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September 30, 2015

CAGW announces their September 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) has announced their latest Porker of the Month, and their selection is Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland). She was selected "for her leading role in the effort to bust the very spending caps she voted for and President Obama agreed to in 2011." (emphasis in the original)

CAGW justified their selection of Sen. Mikulski this way:

"The Budget Control Act (BCA) became law on August 2, 2011 and required that spending be reduced over the following decade by a greater amount than the increase in the federal debt limit.  If Congress failed to agree to sufficient cuts to meet the spending caps, automatic cuts would occur through sequestration.  Since 2011, the BCA has significantly reduced the growth of annual deficits, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s updated 2015 budget projections.

"Despite having been one of 74 senators who voted in favor of the BCA in 2011, Senator Mikulski has pushed for lifting the caps and vast increases in spending.  On February 5, 2015, she introduced a bill to lift caps on research grants at the National Institutes of Health.  On September 15, Sen. Mikulski laid out her preferred timeline for funding the government:  “I’d like to get everything done by Thanksgiving, but that would mean a CR where we lift the caps in October and then appropriations doing work in November.”  She repeated her willingness to bust the caps on September 18, stating, “I like November, so that we could lift the caps and so on.”

"While Senator Mikulski is not the only Democrat in favor of busting the caps, she is her party’s most senior member on the Senate Appropriations Committee.  That position comes with a prodigious responsibility to advocate for fiscal discipline.  However, she has repeatedly failed to exercise her influence in a constructive manner.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “Busting the caps is unacceptable.  The fact that so many in Congress are contemplating ending them is an ominous sign for anyone who favors fiscal restraint and commonsense spending policies.  Following her flip-flop on the BCA, Senator Mikulski has played a leading role in her party’s quest to wipe out the caps.  Her actions have been a disservice to the principles of fiscal responsibility.”

CAGW's justification is fully documented with links provided in CAGW's announcement.

If you have a few minutes, use  one or all of the following links to communicate  with your Congress Critter(s). They may not listen to your point of view, but they do track incoming communications. They need to hear you growl, in addition to knowing your positions on federal government 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. And kudos to Citizens Against Government Waaste (CAGW) for their continued efforts to fight government waste.

September 29, 2015

A Thought on National Security

“As the nation has learned time and again, it is American military preparedness and superiority, in combination with a proactive and prudent foreign policy, that  are likely to serve as a deterrent to military conflict and prevent large-scale, long lasting wars. Should war occur —- and at times war is unavoidable — the United States must ensure that its young service personnel are the best trained and equipped on the face of the earth. Yet at precisely the time in American history when younger people need to be most vigilant and vocal, given the multiple and rising dangers facing the nation and, sadly, the failure of public officials to adequately prepare for these threats, Pew (Research Center) reports that more than 65 percent of younger people born between 1981 and 2005 support reducing military spending in order to preserve spending on social programs.”

~ Mark Levin

Source: pages 156-157 of Mark R. Levin's “Plunder and Deceit: Big Government’s Exploitation of Young People and the Future.," available at Barnes & Noble. Also available at Amazon.

September 28, 2015

A Thought on Prosperity vs. Income Inequality

"So when all is said and done, the inequality warriors want the government to confiscate wealth and control incomes so that wealthy individuals cannot influence politics in directions they don’t like. Koch brothers, no. Public-employee unions, yes. This goal, at least, makes perfect logical sense. And it is truly scary.

"Prosperity should be our goal. And the secrets of prosperity are simple and old-fashioned: property rights, rule of law, economic and political freedom. A limited government providing competent institutions. Confiscatory taxation and extensive government control of incomes are not on the list."

~ John H. Cochrane, Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution and Professor of Finance, University of Chicago

Source: "Dishonest Demands," Spring 2015 (2015, No. 2), which originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

September 27, 2015

Your Tax Dollars Paying for "Dozens of Federal Subsidies"

As the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture "Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more federal subsidies for the industry," Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) "released a report detailing the variety of federal subsidies for biofuels like corn ethanol, the same day," according to this September 10, 2015 TCS press release.

The press release continued:

"In May, the USDA announced it was creating a $100 million grants program to subsidize ethanol blender pumps. Today’s announcement is the next step in that program. TCS awarded Sec. Vilsack the Golden Fleece award in July for providing this $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to pay for new gas station pumps that can dispense high-blend ethanol fuels. After an earlier attempt to fund blender pumps through another program, Congress explicitly forbid USDA from spending tax dollars from the program on blender pumps when it passed the 2014 Farm Bill.

“After more than 30 years of federal backing for certain biofuels such as corn ethanol, the federal government should be scaling back – not expanding – its role in subsidizing the long supply chain of biofuels production,” said TCS President Ryan Alexander.

"Today’s report from TCS, titled “Understanding Federal Subsidies for the Biofuel and Biomass Industries,” includes an overview of Federal Biofuels and Biomass Subsidies administered by various federal agencies, including the USDA, Department of Energy, Treasury Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The report catalogues dozens of programs and subsidies, including descriptions and dollars spent. Copies of the report can be found at taxpayer.net/biofuels.

“Biofuels have been sold as a tonic to achieve U.S. energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and spur rural economic development,” continued Alexander. “They have not delivered on these promises, and more government subsidies is not the answer.”

TCS introduced the 21-page report this way:

"Since its creation of the domestic market for corn ethanol after the energy crisis of the 1970s, the federal government has nurtured and maintained the ethanol industry with a steady stream of subsidies. Biofuels and biomass sources were originally sold as a way to help achieve U.S. energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and spur rural economic development. The federal government has propped up the biofuels and biomass industries – primarily the mature corn ethanol industry – through billions in subsidies, special interest tax breaks, taxpayer-backed loan guarantees, and a variety of other supports for blender pumps and other infrastructure. Biofuels enjoy a guaranteed market as their production is mandated by the federal government through the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

"However, the next generation of biofuels and bioenergy has failed to meet its lofty expectations. Unintended consequences of increased corn demand have included higher food and feed costs, greater greenhouse gas emissions, and the conversion of millions of acres of native grasslands, wetlands, and other sensitive land to corn and other commodity crop acres. Biofuel and biomass subsidies have allowed the federal government to pick winners and losers, distorted energy and agriculture markets, and contributed to expansion and overproduction of certain types of bioenergy.

"After more than 30 years of federal backing for certain biofuels such as corn ethanol, the federal government should be scaling back – not expanding – its role in subsidizing the long supply chain of biofuels production. It’s time the biomass and biofuels industries survived without taxpayer support."

The report includes several helpful tables. For example, one table lists, by the program/fund name and corn-based biofuel project, the projects that are funded. Another table identifies the amounts of "woody biomass subsidies" for the years 2009-2013.

The report's introduction is here. TCS's biofuels resource page is here.

More importantly, use the following links to communicate with your members of Congress. They need to hear you growl, and you should know what their positions are on biofuels. And be sure to ask them what oversight they have personally been involved in that ensures biofuels are being used efficiently, economically, and effectively. 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. And kudos to Taxpayers for Common Sense for their continued efforts to ensure "budgets make sense."

September 26, 2015

Regional Housing Values, Costs Higher Than National Averages

The Arlington Sun Gazette posted a story at noon today that reported on U.S. Census Bureau housing data. According to the Sun Gazette online story:

"Homeowners in the Washington area have median mortgage payments 74 percent higher than the national average, with median real-estate taxes 94 percent higher and median annual property-insurance bills 19 percent higher, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The figures come from the most recent housing profile, issued by federal officials over the summer and based on the 2013 American Housing Survey – the most comprehensive look at housing trends across the nation.

Some of the more significant data in the story includes:

"Of all homes surveyed, the original purchase price nationally was $116,000, while in the D.C. region it was $240,000. Of homes purchased new over the previous four years, the median prices were $238,000 and $429,000, respectively.

"The current median value of all homes surveyed was $160,000 nationally and $369,500 in the D.C. region. Of homes purchased new in the previous four-year period, those figures were $240,000 and $495,000, respectively.

"About 36 percent of all homeowners nationally report having no mortgage, significantly higher than the 21.5-percent total reported in the Washington area. The median monthly mortgage payment for those who had housing loans were $997 nationally and $1,740 across the region.

"Taxpayers paid a median $1,800 in real estate taxes nationally, with residents of the D.C. region ponying up nearly double that amount ($3,492). Property-insurance costs totaled $756 a year nationally, $900 in the local region."

