the values that have guided us for decades

The entire press release is worth reading, especially the paragraph that talks of Arlington's "good bones," i.e.:

"What Hynes called the County’s “bones” — its location on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, its airport, the Pentagon, its excellent public schools, its “smart, thoughtful, strategic-thinking residents,”  and its transportation networks “continue to be incredibly strong,” she said. 'We have decades of strategic investment to build on.'"

While so-called Smart Growth may have benefited Arlington's economic development in the past, that is no assurance it will do so in the future, and, unfortunately, there seems to be no indication it will be studied to ensure it's the proper path to the future. Nor is there any indication the new course forward will include an annual evaluation of economic development, as suggested in R&E's AED paper, which could possibly have identified a rising commercial/office vacancy rate much sooner.

Instead, the County Board should be looking at streamlining taxes to incentivize developers and entrepreneurs as well as eliminating some of the environmental demands placed on developers, e.g., questionable LEED standards. The Board should also look to streamline the bureaucracy to reduce the time needed to obtain permits and site plans. For example, in our June 23, 2015 Growls, we noted the site plan for a renovated Ballston mall has now been sitting in the "belly of the bureaucracy" for 11 months rather than a more normal 60 days.

Growls readers are urged to contact the Arlington County Board if you have comments or concerns about Arlington County's 'state of the union." You can reach the Board by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 25, 2015

A $1 million Bus Stop; now $900,000 for an empty Artisphere

 This morning's Arlington Sun Gazette tells us that anonymous "Arlington officials" are admitting that "$900,000 should cover year of operating empty Artisphere."

Here's the lede in the Sun Gazette report:

"Arlington government officials estimate it will cost nearly $1 million in the coming year before they can hand the keys to the Artisphere space over to its landlord.

"County Board members on June 13 formally requested termination of the lease for the Rosslyn space, giving the required one-year notice. In the intervening period, the county government will be liable for operating expenses, which are estimated at $900,000.

"The board’s action puts the final knife in the heart of the Artisphere, an arts center that opened to much fanfare in 2010 but never won the hearts or minds of county residents.

"The center officially closes on June 30, but the county government will retain occupancy of the space through June 19, 2016 under terms of its lease."

The $900,000 comes on top of the $2.2 million in tax support in FY 2015, according to a December 2014 statement by the County Manager posted at the Arlington Economic Development's website. Never fear, though, the Manager said, "This is a repositioning, not a retreat. In the coming year, we will work on a new strategic plan for the arts in Arlington, one that recognizes both their importance to our cultural and economic vitality and our fiscal limitations."

The Arlington Sun Gazette provided this short timeline of the history of the Artisphere:

"In 2007, the county government agreed to provide additional density for a project elsewhere in Rosslyn in exchange for a free 10-year lease on the ex-Newseum space. “Free” in terms of no rent, but the county government was responsible for operating costs.

"In 2009, that agreement was amended, giving the county government the space for 15 years without charge, but removing a requirement that – should the county decide to end the lease – the developer would be required to pay the county a prorated share of the $7.7 million value of the extra density that had been provided for the other project.

"As part of the fiscal 2016 budget, the County Board appropriated $1.3 million to cover expenses associated with the closing of the Artisphere space.

Growls readers concerned about our profligate Arlington County government are urged to contact the Arlington County Board. You can reach the Board by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 24, 2015

Your Taxes at Work at the Bureau of Land Management. Not!

The Washington Examiner's Zack Colman reported yesterday,  "The Interior Department does not have an adequate system for tracking the bond payments solar and wind-energy developers pay for building on federal land, according to a federal watchdog report released Tuesday."

According to Colman:

"The Government Accountability Office found Interior lacked the ability through two systems it manages to track the $100 million in bonds companies are required to provide as collateral to reclaim land disturbed by installing wind turbines and solar panels.

"GAO found that neither system is reliable for this purpose. Specifically, GAO found instances in both systems where information was missing or inaccurate, or had not been updated," the report said."

< . . . >

"The report acknowledged that Interior has issued a proposed rule to address the system for bonds. Steven Ellis, the deputy director for the Bureau of Land Management, said Interior concurred with four of five recommendations for record-keeping, data entry and review and partially agreed with the fifth — it disagreed on timing, as GAO requested entering a bond into the system within five days — to shore up the program.

"The [Bureau of Land Management] agrees that there are additional opportunities for improvement in the processing and record-keeping of bonds for wind and solar projects," he wrote in response to the report."

The Obama administration has made boosting renewable energy generation on federal lands, which accounts for 1 percent of total U.S. electricity, part of its climate agenda.

President Obama has pledged to double renewable energy generated in the country by 2020. The federal government has permitted more than 10 gigawatts of new renewable power on federal land prior to 2012, enough to power 7 million homes, and set a goal for an additional 10 gigawatts by 2020.

In summarizing its report at the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the General Accountability Office (GAO) explained why they performed the audit:

"Renewable energy projects can affect thousands of acres of federal land and involve significant infrastructure. BLM directs renewable energy developers to obtain bonds to cover the costs of returning the land to its pre-developed condition when the project terminates, a process called reclamation. Reclamation can cost millions and take years to complete.

"GAO was asked to review the bonding policies for renewable energy projects on federal land. This report examines (1) BLM's policies for the bonding of wind and solar projects on federal land; (2) the amount and types of bonds held by BLM for the reclamation of these projects, and how BLM tracks the bonds; and (3) the extent to which BLM ensures that bonds for wind and solar rights-of-way are adequate to cover reclamation costs. GAO conducted a file review of all 45 wind and solar development project rights-of-way with a bond as of April 15, 2014; analyzed data from BLM data systems; reviewed relevant federal laws, regulations, and BLM policies and procedures; and interviewed agency officials."

We urge Growls readers to ask their members of Congress what they are doing to oversee the Bureau of Land Management and its effective management of federal resources. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

June 23, 2015

Arlington County, Ballston Mall, Nimble and Economic Benefits

At their recessed meeting last Tuesday, June 16, the Arlington Sun Gazette reports the Arlington County Board pledged "swift decisions" on redevelopment of Ballston Mall. (HT ARLnow.com)

According to the Sun Gazette's June 17 report:

"The redevelopment of Ballston Common Mall may serve as an indicator of whether Arlington residents and the county government will give way on lengthy public processes in order to land major economic benefits.

"County Board members on June 16 directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to work with the mall’s owner and develop options – quickly – that would include a public-private partnership on the redevelopment project.

"The goal: Have concepts presented within a month and a final agreement in place by the end of the year. That’s almost the speed of light for the Arlington government, but leaders may have no choice.

“We need to learn to be nimble. That’s the name of the game these days,” said County Board member Libby Garvey.

“Nimble” may not be the adjective most often applied to Arlington’s development process. But if the redevelopment project gets bogged down, county officials fear, it could take the rest of the neighborhood with it.

The Sun Gazette story added the following:

“We are at a critical juncture. Retail has moved on,” said Voegele. “We have a critical timing window.”

