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February 29, 2016

Arlington Public Schools Budget to Raise Per-Student Spending

The APS Superintendent presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board last Thursday, February 25, which will raise per-student spending by 1.5%, according to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey in this morning.

According to McCaffrey:

"Per-student spending would rise 1.5 percent to $18,893 under the $579.4 million fiscal 2017 Arlington Public Schools’ budget unveiled Feb. 25 by Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

"Even with proposed spending on each student relatively flat from the current budget year, the proposal totals $22 million more than the adopted fiscal 2016 budget, an increase of 3.9 percent fueled by both higher compensation and growing enrollment.

"The budget prioritizes “maintaining a consistent standard of excellence,” Murphy told School Board members, but does so without breaking the bank.

"“We are running more efficiently,” Murphy said, with per-student spending down from its peak of $19,538 in the last pre-recession budget in 2008-09.

"About 80 percent of the school system’s budget comes from the County Board, which is in the midst of its own budget process. Murphy’s package has a funding gap of under $2 million, which will have to be made up by more revenue or cutbacks.

"The budget includes $7.6 million to provide a “step” (longevity) pay increase for some staff members, as well as $2 million to increase hourly rates for the system’s lowest-paid support personnel."

The Superintendent's proposed FY 2017 budget can be found here. We will almost surely have something to growl about as plow through the Superintendent's proposed budget so check back from time to time.

The public hearing on the Superintendent's budget is scheduled for March 17. Then on April 7, the School Board is expected to adopt the budget.

Growls readers are encouraged to provide the Arlington School Board their thoughts on school budget priorities. Just click-on the link School below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

February 28, 2016

U.S. Government Fails Audit

At Government Executive last Friday, Charles Clark wrote, "Despite two decades of progress on financial management, the government as a whole “urgently” needs to improve, the Government Accountability Office said on Thursday." Clark continued by explaining:

"In publishing its consolidated financial statements for fiscal 2014 and 2015, Congress’ watchdog reported that “certain material weaknesses in internal control over financial reporting and other limitations on the scope of … work resulted in conditions that prevented GAO from expressing an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements.” Three major departments accounted for the most questionable financials—the Defense, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture departments—by receiving “disclaimers of opinion.” They accounted for 34 percent of total assets as of Sept. 30, 2015, and 19 percent of the government’s total net costs.

"In the Health and Human Services Department, “significant uncertainties” were found primarily related to the achievement of projected reductions in Medicare cost growth, and a material weakness in internal control over financial reporting. That prevented GAO from expressing an opinion on sustainability financial statements on HHS’ Statement of Social Insurance on accounts worth about $27.9 trillion. “Material weaknesses and other scope limitations discussed in the audit report limited GAO’s tests of compliance with selected provisions of applicable laws, regulations, contracts, and grant agreements for fiscal year 2015,” auditors wrote.

"Other agencies presenting risks to the government’s overall financial health are the Postal Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp, analysts noted.

"At the Pentagon, GAO pointed to “serious financial management problems at DoD that prevented its financial statements from being auditable.” In interagency accounting, GAO cited the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal entities. Finally, the watchdog criticized the efforts of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget to effectively prepare the consolidated financial statements, calling for stronger leadership.

"Concretely what’s at stake, GAO stressed, is the government’s ability to control improper payments, identify and resolve information security control deficiencies and manage information security risks, and effectively manage its tax collection activities.

"Both Treasury and OMB said they are taking the necessary steps to improve the usability of the financial statements."

The summary of the 286-page GAO report (GAO-16-357R, February 25, 2015) includes the following explanation why GAO is unable to issue a so-called "clean" opinion:

"Three major impediments continued to prevent GAO from rendering an opinion on the federal government’s accrual-based consolidated financial statements: (1) serious financial management problems at DOD that prevented its financial statements from being auditable, (2) the federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal entities, and (3) the federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements. Efforts are under way to resolve these issues, but strong and sustained commitment by DOD and other federal entities, as well as continued leadership by the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), are necessary to implement needed improvements.

"Material weaknesses, including those underlying these three major impediments, continued to (1) hamper the federal government’s ability to reliably report a significant portion of its assets, liabilities, costs, and other related information; (2) affect the federal government’s ability to reliably measure the full cost, as well as the financial and nonfinancial performance of certain programs and activities; (3) impair the federal government’s ability to adequately safeguard significant assets and properly record various transactions; and (4) hinder the federal government from having reliable financial information to operate in an efficient and effective manner."

< . . . >

While the near-term outlook has improved, the comprehensive long-term fiscal projections presented in the Statement of Long-Term Fiscal Projections, and related information in Note 24 and in the unaudited Required Supplementary Information section of the Fiscal Year 2015 Financial Report of the United States Government, show that absent policy changes, the federal government continues to face an unsustainable long-term fiscal path. (emphasis added)

At the end of their press release, which accompanied the report, the GAO said:

"GAO has not been able to render an opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements since they were first prepared in 1997."

In a op-ed at The Hill on May 29, 2015, which focuses their reporting on Capitol Hill issues, Sheila Weinberg, founder and CEO of Truth in Accounting, points out:

"Individuals and corporations receive heavy penalties for not reporting their finances and financial plans accurately, yet the federal government does not. For the individual taxpayer, some penalties include a $5,000 fine for miscalculations, a negligence charge for not adhering to the IRS’s rules, a fraud charge for incomplete information, imprisonment, and hefty fines for tax evasion. If corporations flunk their audit or file inaccurate financial information, they are also penalized. But, what usually happens to federal departments and agencies like the Treasury for doing the same? Nothing. . . . ."