Arlington County homeowners may want to bookmark this Sun Gazette story so that come January 2016, when you receive your property assessment, you can compare how your home stacks up.

September 25, 2015

Only the Best Furniture for EPA Bureaucrats

Today's Washington Times reports on "EPA's fondness for furniture costs taxpayers $92 million. The Times' Kellan Howell reports (emphases added):

"The federal agency that has the job of protecting the environment doesn’t seem to have too much concern for trees, at least the ones cut down to make furniture.

"The Environmental Protection Agency over the past decade has spent a whopping $92.4 million to purchase, rent, install and store office furniture ranging from fancy hickory chairs and a hexagonal wooden table, worth thousands of dollars each, to a simple drawer to store pencils that cost $813.57.

"The furniture shopping sprees equaled about $6,000 for every one of the agency’s 15,492 employees, according to federal spending data made public by the government watchdog OpenTheBooks.com.

"And the EPA doesn’t buy just any old office furniture. Most of the agency’s contracts are with Michigan-based retailer Herman Miller Inc. According to the contracts, the EPA spent $48.4 million on furnishings from the retailer known for its high-end, modern furniture designs.

"Just one of Herman Miller’s “Aeron” office chairs retails for nearly $730 on the store’s website. The EPA has spent tens of thousands of dollars to purchase and install those types of chairs in its offices.

"The agency also paid another high-end retailer, Knoll Inc., nearly $5 million for furnishings. Knoll is known for its specialized modern furnishings, and 40 of its designs are on permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York."

For its efforts at spending your tax dollars on themselves, the Times awarded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) its weekly Golden Hammer award.

Howell reports the problem of spending on furniture is "not new," writing:

". . .  In 2003, an internal report by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility warned the agency to cut back on spending for fancy furniture.

“The amount of money that [EPA’s office of criminal enforcement, forensics and training] wastes is mind-boggling,” one employee was quoted as saying in the report, adding that the ability of agents to investigate violations is negatively affected by a number of wasteful practices, including “moving and remodeling offices/buying fancy new furniture for the benefit of a favored few.”

Howell also added comments by Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union, writing:

"He added that private businesses often splurge on nice office furniture, but unlike federal agencies, those businesses are held accountable for their spending.

“Sure, big businesses can spend equally big money on office furniture, but if the costs get excessive, shareholders can demand accountability and vote directly with their dollars. Taxpayers don’t really have the same kind of choice,” Mr. Sepp said."

We encourage Growls readers to take a few minutes to write your members of Congress. Find out what your Congress Critters are doing to hold executive branch agencies accountable for the efficient, economical and effective governance of federal agencies. 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. And kudos to the Washington Times for their weekly Golden Hammer awards!

September 24, 2015

A Thought About the Sustainability of Social Security

"Social Security is simultaneously growing and losing money. And these losses will become increasingly severe.  In 2010, more money went into subsidized benefits than were received from taxes. According to the trustees of the Social Security "trust funds," there will be a cash deficit averaging about $77 billion annually through 2018, which will then rise steeply as the number of beneficiaries continues to grow at a substantially faster rate than the number of covered workers. The ratio of beneficiaries to workers that I described earlier gets much worse. The combined DI and OASI "trust funds” will be completely depleted by 2033. In fact, the trustees forecast that expenditures will exceed tax revenues throughout the next seventy-five years. When they calculate the present value of the unfunded obligation for the next seventy-five years, it comes to $10.6 trillion, or $1 trillion more than last year’s prediction. Indeed the $10.6 trillion will be necessary to fund obligations on top of the income the federal government receives from Social Security taxes.” (emphasis in the original; footnotes deleted)

~ Mark Levin

Source: page 41, “Plunder and Deceit: Big Government’s Exploitation of Young People and the Future.," available at Barnes & Noble. Available at Amazon.



September 23, 2015

A Thought on the Laws of Economics and the Minimum Wage

"Aaron Pacitti, Siena College professor of economics, wrote that raising the minimum wage "would reduce income inequality and poverty while boosting growth, without increasing unemployment." The leftist Center for Economic and Policy Research has written a paper whose title tells it all: "Why Does the Minimum Wage Have No Discernible Effect on Employment?" The U.S. Department of Labor has a page on its website titled "Minimum Wage Mythbusters," which relays a message from liberal economists: "Increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum-wage workers." (embedded 'tinyurl' link for DoL webpage in original; links to 1) Professor Pacitti and his Huffington Post article and 2) CEPR study added)

"What the liberals believe -- and want us to believe -- is that though an increase in the cost of anything will cause people to use less of it, labor is exempt from the law of demand. That's like accepting the idea that the law of gravity influences the falling behavior of everything except nice people. One would have to be a lunatic to believe either proposition."

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

Source: His September 23, 2015 Column, posted at Townhall.com.

September 22, 2015

About those "ObamaCare State Exchange Disasters"

At Americans for Tax Reform this morning, Alexander Hendrie reports on an audit by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) of the ObamaCare state exchange technology projects. According to Hendrie:

"The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) failed to conduct sufficient oversight over state-based Obamacare exchanges prior to the 2014 enrollment period, according to a recently released report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Taxpayers gave over $5.4 billion in grants to all 50 states and DC to plan and construct exchanges, with the 17 states that proceeded to construct an exchange receiving $4.5 billion of that amount. Since then, these funds have largely been wasted by inept bureaucrats on systems that do not work."

He listed the following problems that were faced by the state exchanges during the during the 2014 enrollment period, which began October 1, 2013. Thpse problems included:

  • Poor system performance and delays in addressing information security,
  • Partially completed software functionality,
  • Hardware problems
  • Enrollment errors causing long wait times and applications to get stuck in the system
  • Difficulties getting individuals’ identities verified through the systems,
  • The inability to easily make changes to individuals’ insurance coverage in response to events such as births or income changes.

The audit (number GAO-15-527, September 16, 2015) was performed "to (1) determine how states have used federal funds for IT projects to support their marketplaces and the status of the marketplaces, (2) determine CMS's and states' roles in overseeing these projects, and (3) describe IT challenges states have encountered and lessons learned. To do this, GAO surveyed the 50 states and the District of Columbia, reviewed relevant documentation from the states and CMS, and interviewed CMS officials."

Hendrie continued by describing the problems encountered by the state exchanges, writing:

"Prior to launch, CMS was required to evaluate the operational readiness of each state exchange. But based on the abysmal performance of many state exchanges at launch, officials clearly failed to do their job.

"In Oregon, officials were forced to install “dozens of extra fax lines” months after the launch date because the exchange website was unworkable. Key functionality in Vermont remains incomplete even today, and the system has been described as “hellish” by enrollees. In Maryland, there was zero accountability for the $190 million exchange and just four people could enroll on the first day. In Massachusetts, officials and contractors joked that their system was based on the idea that “users do testing." The poor performance of the exchange resulted in an estimated $1 billion in costs for the state.

"In all likelihood, officials were aware of the issues facing these states before exchanges launched. According to GAO, CMS conducted reviews on 15 state-based exchanges in August and September of 2013. But as the report notes, these tests were insufficient and ineffective:

“CMS conditionally passed all of those states without fully ensuring that they had conducted all required system testing and demonstrated that their systems were ready for production.”

"Even though these tests found multiple issues related to the functionality of state exchanges, CMS passed all states. GAO's report notes several examples where CMS found a state to have severe operational deficiencies ahead of launch, yet officials ultimately ignored these findings. GAO found documentation revealing that officials were aware that Maryland's exchange had 100 “outstanding high-priority defects” and almost 500 defects in total, while Massachusetts had reported 1,170 defects.

"As the report concludes, these problems were so severe in four states (Massachusetts, Maryland, Nevada, and Oregon) that these exchanges had to rely on alternative ways to enroll customers during the first enrollment season.

"While several exchanges have already defaulted back to the federal system, and many others have been characterized by severe operational problems and inept management, GAO reports that just over $1 million of the $4.5 billion of taxpayer money has been returned to the federal government."

Arielle Levin Becker reported the results of the GAO report for the Connecticut Mirror here while Morgan True did so for the Vermont Digger here.