“This is an exciting proposal,” said Voegele. He was topped by Donnellan, who called it “a transformational opportunity.”

Forest City hopes to win density and height concessions from the county government, as well as get major improvements to the government-owned Ballston Public Parking Garage.

"If Forest City officials have been irked by the pace of county involvement in their effort, they did not show it at the June 16 meeting. One who has been critical, however, is Arlington Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Shooshan.

“So what’s holding this back? After nearly 11 months, the site plan submitted by Forest City has yet to be accepted by the county, a process that typically takes 60 days,” Shooshan said in the June edition of the Arlingtonian, the Chamber’s member newsletter."

The county's press release concerning this possible partnership included the following four bullet points:

  • Strategic investment with mall owner
  • Facilitating next generation of Ballston redevelopment
  • Protecting, enhancing past County investments
  • Site plan process to be completed by end of 2015

In addition to the bullet points, the press release included a link to Forest City's slide presentation for the proposed Ballston Quarter mall.

Finally, the County Board provided written direction to the Manger regarding a possible public-private partnership to redevelop Ballston Common, which included this overall objective:

"The County Board is interested in achieving the transformation of the Ballston Common Mall into Ballston Quarter. Therefore, the County Board directs the County Manager to review and analyze Forest City’s request to enter into a public-private partnership to ensure that the proposed redevelopment project is consistent with the County’s planning objectives for Ballston and appropriately balances County goals of enhanced economic and place-making benefits with private sector economic feasibility requirements."

The County Manager is required to provide a written outline of a possible agreement within 30 days.

Now the $64,000 question. The Board's directed the Manager to consider a "public investment" in any possible agreement, specifically:

"Strategic and measured use of public investment and financing tools in order to achieve the optimal economic and place-making benefits to the County of this redevelopment project."

Anyone want to guess how much that "public investment" is  going to cost Arlington County taxpayers?

Let's go to the video-tape. Rebecca Cooper, reporting for the Washington Business Journal on June 19, writes:

"The owner of the outdated Ballston Common Mall wants Arlington County to take on a financial role in the $300 million redevelopment there. (emphases added)

"Forest City Washington has been teeing up a redevelopment of the property for some time, but the project stalled due to the developer's inability to procure the building and land owned by the Macy’s Furniture store at the site.

"Forest City Washington struck a deal to buy that part of the site near the end of 2013, and put the redevelopment plan into motion last year with shiny renderings of a repositioned mixed-use development complete with public plaza, lots of street and outward-facing shops and restaurants, and a new retail platform topped with a 400-unit residential building.

"But the clock is ticking . . . ."

Given the importance of getting Ballston Mall redeveloped in an effective manner, we urge Growls readers to write or call the Arlington County Board to voice their concern about the cost of redeveloping Ballston Mall and how bureaucracy in county government costs Arlington County taxpayers. You can reach the Arlington County Board by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 22, 2015

Raisins, Property Rights and the New Deal

At Constitution Daily, the blog of the National Constitution Center (NCC) today, NCC staff commented on one of four U.S. Supreme Court cases announced today, specifically Horne v. Department of Agriculture. They wrote:

". . .  Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in an 8-1 decision. The Court reversed a lower court decision and found that a family of California raisin growers deserved just compensation after the state impounded parts of their crops in a price-support program.

“The Fifth Amendment requires that the Government pay just compensation when it takes personal property, just as when it takes real property,” said Chief Justice Roberts.

"Roberts also didn’t send the case back to a lower court. “There is accordingly no need for a re­mand; the Hornes should simply be relieved of the obliga­tion to pay the fine and associated civil penalty they were assessed when they resisted the Government’s effort to take their raisins. This case, in litigation for more than a decade, has gone on long enough,” Roberts said."

The New York Times' Adam Liptak begins his reporting on Horne v. Department of Agriculture by writing:

"The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a government program dating to the Great Depression meant to increase raisin prices by keeping some of them off the market amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property by the government.

"The case, Horne v. Department of Agriculture, No. 14-275, arose from the activities of Marvin D. and Laura Horne, raisin farmers in Fresno, Calif., who set up a business arrangement that they claimed allowed them to avoid the program.

"The Agriculture Department imposed fines, and the Hornes defended themselves on the ground that aspects of the program violated the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment, which says private property may not be taken for public use without just compensation.

"Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for eight justices, said the program was indeed a government taking of private property."

Daniel Fisher, a Forbes magazine staffer provides additional background information in his report, writing:

"The case involved the Horne family of California, who refused to turn over their raisin crop in 2002 to a Raisin Administrative Committee formed under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act of 1937. The committee holds excess raisins and sells them in non-competitive markets or gives them away, distributing net proceeds later to the farmers. For defying the government, the Hornes were ordered to hand over the $480,000 market value of the raisins plus a $200,000 fine. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the penalties, after first rejecting the case entirely and being ordered by the Supreme Court in 2013 to take it up again.

"This time, the Supreme Court relieved the Hornes of all charges, which was “significant enough,” said John O’Quinn, a partner with Kirkland & Ellis who represented the raisin farmers. But the majority made two important holdings that could reverberate beyond the world of raisins, he added. One, that personal property can be the subject of an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment. And second, that the government can’t demand tangible property from people simply for the privilege of engaging in commerce.

“The right to pursue your livelihood and engage in traditional forms of commerce is not a government benefit,” for which the government can demand property in return, O’Quinn told me."

Finally, from Cato@Liberty, the blog of the Cato Institute, Ilya Somin writes:

"There are some other nuggets in the opinion, including a riff on the government’s contention that raisin farmers, to avoid the Raisin Administrative Committee’s attentions, could simply sell wine: “ ‘Let them sell wine’ is probably not much more comfortable to the raisin growers than similar retorts have been to others throughout history.” Moreover, “[r]aisins are not like oysters: they are private property – the fruit of the growers’ labor – not “public things subject to the absolute control of the state.”

"In any event, thus the Hornes’ multi-year fight against the U.S. Department of Agriculture ends in a definitive ruling that the USDA cannot assess them nearly half a million dollars for the value of the raisins they refused to relinquish (nor a $200,000 civil penalty that added insult to injury). Let’s not forget that this epochal battle involved two trips to the Supreme Court, where the government only got one of a possible 18 votes.

"For more background on the case, see Trevor Burrus’s commentary when we filed our brief. For early reaction to the ruling, see Ilya Somin’s post at the Volokh Conspiracy."

Additional reporting on SCOTUS' Horne v. Department of Agriculture decision includes:

In closing, a second post at Cato's blog by Roger Pilon, of the Cato Institute's Center for Constitutional Studies, provides a useful summary. After noting it has taken a decade to win their fight, "the Hornes have helped the Court to settle a fundamental principle, namely, that the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause prohibits the government from taking both real and personal property for public use without just compensation."

June 21, 2015

The Economy is Recovering, ever so Slowly. An Explanation.