Tim Jost also reported on the GAO report for the Health Affairs Blog last Friday. According to Jost:

"The report is quite critical of CMS oversight of state IT funding and projects. It specifically asserts that CMS failed to have in place a comprehensive communications plan that clearly documented and defined its state marketplace oversight structure and associated roles and responsibilities, did not sufficiently involve senior executive-level personnel in project oversight, and failed to ensure that state marketplace IT projects were fully ready for operation before launch. CMS generally accepted the GAO’s recommendations based on these findings, but also asserted that its oversight and technical assistance were generally adequate, even if they did not take the form the GAO would have recommended. States that responded to the GAO gave generally positive ratings to CMS assistance and oversight, although some states identified instances of delayed or insufficient communications with CMS.

"Perhaps the most interesting section of the report describes the states’ report of the challenges they experienced and the lessons they learned from the implementation process. Among the greatest challenges identified by the states were the compressed timeframe within which they had to operate, changes in requirements during the implementation process, and inadequate staff. Developing interfaces and interoperability with insurers, state marketplace eligibility functions, and call center operation were noted as substantial challenges experienced by state marketplaces. Compressed timeframes, changes to requirements, and conducting systems integration testing were among the greatest challenges experienced by FFM states.

"Several state exchange states and the District of Columbia took issue with the findings of the GAO. In particular, the states and D.C. responded to the characterization of their operational status by the GAO, which they asserted was inaccurate. Although the report is on the whole critical, it also recognizes the magnitude of the task the states faced, and that the implementation of the marketplaces has been a learning experience for all involved."

We encourage Growls readers to take a few minutes to write your members of Congress. Find out what your Congress Critters have done recently to improve the quality of care and reduce the costs of ObamaCare. 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.

September 21, 2015

Did the Arlington County Board Pass a $10 Million Doorstop?

Although the headline of Scott McCaffey's Arlington Sun Gazette's online story this morning reads, "Unanimous: County Board OKs affordable housing plan," a "supplemental report" on Thursday, September 17, added, "A clarifying statement that the Affordable Housing Master Plan does not commit the County to any immediate or future expenditures." So, unless the Arlington County Board can identify how it's going to pay for the subsidized housing, the Affordable Housing Master Plan, and accompanying Implementation Framework, will remain little more than a multimillion dollar doorstop.

Bur first, let's take a few minutes, and look at McCaffrey's Arlington Sun Gazette report from Saturday's Board meeting:

"Arlington County Board members on Sept. 19 adopted a plan they believe will help stem the exodus of affordable housing out of the community, using tools ranging from additional tax dollars to developer incentives.

"The unanimous vote, taken after hours of testimony and discussion, represented the culmination of a three-year process that including a public task force and, in the final weeks, negotiation among board members themselves.

"John Vihstadt, who had remained on the fence about the overall package and on the day of the vote said he believed the plan and its implementation framework “fall short in important respects,” nonetheless concluded the pluses outweighed the minuses.

“The plan is a net positive, and an important blueprint for our collective future,” Vihstadt said as the vote approached.

"Several other County Board members, whose support for the package never seemed in doubt, said their action presents an opportunity to include affordable housing as a bedrock tenet of Arlington’s commitment to a social safety net.

“While we can’t solve all the problems, we certainly can try,” County Board Vice Chairman Walter Tejada said.

"The package had the support of most housing advocates, but some in the community voiced concern about the cost – Arlington already spends far more of its municipal budget on housing than neighboring jurisdictions – and over unforeseen and unanticipated side effects."

McCaffrey also pointed out, "County officials acknowledge that passing the housing plan may turn out to be the easy part." For example, he notes, "Implementation of the plan also may face challenges in the current political environment, since advocates for other spending priorities (open space, schools, transportation) have become more aggressive in pushing their agendas, and more willing than in years past to throw sharp elbows at those pressing for competing priorities."

In closing, McCaffrey noted that "county officials paused to bask in the glow of the plan’s passage."

We've growled several times since early June on issues involving the affordable housing master plan (AHMP). On June 7, 2015, we noted the Arlington County Civic Federation voted 47-29 to support the AHMP. A few days later, on June 11, 2015, we growled about two op-eds about affordable housing. Two days later, on June 13, 2015, we growled, noting the County Board had set set a course on affordable housing. On June 17, 2015, we growled, noting citizen responses to the AHMP, and finally, on September 9, we growled after County Board candidates "sparred" over the AHMP.

Some background material can be found at the Affordable Housing Study webpage.

In addition to the "supplemental report" mentioned at the top, which, incidentally, includes the Board report and the Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) and Implementation Framework (IF), several other Board documents may be of interest: see item 45 at the Board's September 19, 2015 agenda. Available are the original Board report with AHMP and IF plus letters from the public and letter from the Planning Commission.

The Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan wrote two reports on the Board's affordable housing plan. There was a long version, posted online September 18, 2015, which appeared in the Sunday, September 20, 2015 edition, and a short post-meeting version. The long report is worth-reading, especially if you prefer letting Ms. Sullivan slog through the details of the AHMP and IF. For example, she reports:

"Arlington’s plan would add about 15,800 affordable units to the county’s stock of 10,000, making 17.7 percent of county homes affordable to low- and moderate-income households by 2040.

"Many of the affordable units are expected to be older homes or apartments, which don’t appreciate as quickly as newer places. The plan calls for distributing affordable housing, which is concentrated mainly in South Arlington, more evenly throughout the county.

"While most of the attention is focused on renters who make less than the median income, rising prices also affect those who are trying to buy a home, officials say.

"For that reason, Arlington’s plan calls for keeping 28.4 percent of the new homes built in the county by 2040 affordable to buyers whose incomes are between 80 and 120 percent of the area median — between $85,000 and $127,700 for a family of four."

Her post-meeting report included the following observation:

"Three hours of personal and heartfelt testimony from those who said they have benefitted from Arlington’s existing housing supports swayed the lawmakers who said they couldn’t recall more affecting testimonials in their tenures."

The county's Saturday press release include three bullets:

  • Sets goals for increasing supply, ensuring access, improving sustainability
  • Addresses geographic distribution
  • County Board identifies priority next steps drawn from accepted Implementation Framework

Again, read the 3-page press release if you don't have time to read the entire 118-page "supplemental report" or even longer original Board report.

Oh, about that $10 million doorstop mentioned in the subject line. Although a better estimate might be possible on the back of the proverbial napkin, the estimate could even be higher since the County Board "directed the Manager to focus on four implementation areas over the next 2 years." If anyone wishes to challenge the accuracy of ElGrowlerGrande's $10 million guesstimate, I will publish them in a future Growls.

The ARLnow.com news site also posted a detailed, lengthy report today. Although much of it is of the "personal and heartfelt testimony" by advocates, it is fairly-well balanced by critics of so-called affordable housing.. And, some reader comments are perceptive, e.g., Nick_SoBoston commented, "The subsidized housing mafia is determined to force the average taxpayer to pay for their grand socialized housing plan . . . Tax, tax, tax, spend, spend. spend!"

Growls readers who haven't communicated with the Arlington County Board about the affordable housing master plan are urged to tell them what you think about their decision. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

September 20, 2015

How Taxes Increased for the 'Rich' in 2013

At the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog on August 27, 2015, Scott Greenberg reported on the dramatic increases in the taxes of the "rich." In his post, Greenberg first provides some background:

"2013 was a year of many changes to the U.S. tax code, and some of the most significant changes were targeted at raising taxes on high-income Americans. The fiscal cliff tax deal created a new 39.6 percent income tax bracket, raised the top rate on capital gains to 20 percent, and imposed a limitation on itemized deductions for high income Americans. Meanwhile, the Affordable Care Act’s new 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax went into effect at the beginning of 2013.

"By the end of 2013, it had become clear that these changes would lead to a much higher tax bill for high-income Americans, but just how high would their taxes rise? New data from the IRS, released yesterday, shows how tax rates for high income Americans changed between 2012 and 201."

Greenberg includes the following Tax Foundation chart, which shows the effect of those higher tax rates on adjusted gross income:

 

He then proceeds to explain the two stories going on with this data. The first, he says, "is that Congress and the President decided to raise taxes on the wealthy, and then the wealthy paid more in taxes. The higher rates shown above are largely due to the 39.6 percent bracket, the 20 percent capital gains rate, the Pease limitation on itemized deductions, and the Net Investment Income Tax – all instituted by Congress between 2010 and 2012."