In an essay for the Spring 2015 issue of the free-market Manhattan Institute's City Journal, Nicole Gelinas explains, "What's missing from the economic recovery." She opens by writing:

"America’s economy has grown for nearly six years and with particular vigor over the last six months. By historical standards, we’re due for another recession. When that downturn comes, it will mark the end of what has been, recent months notwithstanding, a weak recovery. Even though private employers have added nearly 3.6 million jobs since the beginning of last year, the number of American workers is still only roughly where it would have been by the end of 2008 had the financial system not cratered that dark September.

"Several numbers point up the shortfall: if employers had added jobs after this recession as fast as they did after the short recession that ended in 1991, we’d have nearly 128 million private jobs now, not about 119 million. Then, too, not all jobs are equal. A family with two breadwinners made slightly less money in 2013 than in 2003, inflation-adjusted, census data tell us. A single-earner family fared much worse, taking in less than a family dependent on one worker made back in the mid-1970s. And many part-time workers want full-time jobs, as well as more predictable schedules."

Gelinas then begins explaining why the recovery has been so soft, explaining:

"It’s easy for Republicans to blame President Obama or for Democrats to blame President Bush. But the truth is less partisan, and harder. As three of the best recent accounts of the economic crisis explain, the recovery has disappointed because the economy was fragile long before it broke. For decades now, the United States, like the rest of the West, has depended on massive levels of consumer debt to mask weaknesses in jobs and income. As American workers made less money competing with Asians and Eastern Europeans for jobs, they borrowed more, until the U.S. economy owed trillions of dollars to the rest of the world. The economy crashed because its debt levels were unsustainable."

Gelinats then comments on three books to explain how we arrived at the current economic state of affairs. The first is a book by Martin Wold to explain "how the U.S. and the rest of the West failed in the globalizing decades leading up to 2008."

She follows with a book by Daniel Alpert, who she says "argues that America and the global economy are struggling with 'an oversupply of labor, productive capacity, and capital.' Too many people and too many dollars are chasing after insufficient work and investment opportunities, thinks Alpert, a veteran financier who founded the boutique investment bank Westwood Capital 20 years ago."

The third book she cites was written by economics professor Atif Mian and finance professor Amir Sufi who "explain why the recovery was never going to be like a typical postwar business cycle, with a quick bust followed by a strong boom." Gelinas adds:

". . . Mian and Sufi, like Wolf and Alpert, point to household debt as a chief culprit of the collapse. They go a step further, likening the crisis to that of the 1930s. “Both the Great Recession and Great Depression were preceded by a large run-up in household debt,” they note. Between 2000 and 2007, household debt doubled, to $14 trillion. The debt-to-income ratio rose from 1.4 to 2.1, meaning that people were using debt to buy things that they couldn’t afford—putting them more in need of the wage gains that they weren’t getting to pay for the higher debt."

Her essay is much more extensive, and Growls readers are encouraged to read it in its entirety. Again, here is the link to Ms. Gelinas' entire City Journal article. She concludes by writing:

"None of these things is impossible. So why haven’t we done any of them? The authors sometimes make the wrong diagnosis. Mian and Sufi are incorrect, for example, in saying that “the financial system benefits very few people, and those few have a vested interest in staving off any reform.” The problem is the reverse—that the current economic system benefits lots of people—at least, in the short term. Take away people’s cheap mortgages by making the reforms that Mian and Sufi suggest, and they’ll understandably scream. Take away the health-care insurance they get from their employers and make them pay cash for it directly, and they’ll scream, again. That’s why nothing much has happened.

"Wolf castigates the political and business classes’ failure to level with the public in the strongest terms. “The economics establishment failed,” he says flatly, and their continued failure will have serious consequences, he warns: “Angry and anxious people are not open to the world.” That is: if elites want to save free global markets, they should do a better job of responsibly governing them. Otherwise, next time will be worse. “The loss of confidence in the competence and probity of elites inevitably reduces trust in democratic legitimacy.” That’s already happening, as voters around the world grow ever more dissatisfied with mainstream politicians."

Kudos to Nicole Gelinas for her explanation of why the economic recovery hasn't been very effective.

HT Heritage Foundation's Insider Online.

June 20, 2015

4Q BLS Stats Show 'Employment Stagnaton' in Arlington County

Citing 4th quarter data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported yesterday that "federal data show continued employment stagnation in Arlington."

According to the Sun Gazette's reporting:

"New federal figures suggest Arlington continues to lag economically compared to other areas across the U.S., even though wages remain among the highest in the nation.

"Increases in both employment and wages for those working in Arlington were near the bottom of the pack nationally in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures reported June 17.

"Total year-over-year employment in the county (no matter where individuals live) was effectively unchanged, ranking Arlington 320th out of the nation’s 339 largest counties, while the 1.5-percent year-over-year growth in average wages ranked Arlington 306th.

"Nationally, employment in counties with more than 75,000 jobs grew 2.2 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013 to the fourth quarter of 2014, while the average weekly paycheck was up 3.5 percent.

"On the positive side, Arlington’s average weekly wage of $1,613 was eighth largest among the 339 top counties, standing 56 percent higher than the national average. And among county residents (no matter where they work), the jobless rate has ticked under 3 percent and long has been the lowest in the commonwealth."

Check that third paragraph again. The average wage in Arlington County increased 1.5%, "year-over-year." As we growled on April 16, 2015, when the Arlington County Board adopted the FY 2016 annual budget, "The average homeowner will see their tax and fee burden rise from $7,286 to $7,567 – a four percent increase." And the Arlington County Board isn't greedy? Guess the Board really does think that county government finances are more important than the finances of Arlington County taxpayers, and working for county government is more important than working for your family.

We urge Growls readers to write or call the Arlington County Board to voice their complaint about the greed of Arlington County government. You can reach the Arlington County Board by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 19, 2015

A Thought about the Taxing Power of Government

"The taxing power of government must be used to provide revenues for legitimate government purposes. It must not be used to regulate the economy or bring about social change. We’ve tried that, and surely we must be able to see it doesn’t work."

~ Ronald Reagan

Source: page 141, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

June 18, 2015

Some Thoughts on a Flat Tax

"The plan that Sen. Paul, R-Ky., unveiled this week would "blow up the tax code and start over," with a single broad-based rate of 14.5% on individuals and corporations, accompanied by elimination of nearly all deductions. Other seekers of the White House will no doubt soon present their own flat, or near-flat, tax reforms.

"The code's monstrous 70,000-plus pages currently give the Internal Revenue Service massive powers to seize Americans' bank accounts simply on suspicion, without a judge's warrant. With that power, the IRS has in recent years harassed and weakened the effectiveness of political organizations, elements of the populist tea party movement in particular. Ending progressive taxation with a single low rate applicable to all would mean little if any need for a national confiscatory police force like the IRS, since noncompliance would be largely unheard of under such a simple system no longer dedicated to serving government greed.

"Americans waste over 6 billion hours of their time a year attempting to comply with IRS rules and regulations, at a cost of over $160 billion. That's money and time that could generate millions of new jobs. Wasteful complexity is simply the inescapable byproduct of a progressive tax system that serves one thing: the vice of popular envy.

"Abolishing the progressive income tax would pump hundreds of billions of dollars into the private sector and give massive relief to the tax system's primary victims: those in the middle and lower incomes desperately seeking jobs in today's dismal economy."

~ Investor's Business Daily Editorial

Source: Editorial, posted 6/18/15 at Investor's Business Daily.

References:

1. Op-ed, Sen. Rand Paul, posted 6/17/15 at Wall Street Journal. (behind WSJ's paywall)

2. Reuters article, posted 6/18/15 at CNBC.com.

3. Igor Bobic, posted 6/18/15 at Huffington Post.

4. Seth McLaughlin, posted 6/18/15 at Washington Times.

5. Daniel Strauss, posted 6/18/15 at Politico.com.

6. John McKinnon and Janet Hook, posted 6/17/15 at Wall Street Journal. (behind WSJ's paywall)

7. In addition to growling about the flat tax, we've growled about tax complexity, leftists and progressive taxation,  an optimum tax rate, the FairTax, and 'fair share.' Use Growls' search facility for more on the flat tax.

June 17, 2015

Citizens Respond to Affordable Housing Master Plan

At the Arlington Connection, Vernon Miles reported on Tuesday, June 16, 2015, there were "mixed responses" to the Arlington County Board's decision to advertise a public hearing for the recently completed Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP). The subtitle of Miles' article said, "County Board moves forward on Affordable Housing Master Plan despite citizen objections."

In his lengthy article, Miles reported:

"Of new ownership created between 2015 and 2040, the Affordable Housing Master Plan proposes that 17.7 percent of housing be made affordable to households living below 60 percent of area median income.

"The plan identifies funding sources in the Affordable Housing Investment Fund, federal and state housing programs, and bond financing. The plan imposes no immediate financial commitments by the county, but the staff report on the plan does. The Affordable Housing Investment Fund, AHIF, is a revolving loan fund composed primarily of loan repayments from projects across the county (45 percent of the AHIF budget), developer contributions (15 percent of the AHIF budget) and general revenue financing from the county (23 percent of the AHIF budget). Between FY2010 and 2014, AHIF averaged $8 million in public funding. In the FY2015 budget, that swelled to to $13 million.

"However, some in the public commented that the plan’s financing remained vague regarding financing outside of AHIF.

“Except for the Tax Increment Financing, which removes revenue from county-school revenue-sharing funds, there are no ongoing added/new revenue streams that will sustain the increases in annual operating costs/subsidies needed to cover increases for county-supplied housing grants and growth in school enrollment,” said Suzanne Sundburg. “The unspoken but obvious conclusion is that significant additional and ongoing taxpayer support will be needed.”

"Supporters of the plan on the County Board argued that the plan’s framework presents a list of options, not demands.

“We haven’t signed a blank check that says ‘go forward and do all these things,’” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes.

"However, the introduction to the document specifies that “the county’s ability to meet the goals of the Affordable Housing Master Plan will depend on the future allocation of resources to programs identified.”

"Implementation of the project was a key concern for many of the five commissions that spoke at the meeting."

Miles also included the following chart from the AHMO (on page 13 of the AHMP), which forecasts household growth through 2040:


Since only an excerpt from the report appears above, read the entire article here. We growled about the County Board's decision to advertise the September meeting on Saturday -- here.

ARLnow.com also reported this morning on the Arlington County Board's decision to advertise a public hearing on the AHMP in September. Their reporting included the following:

"Some critics, however, contend that the county’s new plan is unrealistically expensive and will require considerable additional housing density and school capacity.

"In a presentation to the Arlington County Civic Federation this month, local activist Suzanne Sundburg presented some back of the envelope estimates about the costs.

"Assuming that 632 CAFs would have to be created every year for the next 25 years, Sundburg estimated that it would require $54 million per year in loans from the county’s Affordable Housing Investment Fund, at a cost of $85,000 AHIF funding per unit. That figure doesn’t include rent subsidies that the county provides to some residents living in CAFs.

"Alternatively, if the county were to decide to create CAFs by seeking developer contributions from residential redevelopments, the county would potentially need to allow the creation of more than 200,000 market rate units, based on the ratio of site plan units approved to CAFs created from those approvals in 2014 (1,505 to 111), according to Sundburg.

"Another indirect cost: an increase in school enrollment. Based on several sources, Sundburg estimated that each committed affordable housing unit generates an average of 0.8 students in Arlington Public Schools. That compares to a “student generation factor” of 0.08 for elevator apartments and 0.42 for single family homes in general.

"(Arlington doesn’t break out a student generation factor for CAFs. Russell Schroeder, a project manager for the affordable housing study, said the county does not know the figure yet but is working to calculate it and the financial impact of the master plan’s goals on the school system, following a request from the County Board.)

"During the County Board meeting on Saturday, several members said more information was needed from the school system about how affordable housing would affect student turnover and space limitations.

"But for many of the questions on schooling, the answer was 'it’s complicated.'"

Arlington County poohbahs tout the fact that Arlington residents are among the most highly educated in the nation, but when residents ask for clear and understandable explanations, those same poohbahs tell us 'it's complicated.' Which is it Are the residents well-educated, or are the grand poohbahs unable to explain how their organizations operate? Or worse, they really do think citizens are stupid?

In a short item on Monday, Junee 15, 2015, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported the "Arlington County Board members have voted to take up the proposed Affordable Housing Master Plan after first going on a summer hiatus."

As we growled before there are serious fiscal implications for the taxpayers of Arlington County related to the Affordable Housing Master Plan and it's so-called Implementation Framework. Consequently, we urge Growls readers to review not only the two policy documents -- 1) Affordable Housing Master Plan and 2) Implementation Framework -- but also the R&E committee's report -- available at the Arlington County Civic Federation's website. Then contact members of the Arlington County Board. You can reach them by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 16, 2015

$7 Billion in Food Stamps for "Ineligible Recipients"

According to a May 22, 2015, post at Judicial Watch's blog, Corruption Chronicles, "The bloated federal agency charged with feeding the poor—and eradiating “food insecurity” in the U.S.—blew nearly $7 billion to provide “ineligible recipients” with the welfare benefit and there appears to be no end in sight to the fleecing."

The Judicial Watch blog goes on to report:

"In fact, the agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), has for years violated a measure known as the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act (IPERA) that requires agencies to conduct annual risk assessments to identify programs that make “significant improper payments” of $10 million or more. Not only has the USDA violated IPERA in the last four years, it also refuses to implement a more efficient verification process before doling out benefits by asserting that it would “create barriers for families that need help.”

"Last year the USDA made an astounding $6.9 billion of “improper payments,” according to a scathing report made public this week by the agency’s inspector general. Two programs accounted for a chunk of the money that was wasted; food stamps, officially known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to eliminate the stigma of welfare and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) which cost American taxpayers a whopping $16 billion in 2014. Of the $6.9 billion in fraudulent payments made by the USDA, those two programs accounted for $4.2 billion. Thus, they have been coined “high-risk programs,” according to the USDA watchdog.