Using several charts, Greenberg also explains how "taxes on the wealthy are higher because Congress raised them, and taxes on the wealthy are higher because capital gains realizations are down – we’ve run a rough simulation of what proportion of the tax increase in 2013 was due to changes in capital gains income."

Nevertheless, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, wants to increase the top tax rate to 90%, according to the Daily Caller.

Kudos to the Tax Foundation for continuing to publish their helpful tax information.

September 19, 2015

Some Thoughts on the Economy and the GOP Debate

"While there were some great moments in the latest GOP debate, and some terrific individual performances — Carly Fiorina seemed to grab all the buzz in the aftermath — one thing that barely came up was the economy. It was very much like the first debate.

"The day after the candidates faced off, Fed chair Janet Yellen announced a stand-pat, no-interest-rate-liftoff policy. Now, I don’t expect presidential candidates to be Fed watchers. But Yellen did raise the issue of a still-soft economy, despite all the QE and zero-interest-rate policies. And I think Yellen was right. There will be a time to normalize Fed target rates. But not yet.

"That said, it would have been a good thing if any of the candidates talked about our money. A strong and steady dollar — the world’s unit of account (in theory) — is pro-growth, as we saw in the ’60s, ’80s, and ’90s. A collapsing greenback smothers growth, as we saw in the 2000s.

"I would have loved to have seen one or more of the candidates talk about a strong dollar, a rules-based Fed policy, and international monetary coordination. Alas, it was not to be. Maybe we’ll hear about the dollar at the CNBC debate on October 28. But an opportunity was missed on September 16.

"Interestingly, on the day of the debate, the Census Bureau revealed another round of stagnating incomes for the middle class. But the words “middle class” and “economic growth” were mentioned by the GOP debaters only four or five times, according to AEI economist Jim Pethokoukis. He laments that Republicans have been missing great opportunities to show a modern vision about growth.

"Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the director of Economics21 at the Manhattan Institute, lists a slew of important economic issues that weren’t addressed at the debate, including the minimum wage, regulatory policy, education, and alternatives to Obamacare. There were brief mentions of tax policy, with Governor Huckabee slipping in his fair-tax proposal and Senator Paul touting his 14.5 percent flat tax. But there was no room for Senator Rubio to pit his child tax credit against Jeb Bush’s 20 percent corporate tax rate. Meanwhile, Governor Christie spent his economic time on a plea for reducing Social Security benefits. Ugh.

"There also was no mention of socialist senator Bernie Sanders, who may be the Democratic frontrunner right now. The Wall Street Journal estimates that Sanders’s Greece-like spending spree would come to $18 trillion over a decade. That’s pretty wild. And it gets the Democrats firmly back as the tax-and-spend party. Sanders at various times has proposed income-tax rates of 70 to 90 percent, but not one Republican blasted his tax-and-spend program at the debate.

"Nor did anyone attack Hillary Clinton’s proposal to double the capital-gains tax rate if the asset holding period is not long enough. Her plan is pure anti-growth and anti-risk-taking. It’s just what we don’t need, but no GOP debater took it on."

~ Larry Kudlow, CNBC Senior Contributor

Source: His September 18, 2015 column, posted at National Review Online.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: More on Larry Kudlow here. NPR provides a tally of airtime here. For news coverage of the debate, see the Birmingham New here. An annotated transcript of the debate is available from the Washington Post here. The Associated Press does a "fact check," posted at FoxNews.com.

September 18, 2015

A Thought on Taxation and Class-Warfare

"I have never viewed taxations as a means of rewarding one class of taxpayers or punishing another. If such a point of view ever controls our public policy, the traditions of freedom, justice and equality of opportunity, which are distinguishing characteristics of our American civilization, will have disappeared."

~ Andrew Mellon, Financier and Secretary of the Treasury(1921-1932)

Source: page 139, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

September 17, 2015

Incomes Explain Why People Think the Recession Continues?

The Washington Post's Aaron Blake writes The Fix column. Almost one year ago, on September 25, 2014, he wrote, "Americans think we’re in a recession. They’re wrong. But still…." He began by writing:

"We here at The Fix love polls -- love, love, love them. We write about them frequently because they are the best way to quantitatively examine the American electorate. On-the-ground reporting is vital, but polling, more than anything, allows us a 30,000-foot view.

"Unfortunately, though, polling has its limits. And few things demonstrate this more than the recession question.

"The recession question, as you might or might not presume, is asking people whether or not the United States is currently in a recession. It is not, but a very strong majority of people regularly say that it is -- and it's been that way for years.

"Case in point: A new Public Religion Research Institute poll, which shows a whopping 72 percent of people think we are still in an economic recession.

"Again, this is flat-out wrong. We are not in a recession. A recession is technically defined as two straight quarters of a declining Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Over the last four years, we have had only two total quarters of a declining GDP. And the last one was not negative, so even if the next one was, we would not be in a recession."

On June 2, 2013, Peter Ferrara wrote about economic recoveries in his Forbes column, specifically saying:

"The recession ended four years ago, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.  So Obamanomics has had plenty of time to produce a solid recovery.  In fact, since the American historical record is the worse the recession, the stronger the recovery, Obama should have had an easy time producing a booming recovery by now.

"Obama likes to tout that we are doing better now than at the worst of the recession.  But every recovery is better than the recession, by definition.  So that doesn’t mean much."

While, technically, the nation may no longer be in recession, as defined by the National Bureau of Economic Research, "the recession question," as the Post's Blake wrote, "is an important one." According to Blake:

"While Americans might not technically be correct about there being a recession right now, it's just their way of registering their continued uncertainty about the slow economic recovery. People don't know what "recession" means, but they do know what "sluggish economy" means, and they are conflating the two in a way that politicians must recognize."

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released their annual income and poverty statistics. Ali Meyer observes in a concise report posted at the Washington Free Beacon:

"Median household income declined to $53,657 in 2014, a figure 6.5 percent lower than in 2007, the year before the recession began, and 1.5 percent lower than last year, according to data released Wednesday from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"From 2007 to 2014, median household incomes declined by $3,700. From 2013 to 2014, the decline was $805.

"According to the Census, median household income divides the income distribution into two, so half of incomes are greater, and half of incomes are less than the median.

"In 2014, median incomes were $56,866 for white households, $42,491 for Hispanic households and $35,398 for black households. Since the recession began, black households have seen the largest decline in incomes, declining by $3,273—or 8.4 percent."

So, please excuse some of us for thinking that, although technically incorrect, the so-called Great Recession continues unabated since December 2007, when it officially began. Or, as the Associated Press (AP) wrote, in their lede paragraph, "The wallets of America's middle class and poorest aren't seeing any extra money, the U.S. Census reported Wednesday, a financial stagnation experts say may be fueling political dissent this campaign season."

The AP story, by Jesse Holland and posted at the U.S. News & World Report website, provides a more extensive report of the Census income and poverty data.

In editorializing about the new Census report on income and poverty, Investor's Business Daily points out:

"This isn't exactly the picture that Obama has been painting. In fact, there's little that Obama likes to do more than brag about the economy.

"A couple of months ago, he was in Wisconsin, crediting his policies for "record" job growth, tumbling deficits and big gains in the stock market.

"Step by step, America is moving forward," he said. "Middle-class economics works. It works. Yes!"

"It's hard to see any evidence of that in the Census numbers. Indeed, the latest report shows that, despite more than six years of economic "recovery," the middle class is, incredibly, worse off than at the end of the Great Recession.

< . . . >

"If anyone but Obama had presided over such results, his economic legacy would be in shambles and his policies in disrepute."

Take a few minutes and write to your Congressional representatives. While they may not be able to change White House policies, there is no one better positioned to influence White House policy, at least if you live in Arlington County, Virginia since they share the same partisan politics. All Growls readers are encouraged to express their outrage about the White House's economic policies, which obviously have not worked. 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.

September 16, 2015

Today's Test Question

In a post at the blog of the Competitive Enterprise Institute last month, Clyde Wayne Crews, Vice President for Policy, says, "nobody can say with complete authority exactly how many federal agencies exist." Do know how the answer?

As Bill Clinton once said, it depends on the meaning of "is."