"The overwhelming majority of improper payments go to provide ineligible recipients with goods or services, the report confirms. This is par for the course at the USDA and the agency seems to have no intention of cleaning up its rolls. In fact, the agency goes out of its way to cover up wrongdoing in four of its most fraud-infested programs. “USDA is noncompliant with the improper payment requirements for a fourth consecutive year,” the report says. Not coincidentally, a separate probe conducted by the investigative arm of Congress, also found that the USDA needs to improve its verification process for program access. That report, also made public this week, focuses only on the National School Lunch Program, which is notorious for wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."

Growls readers are urged to tell their representatives in Congress what they think of the manner in which USDA employees distribute food stamp benefits. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

Kudos to Judicial Watch for their yeoman's work on behalf of hardworking, patriotic Americans.

June 15, 2015

A Thought on Micro-Aggressoon and the Language of the Left

"The political left has come up with a new buzzword: "micro-aggression."

"Professors at the University of California at Berkeley have been officially warned against saying such things as "America is the land of opportunity." Why? Because this is considered to be an act of "micro-aggression" against minorities and women.

"Supposedly it shows you don't take their grievances seriously and are therefore guilty of being aggressive toward them, even if only on a micro scale.

"You might think that this is just another crazy idea from Berkeley. But the same concept appears in a report from the flagship campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: his 6/16/15, posted at Investor's Business Daily.

June 14, 2015

Arlington County Has Too Much Money When . . . .

On Thursday, June 11, 2015, ARLnow.com reported that Arlington County's heavily-subsidized Artisphere had "spent $1 million marketing to arts aficionados."

Based on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, the ARLnow.com article provides a detailed look at the failings of the taxpayer-subsidized Arisphere. According to the ARLnow.com newsi site:

"The cultural center in Rosslyn spent more than $1 million on marketing over four and a half years, largely targeting D.C. area arts aficionados with newspaper ads. The strategy paid off with sold-out niche concerts and events, but failed to attract the loyalty of many Arlington residents who have a more casual appreciation for the arts.

"Instead of the original vision of a hub for local arts groups and a community hangout, complete with a WiFi cafe, Artisphere became more of a regional draw for one-off performances. Some 75 percent of its audience came from outside Arlington and 83 percent of its artists from outside Virginia, according to a 2014 report.

After hastily opening on the novelty date of 10/10/10, before an executive director or a marketing director could even be hired, Artisphere’s finances proved to be a fiasco. Wildly over-optimistic expectations gave way to the realization that the center would only make a quarter of its projected visitor revenue in the first year. That, in turn, sparked community criticism, set off backtracking by policymakers and led to a series of changes that watered down community participation.

"The cafe closed, Artisphere focused more on event rentals and a popular local theater company was booted out.

"It didn’t help that Artisphere’s multitude of performance venues were small and, as officials figured out after opening, couldn’t host simultaneous events due to noise bleed.

"The relative lack of participation from taxpaying Arlington residents and artists, in the end, may have been Artisphere’s biggest downfall. When Artisphere hit the chopping block, few residents showed up at County Board meetings to speak in its defense."

County staff defend how Arlington County operated Artispere per the ARLnow.com:

"Barry Halvorson, Artisphere’s Director of Communications and Marketing, defended the decision to focus on regional arts consumers and unique programming instead of a more mainstream or more community-focused strategy.

"“We are trying to serve a community of arts-goers and we’ve been very successful in doing that and we’ve gotten a lot of attention in the press,” Halvorson told ARLnow.com in April. “If you go to the Washington Post or the Washington City Paper, there’s just a ton of coverage that we’ve gotten on our programming in large part because it’s so novel in this market.”

As a friend recently told me, these vanity projects help build staff resumes and media relationships through advertising buys. Staff can also improve job-prospects with developers and other special interests.

Our previous Growls about the Artisphere vanity project include April 10, 2015, December 31, 2014, December 22, 2014, March 24, 2013, and October 26, 2012, among others.

Read the entire article. We think the story will cause most taxpayers to be upset with how their tax dollars are being used and abused. If so, Arlington County taxpayers are urged to write or call your favorite member of the Arlington County Board. You can reach them by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 13, 2015

Arlington County Board Sets Course on Affordable Housing

At its monthly meeting this morning, the Arlington County Board voted to advertise public hearings in September by both the Planning Commission and the Arlington County Board on the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and the accompanying Implementation Framework (IF). (Item #43 on the June 13, 2014 agenda)

Citizens can watch the portion of the Board meeting devoted to whether the public hearing should be advertised to the affordable housing master plan. From the link above, go to the agenda, and then click-on the title of item #43.

We growled about the AHMP and IF on June 7, 2014, after the Civic Federation voted to adopt them. We also growled on June 11, 2014, about two op-eds discussing AHMP and IF, which appeared earlier that day on the local news site, ARLnow.com. The second op-ed suggested the need for a detailed analysis of the plan on other community services and on taxes as well as a balanced conversation of the plan's impact. The author suggested that final action on these plans be deferred until after the November election.

Well, the County Board met the community halfway, at least in deferring the public hearings. It set the pubic hearings in September. More details can be found in the county's post-meeting press release. Also, on questioning by one Board member, staff admitted they "haven't produced a cost estimate for the plan." However, they said it would be possible to produce a "low- medium- high-" cost estimate for particular tools available to the Board, e.g., the AHIF loan program.

As we previously noted, the Manager admits she is unable to estimate the cost of all the affordable housing promised by these plans, using the phrase "no immediate financial commitment." Consequently, we urge the Board to adopt the recommendations of the second op-ed writer mentioned above.

We will growl much more about this issue between now and the hearings in September. Residents of Arlington wishing to keep up to date should contact ACTA. You should also contact members of the Arlington County Board. The only voice expressing concern about the effect that implementation of AHMP and IF will have on Arlington County comes from Arlington Yupette (AY), on June 3, 2015, the day after the Civic Federation's June meeting. AY suggested the county will become more urban and expensive as a result of the three items discussed by Federation delegates -- one of which was the AHMP and IF.

Given the fiscal implications for taxpayers of Arlington County, we urge Growls readers to review not only the two policy documents -- 1) Affordable Housing Master Plan and 2) Implementation Framework -- but also the R&E committee's report cited in the second ARLnow.com op-ed, and then contact members of the Arlington County Board. You can reach them by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 12, 2015

10,000 Commandments, 2015 Edition

The Competitive Enterprise Institution (CEI) recently published their 2015 edition of "Ten Thousand Commandments, its annual snapshot of the Federal regulatory state. Here is an abstract of the 92-page report:

"Ten Thousand Commandments is the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual survey of the size, scope and cost of federal regulations, and how they affect American consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy. Authored by CEI Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., it shines a light on the large, growing “hidden tax” of America’s regulatory state.