Here are six possible answers with the sources cited by Crews, and the number of agencies according to each source:

  • Unified Agenda -- 60
  • Administrative Conference of the United States -- 115
  • FOIA.gov (at Department of Justice) -- 252
  • United States Government Manual -- 316
  • Federal Register Index -- 257
  • Regulations.gov -- 89

In conclusion, Crews wrote:

"If nobody knows how many agencies exist whose decrees we must abide, that means we don’t know how many people work for the government (let alone contractors making a living from taxpayers) nor know how many rules there are. But even when we isolate a given, knowable agency, the rise of “regulatory dark matter” may make it hard to tell exactly what is and is not a rule.

"The sprawling bureaucracy, plus growing concern that issuing a rule may not even be necessary for agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to impose their will on the public calls out for congressional response."

In a Growls post on March 30, 2014, that compared Reaganomics and Obamanomics, we cited an op-ed by Vance Ginn, who wrote, "Contrary to President Obama's prescription of more government spending and regulation, President Reagan diagnosed government as the problem and prescribed a plan of lowering tax rates and reducing regulations to free firms and workers from disincentives to invest and work."

We encourage all Growls readers to express their outrage about the regulatory state to their members of Congress. Find out what your Congress Critter is doing to clear out the regulatory clutter. 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.

If you don't have the Competitive Enterprise Institute bookmarked, their homepage is here.

September 15, 2015

A Thought on the Income Tax

"Simply stated, the income tax was a necessary condition for the creation of the welfare state and the resulting social pathologies. The income tax also is the most economically destructive way politicians have ever developed for financing government."

~ Daniel J. Mitchell

Source: page 153, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

September 14, 2015

A Thought on the Prospects of Young People

 “. . . . many in the ruling generation are by and large inattentive and heedless about the bleak prospects inflicted on younger people, who will neither benefit from the government’s untenable programs, into which they are or will be forced to make “contributions,” nor possess the wherewithal to pay trillions of dollars in outstanding accumulated debt when the amassed IOU bubble bursts during their lifetimes or the lifetimes of future generations. Still, it is argued that millions of people benefit from such programs. Of course, trillions of dollars in government expenditures over many years most assuredly benefit the recipients of subsidies or other related  payments. But this does not change the arithmetic. The eventual collapse of a colossal government venture will indiscriminately in engulf an entire society and economy, including its millions of beneficiaries and benefactors, resulting in widespread disorder and misery. While this alone is daunting, no less derelict and pernicious are the other seemingly myriad ideological and social designs loosed on society by a ubiquitous federal government.”

~ Mark R. Levin

Source: Pages 10-11, “Plunder and Deceit: Big Government’s Exploitation of Young People and the Future.”

For a review of Mark's book and/or link to chapter 7 of the book, go here.

September 13, 2015

Is Metro's Burden on Taxpayers About to get Even Bigger?

On Tuesday, September 8, we growled about Metro's "mishaps" and that the subsidies contributed to Metro have been growing at twice the rate of total Arlington County expenditures for the 10-year period FY 2005 through FY 2014.

Now comes news that Metro's budget for FY 2017 will place a "big burden on region's taxpayers," according to WAMU Radio 88.5's Martin Di Caro. In a story posted last Thursday, DiCaro wrote:

"The Washington metropolitan region’s troubled transit authority has another problem: its budget.

"In a 10-year outlook to be presented to the authority’s board of directors Thursday, Metro staff will explain a forecast of expenses growing significantly faster than revenues.

"The burden could fall on taxpayers in Metro’s already stretched member jurisdictions in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.

"Long gone are the pre-recession days of growing rail ridership and fare revenue. Metro’s new normal is declining ridership (down about 8 percent over five years) and stagnant revenue growth.

"From now until 2025, the agency’s chief financial officer forecasts revenue growth of between 1 and 3 percent annually, while costs — mostly driven by personnel expenses tied to contracts with unionized employees — are expected to grow 6 percent per year.

“Clearly what Metro is facing is unsustainable,” said Robert Puentes, a transportation policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

"The scenario is so troubling that Metro is kicking off its fiscal 2017 budget process early. That fiscal year doesn’t start until July 1, 2016.

"The jurisdictions coughed up a lot of extra money to balance Metro’s current operating budget of $1.8 billion, and the authority’s financial managers would like to keep subsidy growth at 3 percent annually, acknowledging the reality that local tax revenues do not come from bottomless treasuries."

Di Caro's report includes a link to the Finance & Administration Committee's FY 2017 budget guidance document that included a 10-year outlook (through FY 2025) for revenues and expenses. The budget document listed the following four key highlights:

  • Metro's current FY2016 combined operating and capital budget is approximately $3.0 billion. That investment of passenger fares, local and state government funds, and federal funds produces over 340 million trips annually on Metrobus, Metrorail, and MetroAccess.
  • The critical challenge facing Metro in FY2017 is to improve transit service in the Washington region by investing more in safety, service quality, customer service, funding of long-term liabilities, and increased capacity, while at the same time staying within jurisdictional budget constraints.
  • Operating expense growth is currently greater than operating revenue growth, leading to substantial projected long-term increases in jurisdictional subsidy. Sustainable jurisdictional subsidy growth will require that expense growth be reduced from its current trend, including both personnel and non-personnel areas across the Authority. (Emphasis added)
  • In the capital budget, competing needs for future funding as well as uncertainty regarding future federal funding must be addressed in the context of a renewal of the Capital Funding Agreement (CFA), which expires at the end of FY2016. (emphasis added)

Two especially interesting data points from the FY 2017 budget guidance are the two cost recovery numbers. The first is the cost recovery from the operating budget, which is 52%. The second is the total cost recovery (operating budget and capital budget), which is 31%. Costs not recovered require subsidies from local governments. In the case of Arlington County, these subsidies, or contributions to Metro, have grown at a rate of 10.3% from FY 2005 through FY 2014 compared to an annual growth rate of 4.6% for total county spending.

After noting that "Metro jurisdictions are tapped out," Di Caro observed:

"The jurisdictions coughed up a lot of extra money to balance Metro’s current operating budget of $1.8 billion, and the authority’s financial managers would like to keep subsidy growth at 3 percent annually, acknowledging the reality that local tax revenues do not come from bottomless treasuries."

So Metro's financial managers want to hold subsidy growth to 3%, eh? And how will members of the Metro board achieve that? Good luck!

With Arlington County Board members and county staff holding all kinds of meetings recently for such things as the Affordable Housing Master Plan, Fire Station #8, land swap with Virginia Hospital Center, and the community facilities study, perhaps it slipped their minds to discuss the renewal of the Capital Funding Agreement (CFA), which expires at the end of FY2016. Or does the Arlington County Board prefer to hold such meetings in secret. But then, I'm just asking.

The Washington Post's Paul Duggan also posted an extensive story for the Friday editions. It, too, is also worth reading in its entirety. His report included the following observations:

"Metro’s chief financial officer, Dennis Anosike, told the board’s finance committee Thursday that the gap between costs and revenue is projected to keep widening over the next decade — putting more pressure on fare-payers and jurisdictions — unless the transit agency begins attracting more riders.

"That means that Metro would need to improve its performance. On that score, the agency’s most recent quarterly report card, called a “Vital Signs” report, doesn’t offer much encouragement. The report for April, May and June, presented to the board’s customer service committee Thursday, angered some board members.

“Rail on-time performance was significantly worse” in those three months than it was during the second quarter last year, Metro’s chief performance officer, Andrea Burnside, told the committee. With a lot of subway cars stuck in rail yards because of mechanical trouble, she said, trains were too often late and stuffed with passengers."

One of the current candidates for the two openings on the Arlington County Board "is taking a stand against TitleMax, which he deems a “predatory lender," according to a report on Friday at ARLnow.com, a business operating according to the laws of Virginia. Instead of being anti-business during a period when Arlington County should be partnering with Arlington County businesses trying to fill the thousands of square feet of currently vacant commercial space, one candidate for the County Board is seeking to show the county's anti-business side. As we pointed out in growling about economic development on March 13, 2015, filling up that commercial space can have a very positive impact on taxes paid by Arlington County residential real estate property owners.

Another question! Have the four candidates for the Arlington County Board been briefed about the Capital Funding Agreement? The question seems especially relevant since the two candidates who win the November 3, 2015 election will have to govern within the bounds of that agreement. Or is the agreement being negotiated in secret?

Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers, and wish to comment on economic development, should communicate your concerns to members of the the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 12, 2015

Experts' Views on Region's Economy

At the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors 2015 Economic Summit on Wednesday, September 9, experts said, "The Washington region must wean itself from reliance on federal contracting and create educational and business environments that take full advantage of the swiftly changing technological landscape, according to a report, posted yesterday, by the Arlington Sun Gazette's Brian Trompeter.

According to Trompeter:

"The region was rocked by federal budget-sequestration cuts in 2013 and that process could happen again, said Terry Clower, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

“About 40 percent of our economy is tied to the federal government,” he said. “Like any company town, that makes us somewhat vulnerable.”

"While his predecessor at the Center for Regional Analysis, Stephen Fuller, has discounted the chances of more sequestration cuts during a presidential-election year, Clower was a bit more cautious.

“I’m from Texas,” he said. “In a good part of the country, a little bit of a [governmental] shutdown is not seen as such a bad thing.”

"Area leaders should coordinate regionally to boost economic development; encourage businesses to target products and services toward other companies, rather than the government as in the past; and support export businesses, which shift some of the region’s tax burden to other locales, Clower said.

"Jonathan Aberman, chairman of TandemNSI, said the region needs to cultivate “gazelles” – fast-growing companies. Officials should encourage firms that offer products, which provide a greater return than services, and take steps to keep money generated in the region here, he said.

"Speaking at the Fairview Park Marriott in Falls Church, panelists discussed the current state and future prospects of the region’s real-estate market. They predicted the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates moderately during coming years, and that credit requirements may be loosened to make more people eligible for mortgages."

He also reported that new settlement rules were discussed, noting, "While the new rules are designed to protect consumers, it may have unintended consequences such as higher costs for longer rate locks and cascading impacts if transactions fall through, said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors."

Again, Trompeter's entire Sun Gazette article is here.

We growled about economic development in Arlington County on June 26, 2015; March 19, 2015; and, March 13, 2015.

Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers, and wish to comment on economic development, should communicate your concerns to members of the the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 11, 2015

Update on Land Swap with Virginia Hospital Center

About 75 to 100 Arlington County residents attended a "community meeting" Wednesday evening, September 9, "on the proposed Virginia Hospital Center expansion," according to the Arlington County website, adding that "Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz and senior County staff gave a presentation about VHC’s proposed expansion and the public process, then answered questions."

Schwartz said the "meeting is the first step in a lengthy process, which will have ample opportunity for public input."  He also outlined the process and provided "details of the proposed real estate transaction."

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey posted a lengthy report at the weekly newspaper's website this morning. Here's the beginning of the report:

"Shovels likely won’t be in the ground for at least two or three years, but Virginia Hospital Center continues laying the groundwork for its first major expansion in more than a decade.

"Hospital officials and the Arlington County government aim to have a draft, non-binding letter of intent ready by Sept. 24, the next step toward a potential land swap that would give the hospital 5.5 acres of land just north of its North George Mason Drive campus.

"Pointing to a rise in patient counts at the hospital in recent years, “we’re going to need this space a whole lot sooner than we thought we would,” said Adrian Stanton, a hospital vice president, during a Sept. 9 briefing that drew about 100 community members.

"Hospital officials in May formally asked County Board members to consider giving them government-owned land along North Edison Street, which has housed health-related government facilities that are being relocated elsewhere in Arlington. In exchange, the hospital says it is willing to offer cash or property it owns elsewhere in the county.

"The letter of intent, if adopted by the County Board, would be just the first formal step in what could be extensive negotiations.

"“This is going to be a long process,” predicted Mike Halewski, an assistant to the director of the county government’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development. “There’s a lot of work that’s involved.”

"At the Sept. 9 meeting, county officials tried to keep the horse in the barn – suggesting to residents that it may be too early to start throwing out ideas for future use of parcels that might be part of a land swap. Those parcels include a number along Lee Highway at North George Mason, along with one at South Carlin Springs Road.

"Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said he already is receiving suggestions for use of swapped land, and expects a deluge of such ideas as the process moves forward."

Scott McCaffrey also reported, "Civic associations representing the Waycroft-Woodlawn, Tara-Leeway and John M. Langston neighborhoods – which are closest to the hospital – have banded together to establish a task force as the planning process ramps up."

You can view the Acting County Manager's 12-page slide presentation here.

We growled last month on August 5 when the possibility of a land swap was first announced in the Washington Business Journal.

Growls readers who are Arlington County taxpayers who were unable to attend last night's community meeting, and wish to communicate your concerns about the proposed land swap with Virginia Hospital Center are urged to write or call the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 10, 2015

A Thought about Crime

"Do the people who are always demanding that there be more "training" for police ever say that the hoodlums that the police have to deal with should have had more training by their parents, instead of being allowed to grow wild, like weeds?"

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: His August 17, 2015 "Random Thoughts" column, posted at Investor's Business Daily.

September 09, 2015

County Board Candidates "Spar Over Merits" of AHMP

The Arlington County Civic Federation held its annual candidates forum last night. As they wrote in their September newsletter, the "annual Candidate Night Forum, is the start of the fall campaign season for those seeking public office in November. This is always one of the most popular meetings of the Civic Federation with a large number of non- members attending. It provides an opportunity for delegates and alternates of the Civic Federation to be able to interact with candidates."

By 7:30 this morning, the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey was reporting the back-and-forth from the debate among the four candidates for the Arlington County Board. Here's a portion of his report, but it's less half of the entire report:

"County Board candidates split down the middle on support for Arlington’s affordable-housing plan during campaign season’s annual kickoff Sept. 8.

"Democratic nominees Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol backed the plan, which goes to the County Board Sept. 19, while independents Michael McMenamin and Audrey Clement attacked it as ill-conceived and a potential budget-buster.

“This is something that will bankrupt the county,” said Clement, projecting an annual cost to taxpayers of $90 million or more – about double what the county government already spends on housing, a figure already far higher, on a percentage basis, than surrounding jurisdictions.

"The four candidates squared off at the annual Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum, held at Virginia Hospital Center. They are vying to succeed Democrats Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada, who did not seek re-election.

"Clement said she feared that the public had no idea what was in the wide-ranging housing proposal, or the financial costs it would entail.

"The county government, she said, “wants to buy the plan first, then discuss how to pay for it. This is a land mine.”

"That drew a rebuke from Dorsey, criticizing “back-of-the-envelope” cost estimates and saying that if ways can be found to lower housing costs, residents will have more cash to pump into retail purchases."

Take a couple of minutes to read the entire article here. And if you're left wondering how Arlington County "will end up exclusively for the ultra-wealthy," take the time to study each of the four candidates for Arlington County Board. Candidate information is available at the Office of Voter Registration webpage.

At ARLnow.com this morning, Heather Mongillo's reporting took much the same line. However, she also pointed out that independent candidate Mike McMenamine differentiated himself from the other three County Board candidates:

"While housing affordability is an important topic, McMenamin said it is the wrong issue to be prioritizing, separating himself from the three other candidates who include affordable housing as a top platform issue.

“We’re betting everything on affordable housing when we have a school crisis,” he said, referring to the burgeoning student population, overcrowded schools and the proliferation of trailer classrooms across the county.

"Arlington also needs to focus on the commercial vacancy rate, McMenamin said, an issue all candidates agreed on.

"The county needs to work on “getting businesses back in the county,” he said. The county should focus on becoming a home for large companies like Marriott — which is considering moving from Maryland — but also provide a nurturing environment for start-ups, he said.

"The county needs to find “creative ways, like tax relief,” to make the county more attractive to business, McMenamin said."

We growled about the "Affordable Housing Master Plan" four times in June -- June 7, 2015; June 11, 2015; June 13, 2015; and, June 17, 2015.

You can access the "Affordable Housing Master Plan," and its several off-shoots at the Affordable Housing Study webpage.

And, finally, take a few minutes, and tell the Arlington County Board members your thoughts about taxpayer-subsidized housing in Arlington County. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

September 08, 2015

All Those Metro "Mishaps" are Expensive

In an editorial over the weekend, the Washington Post asked, "Does Metro need a full overhaul?" The editorial board's opening paragraphs pretty much summarize Metro's recent problems:

"METRO’S BOARD, which oversees all bus and rail operations, is cracking the whip on a transit system whose sundry mishaps, breakdowns and fatal accidents imperil not only passengers but also the vitality and prospects of the Washington area itself. Convinced that the status quo is no longer viable, the board has determined that nothing short of a corporate, cultural and managerial overhaul will suffice.