"The scope of federal government spending, deficits and the national debt is staggering, but so is the impact of federal regulations, which now exceeds half the amount the federal government spends annually. Unfortunately, regulations get too little attention in policy debates because, unlike taxes, they are unbudgeted. They are also difficult to quantify because their effects are often indirect. In Ten Thousand Commandments, Crews compiles available data on regulatory costs and trends. By making the size, extent and cost of Washington’s rules and mandates more comprehensible, Crews underscores the need for more review, transparency and accountability—for both new and existing federal regulations."

And here are the highlights of the 2015 edition of 10,000 Commandments, according to CEI:

  • "Federal regulation and intervention cost American consumers and businesses an estimated $1.88 trillion in 2014 in lost economic productivity and higher prices.
  • "If U.S. federal regulation was a country, it would be the world’s 10th largest economy, ranking behind Russia and ahead of India.
  • "Economy-wide regulatory costs amount to an average of $14,976 per household – around 29 percent of an average family budget of $51,100. Although not paid directly by individuals, this “cost” of regulation exceeds the amount an average family spends on health care, food and transportation.
  • "The “Unconstitutionality Index” is the ratio of regulations issued by unelected agency officials compared to legislation enacted by Congress in a given year. In 2014, agencies issued 16 new regulations for every law—that’s 3,554 new regulations compared to 224 new laws.
  • "Many Americans complain about taxes, but regulatory compliance costs exceed what the IRS is expected to collect in both individual and corporate income taxes for last year—by more than $160 billion.
  • "Some 60 federal departments, agencies and commissions have 3,415 regulations in development at various stages in the pipeline. The top six federal rulemaking agencies account for 48 percent of all federal regulations. These are the Departments of the Treasury, Commerce, Interior, Health and Human Services and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • "The 2014 Federal Register contains 77,687 pages, the sixth highest page count in its history. Among the six all-time-high Federal Register total page counts, five occurred under President Obama.
  • "The George W. Bush administra­tion averaged 62 major regulations annually over eight years, while the Obama administration has averaged 81 major regulations annually over six years."

We've growled frequently of the burden that over-regulation places on the American economy -- including July 16, 2014, March 30, 2014, and June 24, 2013. At the latter, we growled about CEI's 2013 snapshot of Federal regulations.

At the June 24, 2013 Growls, we also noted a study discussed by Ron Bailey in Reason magazine, the following quote:

"The growth of federal regulations over the past six decades has cut U.S. economic growth by an average of 2 percentage points per year, according to a new study in the Journal of Economic Growth. As a result, the average American household receives about $277,000 less annually than it would have gotten in the absence of six decades of accumulated regulations—a median household income of $330,000 instead of the $53,000 we get now." (emphasis added)

For the record, we understand the need for some of today's regulations, but there must be some commonsense applied and the benefits of regulations should generally outweigh their costs.

Growls readers wishing to tell their representatives in Congress what they think of the current Federal regulatory state are encouraged to do so. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

June 11, 2015

Two Op-eds on Affordable Housing Master Plan

On Sunday, we growled about the 47-29 vote by the Arlington County Civic Federation to support Arlington County's latest iteration of a so-called affordable housing plan. The main concern is that the County Manager suggests that a 50% increase in the annual supply of s0-called affordable housing comes free, or at least she told the Arlington County Board the freshly minted affordable house master plan will "impose no immediate financial commitment."

In his "Right Note" column today at ARLnow.com, Mark Kelly addresses several partisan issues that resulted from Tuesday's primary elections, but comments on affordable housing in Arlington County, writing:

"Throughout the last decade, the County Board has had a stated goal of improving housing affordability. And, this has been a County Board controlled exclusively by Democrats until last year. Yet, there is little the County Board has tried on the housing front over the last decade has changed the trajectory of housing affordability. In fact, our Board relies on these ever-increasing property values to fund its lavish spending habits.

< . . . >

"At some point, maybe we will all just admit that housing is simply not going to be affordable in Arlington over the long haul. It is the laws of supply and demand at work. Arlington is conveniently located to our nation’s capitol and people are willing to pay a premium to live here. At the same time, governments have been trying to change the laws of economics for years, so I wouldn’t look for the Arlington County Board to stop claiming it can now."

In a more analytical op-ed, Peter Rousselot uses his "Peter's Take" column to say the plan "needs much more work." Rousselot writes:

"The County Board might adopt in July a new “Affordable Housing Master Plan.” There is justified concern in the County about “affordability.” But, rising property taxes also adversely affect affordability.

"I support an appropriate level of taxpayer subsidies for affordable housing. However, it is poor public policy to commit the County to specific numerical affordable housing goals and other controversial policy changes without a thorough community conversation about:

  • direct costs to taxpayers of these subsidies,
  • opportunity costs (i.e., what tax dollars cannot be spent on core services (e.g., schools, parks, roads) in order to fund these subsidies), and
  • other neighborhood impacts (i.e., increased density).
"The County has neither requested from its staff nor provided the community with these dollar costs and impacts. Therefore, final Board action on the plan should be deferred."

He also reviews the key points of the Arlington County Civic Federation's Revenues & Expenditures (R&E) committee report that was also presented to Federation delegates at last Tuesday's Federation meeting.

Rousselot says the county needs to do two things:

  1. Provide a detailed analysis of the impact of this plan on other County services, our neighborhoods and our taxes.  The analysis must include estimates of the impact on our already overcrowded schools.  Up to 15,800 new housing units means a lot of new families and new students.  Where will we put the schools?  How will we pay for them?
  2. Then facilitate a balanced community conversation about all of the plan’s potential impacts.

He also acknowledges that time is needed to do the detailed analyses as well as time to communicate and discuss those results with the community. Consequently, he says the final adoption of the plan should be postponed until after the November 2015 elections, giving the new Board -- with two new members -- the opportunity to approve and implement the plan.

Given the fiscal implications for taxpayers of Arlington County, we urge Growls readers to review not only the two policy documents -- 1) Affordable Housing Master Plan and 2) Implementation Framework -- but also the R&E committee's report cited by Rousselot in his column -- repeated here -- and then contact members of the Arlington County Board. You can reach them by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 10, 2015

Redistributing Wealth and Paying Your 'Fair Share' of Taxes

""Most people who want to redistribute wealth don't want to talk about how that wealth was produced in the first place. They just want "the rich" to pay their undefined "fair share" of taxes. This "fair share" must remain undefined because all it really means is "more."

"Once you have defined it -- whether at 30 percent, 60 percent or 90 percent -- you wouldn't be able to come back for more.”

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: his 5/19/15 column, posted at Townhall.com.

June 09, 2015

A Thought about Tax Equity

"Nothing is more calculated to make a demagogue popular than a constantly reiterated demand for heavy taxes on the rich. Capital levies and high income taxes on the larger incomes are extraordinarily popular with the masses, who do not have to pay them."

~ Ludwig von Mises

Source: page 129, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

June 08, 2015

USDA Spends $444 Million; Completes 1.5% of IT Project

At Washington Free Beacon last Thursday, June 4, Elizabeth Harrington reported, "$444 Million Later, USDA (United Sttes Department of Agriculture) Only Achieved 1.5 Percent of its Goal to Update IT System." Furthermore, the project is 2 years overdue, $140 million over budget."