"Trying something new is a reasonable reaction given Metro’s sorry trajectory. The trouble is that the board — whose frustration boiled over Thursday in an extraordinarily public verbal pummeling of the agency’s safety chief, James Dougherty, who was promptly ousted — has given no indication that it has a clear idea what the new “something” should be.

"Nor does the board seem to expect that a new general manager, who may be hired in the coming months, more than a year after the last one resigned, will be capable of setting the agency on a new course."

What is the cost of these "sundry mishaps, breakdowns and fatal accidents." In addition to what Metro riders put in the farebox, and what Metro gets from the state and federal governments, Metro receives significant subsidies from local governments in Virginia and Maryland, and the District of Columbia.

Arlington County provided Metro with $11.8 million in subsidies in FY 2005. By FY 2014, the subsidies to Metro increased to $28.2 million, an increase of 138.9%, or 10.3% annually over the 10 years from FY 2005 to FY 2014.

By comparison, total general government expenditures during this 10-year period increased 4.6% annually, going from $793.4 million to $1.186 billion over the 10-year period. The foregoing numbers are from the statistical section (Table D-1) of Arlington County's FY 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

Sure makes you wonder about the influence the Arlington County Board member, who is a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Board, has had on Metro operations. Growls readers living in Arlington County are urged to communicate with the Arlington County Board to learn just what influence membership on the Metro Board has over the efficient and economical operation of the WMATA system. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

September 07, 2015

The Tax Burden on American Labor

A bit of history, first. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's website:

"Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

Continuing with a synopsis of Labor Day legislation:

"Through the years the nation gave increasing emphasis to Labor Day. The first governmental recognition came through municipal ordinances passed during 1885 and 1886. From these, a movement developed to secure state legislation. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but the first to become law was passed by Oregon on February 21, 1887. During the year four more states — Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — created the Labor Day holiday by legislative enactment. By the end of the decade Connecticut, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania had followed suit. By 1894, 23 other states had adopted the holiday in honor of workers, and on June 28 of that year, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories."

With that short background, let's go to the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog. On Friday, Scott Greenberg answered the question, "How High is the Tax Burden on American Labor? He begins the short article, writing:

"Labor Day was created in the 1880s to celebrate “the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Yet, in addition to contributing to the United States economy, workers also contribute a great deal to the government every year, in the form of taxes on labor.

"In 2014, the average wage worker saw his or her labor income decrease by 31.5 percent due to federal, state, and local taxes, according to the OECD. Put another way, on average, U.S. workers take home 68.5 percent of what an employer spends to employ them."

Greenberg concludes the short article, saying:

"When taking all of these income taxes into account as well, the average U.S. worker faces an income tax burden of $8,631.

:All in all, the average U.S. worker shoulders a burden of $17,372 in taxes on their labor income – a reminder that U.S. workers contribute, not only to society, but also the federal treasury."

Finally, he includes the following chart showing the tax burden faced by the average wage worker:

Kudos to the Tax Foundation for continuing to publish their helpful tax information. Also see Saturday's Growls in which we reported on an American Enterprise Institute survey about American attitudes about work.

September 06, 2015

Trees, Arlington County, and "Settled Science"

Anthropogenic global warming alarmists, including President Obama, claim that 97% of climate scientists believe that man is primarily responsible for global warming. See, for example, this link at NASA's Global Climate Change webpage, which contains two references  to such a fact.

This 87% consensus factoid was debunked in the September 7, 2013 newsletter, The Week That Was. See also this May 30, 2013 Forbes magazine article by James Taylor in which he describes how global warming alarmists were "caught doctoring '97-percent consensus' claims." See also this Climate Depot webpage.

The title of this Growls came to mind when we saw the Washington Post story on Wednesday, September 2 reported by Chris Mooney. According to Mooney:

"In a blockbuster study released Wednesday in Nature, a team of 38 scientists finds that the planet is home to 3.04 trillion trees, blowing away the previously estimate of 400 billion. That means, the researchers say, that there are 422 trees for every person on Earth.

"However, in no way do the researchers consider this good news. The study also finds that there are 46 percent fewer trees on Earth than there were before humans started the lengthy, but recently accelerating, process of deforestation.

“We can now say that there’s less trees than at any point in human civilization,” says Thomas Crowther, a postdoctoral researcher at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies who is the lead author on the research. “Since the spread of human influence, we’ve reduced the number almost by half, which is an astronomical thing.”

"In fact, the paper estimates that humans and other causes, such as wildfires and pest outbreaks, are responsible for the loss of 15.3 billion trees each year — although the authors said at a press conference that perhaps 5 billion of those may grow back each year, so the net loss is more like 10 billion annually."

Although Mooney is quick to point out the researchers do not "consider this good news," the fact scientists thought there were only about 13% of their best estimate is quite shocking -- 400 billion trees, the "old" number vs. 3.04 trillion trees, the "new" number.

CNN also covered the study as did USA Today. The Christian Science Monitor explained why the tree census matters, and Investor's Business Daily's Kerry Jackson concluded an op-ed, writing:

"This is a beautiful market solution and works better than the typical government response, which is almost always a lethal combination of restrictions, coercion and outright foolishness that causes laws and programs to backfire. (To be fair, in some cases government does require harvested forests to be replanted.) Our forests are too important to be left to the poor stewardship of government."

Guess the 4,753 trees -- actual and estimated --planted in Arlington County in the six years from FY 2010 through FY 2015, at a budgeted $1.3 million of Arlington County taxpayers money, are going to make a big dent in saving the planet from "carbon dioxide poisoning." Let there be no mistake, however, that your humble scribe is not opposed to replacing trees that have been damaged or destroyed, but it sure seems the Board is catering to environmental special interests in much of the spending on trees. And by the way, those numbers of trees planted, and budgeted amounts, are documented in a staff response (Item G.8.) to a County Board member's question during the FY 2015 budget season. So the County Board planted trees for fewer than two of the county's 215,000 residents. By the way, the staff estimates do not appear to include the Tree Canopy Fund.

Growls readers living in Arlington County are urged to communicate with the Arlington County Board to tell them what you think about their spending on tree planting. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

September 05, 2015

A Survey of American Attitudes About Work

With Labor Day about to be celebrated on Monday, Karlyn Bowman et al of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) posted a timely study of attitudes about work in America. Ms. Bowman is a senior fellow and research coordinator at AEI.

The study, technically a public opinion survey, was compiled by Ms. Bowman, Eleanor O'Neill, and Heather Sims, and is entitled, "The State of the American Worker 2015: Attitudes About Work." (Available here in .pdf format)

Following is the "short version" of the 77-page study that was posted (emphasis in the original):

"In celebration of Labor Day, this AEI Public Opinion Study examines workers’ satisfaction with different aspects of their jobs, concerns about job security and employment, and how Americans balance work with personal life.

  • Overall job satisfaction: Since pollsters began asking about job satisfaction in the 1970s, there has been little change in the responses, with the vast majority of workers saying they are satisfied with their jobs. In National Opinion Research Center’s latest survey, 86 percent said they were very or moderately satisfied with their work.
  • Satisfaction with job characteristics: People are most satisfied with their coworkers, but they are generally satisfied with many other aspects of their jobs. In 2015, 92 percent said they were completely or somewhat satisfied with their coworkers. Eighty-four percent were satisfied with their job security, and 83 percent were satisfied with their boss. Satisfaction with earnings was lower—33 percent were completely satisfied with the amount of money they earned, and 36 percent were somewhat satisfied. (Gallup)
  • Job anxiety: Americans’ concerns about employment have improved substantially since the Great Recession. Worries about being laid off peaked at 31 percent in Gallup’s 2009 survey. In 2015, 22 percent said they were worried about being laid off. Twenty percent in 2015, compared to 32 percent in 2009, worried that their wages would be reduced (Gallup).
  • Work characteristics: In survey questions asked since 1996, around 15 percent say they hold more than one job. Telecommuting has risen in popularity since US News and Gallup first asked about it twenty years ago, when 9 percent of workers said they have telecommuted. In August 2015, Gallup found that 37 percent of working Americans had telecommuted.
  • Work-life balance: In National Opinion Research Center’s 2014 survey, 40 percent said it is “not at all hard” to take time off during their work day to take care of personal or family matters, and 29 percent said “not too hard.” Asked about the first job they had after having their first child, 59 percent of mothers and 76 percent of fathers of children under age 18 said they were satisfied with the flexibility in their work schedule to take care of their child (Washington Post, June–July 2015)."

In addition, the infographic just below summarizes the statistics from the survey:

If you haven't bookmarked the homepage of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Growls readers are encouraged to do so to learn about their ideals of expanding liberty, increasing individual opportunity, and strengthening free enterprise.

HT White Papers & Research, September 5, 2015, Real Clear Policy.

September 04, 2015

A Thought About Inequality

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”

~ Aristotle

Source: BrainyQuote.com.

September 03, 2015

A Thought on Politicians + Tax Hikes

"I have a very straightforward rule when assessing politicians. Simply stated, if they are open to tax hikes, then it’s quite likely that they have no desire to control the size, cost, and power of the federal government.”

~ Daniel Mitchell, Senior Fellow, Cato Institute

Source: His September 2, 2015 post at Cato@Liberty.

September 02, 2015

Winners and Losers in IRS 2013 Migration Data

At the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) website yesterday, Caroline Anderegg reports that Florida is the "biggest beneficiary of wealth from other states." According to Anderegg:

"Newly released IRS migration data from 2013 shows that Florida was the greatest recipient of new wealth of any other state in the nation. That year, more than 74,000 new residents brought with them $8.34 billion in adjusted gross income (AGI) to spend in the Sunshine State.

"Between 1985 and 2013, nearly 1.8 million new residents brought with them more than $116.36 billion in annual AGI. Taxes likely have played a large role in this mass migration to the Sunshine State. Florida is one of nine states that do not tax earned income, and one of only seven that do not tax any form of personal income. On top of that, Republican Governor Rick Scott has worked with the Republican legislature to provide an additional $2.6 billion in tax relief since taking office in 2011.

"In 2013, Florida had the largest population gains from the following states:

  • New York  20,465 ($1.35 billion)
  • New Jersey  12,457  ($945 million)
  • Pennsylvania  9,092 ($644 million)
  • Illinois  7,749  ($1.1 billion)
  • Connecticut  5,686  ($1.09 billion)"

In a similar vein at the ATR website yesterday, Paul Blair reported America's biggest loser for 2013 was the state of New York. Blair writes:

" . . . That year, nearly 115,000 residents left the Empire State, taking with them $5.65 billion in adjusted gross income (AGI) to spend elsewhere.

"This new data shows that New York will remain America’s “Biggest Loser,” having lost nearly 1.6 million taxpayers between 1985 and 2013. Those residents took with them more than $80.8 billion in annual AGI.

"The phenomenal failure of New York to retain taxpayers and businesses is directly related to its uncompetitive tax and business climates. By some measures, New Yorkers face the greatest tax burden of any state in the nation. The personal income tax system consists of eight brackets and a top rate of 8.82%. The corporate tax of 7.1% and property tax collections are $2435 per person. The Tax Foundation ranked New York 50th until this year after a set of minor tax reductions.

"In 2013, New York had the largest population losses to the following states:

  • Florida -20,465 (-$1.35 billion)
  • New Jersey -16,223 (-$1.1 billion)
  • Texas -10,784 (-$354 million)
  • North Carolina -9,070 ($294 million)
  • California -7,849 (-$200 million)

"Even Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged that the status quo has “cost us dearly” being the “highest tax state in the nation.”

"In an attempt to edge out some bottom-of the-list competitors, Cuomo has enacted minor property tax caps, corporate tax relief, and attempted to lure G.E. from Connecticut in the midst of that state’s massive tax hikes this year."

The original stories by Anderegg and Blair include embedded links to source documents. And if you haven't bookmarked the Americans for Tax Reform website, here is the ATR homepage.

We growled about taxation and migration on May 18, 2014, and included a link to the July 28, 2003 issue of The ACTA Watchdog, which included an analysis of migration into, and out of, Arlington County.

Competition among the states? The American Way!

September 01, 2015

Social Security Expected to Run $84 Billion Deficit in 2015

CNS News' Barbara Hollingsworth reports today that "Social Security will run (an) $84 billion deficit in 2015." According to Hollingsworth:

"The Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program commonly known as Social Security, which celebrated its 80th birthday on August 14, is projected to run an $84 billion deficit this year, according to the 2015 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees.

“Social Security’s cost exceeded its tax income in 2014, and also exceeded its non-interest income, as it has since 2010,” the trustees’ 75th annual report to Congress stated.

“This relationship is projected to continue throughout the short-range period (2015 through 2024) and beyond….For 2015, the deficit of tax income (and non-interest income) is projected to be approximately $84 billion,” the report stated.

"During 2014, $646.2 billion in payroll taxes was collected from 166 million working Americans.

"But that was not enough to cover the $859 billion in Social Security benefits that were collected by 59 million people, including 42 million retired workers and their dependents, six million survivors of deceased workers, and 11 million disabled workers and their dependents.

"According to the trustees, “asset reserves of the OASI Trust Fund, together with continuing program income, will be adequate to cover program costs over the next 10 years.”

Unfortunately, especially for today's young people, Social Security has unfunded mandates of almost $26 trillion. Hollingsworth writes:

"The report also stated that the Social Security system’s “unfunded obligation through the infinite horizon” is now $25.8 trillion, up from $24.9 trillion in 2014.

"That amount is the difference between all future projected benefits and sources of income, Boston University Economics Professor Laurence Kotlikoff explained in a recent Forbes oped. “It means that the system is 32 percent underfinanced."

“If we don’t raise the system’s tax rate to 16.4 percent [from the current 12.4 percent] starting today and leave it at 16.4 percent forever, our kids will face even larger permanent tax hikes when they are ultimately enacted.”

The Forbes article by Dr. Laurence Kotlikoff mentioned above can be found here. He begins that article this way:

"In a recent NY Times column, political economist, Paul Krugman, writes, “Social Security does not face a financial crisis; its long-term funding shortfall could easily be closed with modest increases in revenue.”

"Nothing could be further from the truth . . . ."

Former Social Security Public Trustee Charles Blahous summarized key information from this year's trustee's report for the Manhattan Institute's e21 Economic Policies. The key points, according to Blahous:

  • "Social Security finances are on an unsustainable trajectory requiring legislated corrections as soon as they can be enacted."
  • "Social Security cost growth is driven largely by the beneficiary population growing faster than the worker population."
  • "The beneficiary-worker growth differential over the upcoming decades is driven largely by a decline in birth rates since the baby boom peak."
  • "Additional cost growth is caused because benefit eligibility ages have not been adjusted to reflect our longer, healthier lives."
  • Cost growth is also driven by growth in per-capita benefits.

He provides a chart for each key point. For example, Figure 4, below, shows that "eligibility ages have not been adjusted for longer lives:"

 

In conclusion, Blauhous writes:

"We are running out of time to fix the problem. Maintaining Social Security’s historical financing system requires that lawmakers act to align the program’s benefit schedules with its dedicated revenue stream. If they are unwilling to do so then Social Security must be subsidized from other sources. This could fundamentally alter Social Security, doing away with its historical basis as a benefit earned by worker contributions. For example, benefit programs paid from the government’s general fund are largely financed by those who pay income tax, meaning that benefit amounts are not based on one’s personal tax contributions. Such “unearned” benefits tend to be much more subject to means-tests and sudden changes in eligibility rules, in a way that Social Security has historically escaped. The only way to avert demoting Social Security to the status of other so-called welfare programs is if lawmakers act promptly to repair system finances.

"To be effective, such repairs must occur well in advance of the projected trust fund depletion date, and indeed the window of opportunity is already closing. Correcting Social Security’s long-range shortfall today would require measures much more severe than those enacted with so much difficulty during the program’s 1983 financing crisis. The measures required only grow more severe with further delay.

"Some illustrations in this year’s report substantiate this point. If legislation enacted today held current beneficiaries harmless, long-range financial balance could be restored by reducing scheduled benefits for future beneficiaries by 19.6%.  If, however, such a strategy were attempted after employing delaying tactics until 2034, by then even 100% elimination of benefits for new claimants would be insufficient to avoid depletion of the combined trust funds.  Further inaction thus compounds the significant problems Social Security already faces, the only worse choice being deliberate action to increase cost growth."

Growls readers: do you know what your member of Congress is doing to ensure the sustainability of the Social Security system? If you don't, scroll down to the end of yesterday's Growls, and take a couple of minutes to write and ask your Congress Critter.

And tell them ACTA sent you!