According to Harrington's reporting:

"The Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS) program was intended to act as a more efficient IT system that streamlines its aid programs for farmers. However, after spending nearly a half a billion dollars on the project, the USDA has only finished one out of 66 of the project’s tasks.

“In response to a longstanding need to modernize the delivery of farm programs, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) initiated a business enterprise solution called Modernize and Innovate the Delivery of Agricultural Systems (MIDAS),” according to an audit by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). “FSA reported to Congress in 2010 that $305 million would allow it to consolidate its 31 farm programs into MIDAS by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2012.”

“MIDAS is 2 years overdue and approximately $140 million over budget and has not delivered the promised enterprise solution,” the OIG said.

"MIDAS was supposed to replace the “Web Farm,” a centralized computer server system that keeps track of information on farmers receiving aid from the USDA’s 31 programs, because the system was “antiquated and beginning to fail.” The OIG found that only 1.5 percent of its applications had been switched over to MIDAS.

“As of April 1, 2015, FSA had obligated over $444 million to this project and had retired only 1 of the 66 applications which were to be replaced by MIDAS,” the audit said. “By 2022, the program is projected to have a total cost of nearly $824 million.

"Last July, the USDA was forced to stop the development of MIDAS after an order from Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"Congress said the USDA’s mismanagement of MIDAS is “of greatest concern” last year when drafting an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2015."

And what have USDA and the Farm Service Agency been doing over the past decade? According to the Inspector General's report, "FSA reported to Congress in 2010 that $305 million would allow it to consolidate its 31 farm programs into MIDAS by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2012."

And what are your Congressional representatives doing to ferret out the waste, fraud, and abuse of your tax dollars? We urge Growls readers to contact their members of Congress to ask them to become part of the solution to ensure that tax dollars are spent efficiently, effectively, and economically? Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

June 07, 2015

Civic Federation Votes 47-29 to Back Affordable Housing Plan

The third item on the Arlington County Civic Federation's agenda on Tuesday evening, June 2, 2015 (ACCF June 2015 newsletter) involved support for the affordable housing master plan.

Before talking abut what happened at the Civic Federation's meeting Tuesday evening, let's see how the county poohbahs got the affordable housing study ball rolling. The county's affordable housing effort began in 2012, according to an October 19, 2012 memo from the County Manager, who wrote:

"In my proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget, I recommended a three-year Affordable Housing Study to fulfill the County Board’s direction for a comprehensive analysis of the full range of County housing programs and for multi-year strategic options. When approving the FY 2013 budget on April 21, 2012, the County Board provided the following guidance to staff:

“The Manager proposed as part of her budget initiating a housing study to assess gaps in our programs, determine long-term goals, establish funding priorities, and identify funding strategies to ensure the continued vibrancy and sustainability of our community for people at all income levels and stages of life. Over the next few months, working with the community, the staff will develop the scope of work and outline a study process for County Board consideration.” (italics in the original)

According to the minutes of the October 23, 2013 Board meeting, the Board voted 5-0 to defer consideration of the Board's charge for the affordable housing study. The purpose of the affordable housing study, contained in a December7, 2012 memo from the County Manager to the Board was:

"The purpose of the Study is to create a shared community vision of Arlington’s affordable housing as a key component of our community sustainability. The result will be an updated set of housing principles, goals, targets, strategies, and priorities that can be adopted by the County Board as the Affordable Housing Element of Arlington's Comprehensive Plan.1 Although the focus of the Study will be on affordable housing (“affordable” to be defined as part of the Study), reference to the entire housing stock will be necessary to serve as a framework or context for the affordable housing component, and some goals and targets may relate to broader housing objectives."

The Affordable Housing Master Plan and the so-called Implementation Framework policy documents, as well as other documents and information about the affordable housing study can be found here.

So let's see how the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reports it:

"Delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on June 2 voted to support the draft Affordable Housing Master Plan that is headed later this month to the County Board for consideration and potential approval.

"The final vote was 47-29, and came after minor amendments and passionate debate on both sides of the issue. It was the last action taken by the Civic Federation before the organization went on its tradition summer hiatus.

< . . . >

"The proposal headed to the County Board aims to have about 18 percent of the county’s housing units in the “affordable” range, using a variety of strategies to achieve the goal – from providing developers with incentives to working with nonprofit groups such as AHC Inc. and the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH)."

You can find the many documents related to this discussion at the Civic Federation's website or their meeting archives.

The Arlington County Board is being asked, as a regular hearing item, to advertise a public hearing (Planning Commission July 6 and July 18, 2015) on the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AFMP) at their June 13, 2015, meeting. It will be item #43 on the Board's agenda; the document has 143 pages, including the Manager's staff memo (12 pages), AFMP (40 pages), and Implementation Framework (91 pages) If you prefer, you can access the entire 143-page document directly by clicking here.

Now if you're wondering just how much all of this is going to cost, the County Manager says there will be "no immediate financial commitment." Hey, it's true; here's the entire "fiscal impact" from the Manager's staff memo to the Board of the 143-page document for Agenda Item 43:

"The Affordable Housing Master Plan and the Affordable Housing Implementation Framework will impose no immediate financial commitments by the County. The County’s ability to meet the goals of the Affordable Housing Master Plan will depend on the future allocation of resources to programs identified in the Implementation Framework." (emphasis added)

Given the fiscal implications for taxpayers of Arlington County, we urge all Growls readers to review the two policy documents above -- 1) Affordable Housing Master Plan and 2) Implementation Framework -- and make your views about them known to members of the Arlington County Board. You can reach them by clicking-on the link below, or call them:

  • Call the County Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you.

June 06, 2015

Analyzing the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

At the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy blog, Kyle Pomerleau reports on an economic analysis of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which outlined four important aspects of the EITC."

Pomerleau says that CRS identified four important aspects about the EITC, which people should know. They are:

  • The EITC alters the decisions to work.
  • Reduces poverty among low-income taxpayers with children.
  • Increases unfairness in the tax code.
  • Complexity has led to significant payment error..

Pomerleau provides a clear and concise explanation of each of the EITC's four aspects, and concludes with the following summary:

"The EITC enjoys bipartisan support among lawmakers. This is due to the fact it both reduces poverty among families with children and has a positive impact on the labor force for certain individuals. Yet, the EITC is not without its flaws. It’s benefit phase-out has a negative impact on the labor force and it suffers from high error rate and overpayment."

Three of our past Growls have focused on the EITC: 1) July 6, 2004; 2) March 10, 2010; and 3) April 18, 2014.

The 33-page CRS report (number R44057) can be accessed here.

Kudos to the Tax Foundation for their analysis of the EITC.

June 05, 2015

More of Your Tax Dollars Wasted

At Breitbart News' Big Government website today, Caroline May reports on an audit released this week by the Social Security Administration's (SSA) Inspector General (OIG). According to May:

"Over a ten year period, the Social Security Administration is estimated to have overpaid $16.8 billion in disability benefits, according to a new audit from SSA’s watchdog."

There was a bit of good news, however, since SSA recovered about half of those overpayments. May went on to report:

"In an report released this week, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General looked at a sample of 1,532 disability beneficiaries’ — on Disability Insurance (DI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) — pay status from October 2003 to February 2014 and found overpayments for 44.5 percent of their sample.

"Extrapolated out, the OIG estimated “SSA assessed overpayments totaling about $16.8 billion between October 2003 and February 2014 for approximately 4 million beneficiaries who were in current payment status in October 2003.”

"The OIG further gauged, based on the sample, that the agency was able to recover $8.1 billion of the overpayments and prevented another $8 billion in overpayments to another 1 million beneficiaries in that ten year period.

"According to the report, “Work activity or change in income” was the reason accounting for the greatest percentage of overpayments, at 35 percent.

“Medical improvement” was the second most cited reason with 23.8 percent of the overpayments. The SSA notes, however that such overpayments were unavoidable as the “Social Security Act” requires the agency to continue payments during a beneficiary’s appeals process if SSA determines the individual to no longer be disabled."

Read the remainder of Ms. May's report here. The SSA OIG's report ("Overpayments in the Social Security Administration's Disability Programs -- A 10-Year Study," No. A-01-14-24114) is available here. Read this audit report, and others, at the SSA OIG's website.

What are your Congressional representatives doing to resolve the problems associated with the waste, fraud, and abuse of your tax dollars? We urge Growls readers to contact their members of Congress to ask them to become part of the solution to improve the integrity of Social Security benefit payments. Contact information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County, can contact:

  • 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 Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376.

Ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (6/6/15): This morning, the American Thinker's Rick Moran cites the Washington Free Beacon report on the SSA OIG's report, and concludes with the following observation:

"We know that at least 10% of disability payments went to totally ineligible people – felons and the dead.  But the unanswered question is, how many of the 11 million recipients of disability are really and truly eligible?

"While there are no doubt several million people deserving of these benefits – disabled vets come to mind – there is also evidence that of all federal programs, Social Security disability may be the easiest to scam.  Anecdotal evidence abounds of supposedly crippled people miraculously playing golf or other sports, or working around the house with apparent ease of movement.  No system has yet been developed that can sniff out the scammers and make sure the benefits go to to where they are intended.

"I'm afraid the IG has revealed only the tip of a very large iceberg."

Hopefully, the SSA OIG will perform additional audits of the disability payment system for the precise reason of answering the questions raised by Rick Moran.

June 04, 2015

Another Thought on the Minimum Wage

"Since the 1960s, both the labor force participation rate and the employment rate of black youths have fallen to what they are today. Why? Are employers more racially discriminatory today than before? Were black youths of yesteryear more skilled than whites of yesteryear? "The answer to both questions is a big, fat no.

"The minimum wage law and other labor regulations have cut off the bottom rungs of the economic ladder . . . .”

~ Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics, George Mason University

Source:his May 20, 2015, column, posted at Townhall.com.

June 03, 2015

County's Civic Federation Sends Message on Classrooms

In reporting on one item at last night's Civic Federation month meeting, the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey wrote this morning:

"Delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on June 2 sent a message to county leaders: Focus more resources on addressing school-capacity issues, and find ways to lower the cost of providing all those new seats.

"At the same time, federation delegates said, the county government shouldn’t imperil its high bond ratings in the process.

"On a lopsided 64-9 vote, federation delegates backed a proposal from the organization’s schools committee, calling on Arlington Public Schools to use a variety of means to address what the committee believes is an onslaught of students in the near future."

ACTA has frequently growled that the Arlington School Board repeatedly abuses Arlington County taxpayers by building schools that cost significantly more than comparable schools in Northern Virginia school districts, whether on a cost per square foot (s.f.) or cost per seat basis. For example, see our June 6, 2014, Growls where we reported the Arlington elementary school at the Williamsburg site provides 143 square feet per pupil and costs $288.97 per s.f. while Prince William County's Devlin Road elementary school provides 119 s.f. per pupil and costs $150.89 per s.f.

Before final passage, however, the Schools Committee resolution was amended. Here's how McCaffrey's reported the back-and-forth:

"But the biggest battle of the debate came over a proposal in the resolution suggesting that the county government consider abandoning financial controls designed to maintain Arlington’s AAA/AAA/Aaa bond ratings.

Government leaders consider those bond ratings, which recently were affirmed, to be sacrosanct. As part of efforts to maintain them, the county government limits its spending on debt service to no more than 10 percent of total government expenditures.

"Delegate Randy Swart moved to strip from the resolution any reference to abandoning the debt-service limits. “There’s a difference between [thinking] outside the box . . . and beyond the pale,” he said.

< . . . >

“You’re opening a can of worms you really don’t want to open,” delegate Burt Bostwick said.

"That view carried the day, with delegates voting 71-9 to strip out references to abandoning the debt ceiling."

Swart's resolution passed 71-9 vote with 4 abstentions; compared to the resolution's 64-9 vote with 16 abstentions. Passage resulted in removal of "or higher debt service limits" from the last 'whereas.'

The School Committee also reported on their analysis of enrollment growth and school capacity of the Arlington Public Schools (APS). Their view is that APS's "medium-growth-forecast is a very likely scenario and that APS must have contingency building and financing plans for medium- and high-growth possibilities."

Given the implications for taxpayers, we urge all Growls readers to review the School Committee's analysis, and discuss it with members of the Arlington School Board and with School Board candidates before the November elections. You can reach members of the Arlington School Board by clicking-on the link below:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-6015

And if they ask, tell them ACTA sent you!

June 02, 2015

A Though about 'Settled Science'

"To call any science settled is sheer idiocy. Had mankind acted as though any science could possibly be settled, we'd be living in caves, as opposed to having the standard of living we enjoy today. That higher standard of living stems from challenges to what might have been seen as 'scientific fact.'

"According to mathematician Samuel Arbesman's book, "The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date," many ideas taken as facts today will be shown to be wrong as early as five years from now. Arbesman argues that a study published in a physics journal will lose half its value in 10 years.

"Many academics know that to call any science settled is nonsense. But their leftist political sentiments and lack of academic integrity prevent them from criticizing public officials and the media for misleading a gullible public about global warming.

~ Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics, George Mason University

Source: His 6/2/15 column, posted at CNS News.com.

June 01, 2015

A Thought on Economic Freedom

"The United States continues to suffer from a historically weak economic recovery. Monthly GDP and employment numbers remain near anemic. From a historical perspective the economy should be roaring by now given the pronounced contraction in 2008. Many explanations have been offered but the core reason for the U.S.’s slow recovery, and one that will continue to impede prosperity, is the decline in economic freedom and its impact on entrepreneurship, both of which began prior to the recession."

~ Donald J. Boudreaux and Jason Clemens, senior fellow, and EVP, respectively, at the Fraser Institute

Source: their April 24, 2015, guest commentary, posted at Forbes.