A search of both Google and Google * News with the terms (U.S. Government Fails GAO audit) produced no hits of reporting by major news outlets among the top 20 hits in each search. Sorry for being cynical, but the news media deserves a major share of the responsibility for the nation's fiscal woes.

Will the Fox News moderators at the GOP debate on Thursday, March 3, 2016 raise the issue of the inability of U.S. government to pass a GAO audit for 18 consecutive years? Don't hold your breath.

Growls readers are encouraged to write to their Congressional representatives to ask them what they have done to ensure the U.S. government receives a "clean" audit opinion. You can find contact information at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Here are Arlington County's members of Congress:

  • 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

Finally, kudos to the publishers of Government Executive for reporting on the results of the GAO audit of the U.S. government's accounting system.

February 27, 2016

Water, Sewer Rates Up; Trash Collection Fees Unchanged

The online Arlington Sun Gazette reported yesterday that according to the Manager's proposed FY 2017 budget, there will be an increase in trash-collection fees. The story added:

"Residents of single-family properties would see their annual trash and recycling bills rise from $271.04 to $307.28 – up 13 percent – under a proposal put forward by Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz. (emphasis added)

"Most of the increase would be to fully implement year-round recycling of yard waste, which was approved by County Board members several months ago. A smaller part of the increase would be due to lower revenue being received by the county government for recyclable materials.

"The Arlington government maintains a monopoly on trash collection in single-family neighborhoods, and contracts out most services. The $10.2 million program is self-sustaining."

That bad news, however, comes with the better news that water and sewer rates are "likely to remain unchanged." According to the online Sun Gazette this morning:

"Arlington residents may have reason to be flush with excitement: County-government officials are expecting no increase in water and sewer rates for the coming fiscal year.

"County Manager Mark Schwartz has recommended maintaining the existing rate of $4.21 per thousand gallons and current sewer rate of $9.06.

"As a result, the typical household (using 70,000 gallons of water) would continue to pay $929 per year, in the middle of the pack among localities across the Washington region.

"The county government operates its water service through a utilities fund that works on a cost-recovery basis, not requiring a subsidy from general tax dollars."

Growls readers wishing to comment about the water-sewer rates and/or the trash-collection fees or  the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 budget are encouraged to voice your concerns to 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.

February 26, 2016

A Thought about Paying Taxes

"In trying to come up with alternatives to the welfare state, even some staunch conservatives have created plans that exempt low-income people from paying taxes, or plans that provide some basic income to all, making it unnecessary to work. But exempting anyone from responsibility and reciprocity as members of society risks disaster for those individuals and for society."

~ Thomas Sowell

Source: his February 2, 2016 'Random Thoughts' column at Townhall.com.

February 25, 2016

California Governor Named February 2016 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.

"For wasting state funds on a multi-billion dollar boondoggle as his state languishes from a historic drought." Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) chose "California Governor Jerry Brown its February Porker of the Month." Here's CAGW's justification for their selection of Gov. Brown:

"The debate over Gov. Brown’s $15 billion “WaterFix” Twin Tunnels project is intensifying ahead of the start of hearings before the California State Water Resources Control Board on April 7.  The proposal would build two tunnels 150 feet underground to divert water from the northern side of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.  The plan would continue to divert fresh water away from farms and communities statewide who have suffered through a nearly five-year-old drought.  The supposed purpose of the project, as well as the reasoning for the continued diversion, is to address a longstanding issue in California: a three-inch fish known as the delta smelt.

"The smelt has been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1993.  California has a cornucopia of state statutes that has expanded these protections and led to the smelt being listed as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act in 2010.  WaterFix is designed to prevent the smelt from being sucked into the existing system and, in theory, provide drought relief to some southern California farming communities.  WaterFix’s primary hitch is that it must be constructed inside the constraints of years of state policies that favored the smelt over farmers.  “The overarching problem creating the water shortages are the layers and layers of laws like these and for the last few years it has been easy for the government to blame the drought,” said Westlands Water’s Johnny Amaral.  California Rep. Jerry McNerney (CA-09) echoed those sentiments: “The only thing clear is that the tunnels are a repackaging of old ideas that waste billions of dollars and threaten the way of life for an entire region without creating a single new drop of water.”

"Worse yet, a 2015 state study determined that the smelt may have already passed the point of extinction due to the drought.  Only six fish were found in the waters last year.

"The project’s $15 billion estimate has also come under scrutiny.  Even environmental groups such as the California Water Impact Network predict that the tab could reach $67 billion.  And as costs spiral, California taxpayers will pay much higher water bills.

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said, “We knew waste when we smelt it.  Gov. Brown’s ridiculous crusade on behalf of a tiny fish has exacerbated California’s worst drought in a century.  His multi-billion dollar proposal doubles down on already flawed and burdensome state policies.”

"For his continued efforts to favor the smelt over the needs of California’s drought-stricken populace, CAGW names Gov. Jerry Brown its February Porker of the Month."

If you're not familiar with Citizens Against Government Waste, CAGW "is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government."

February 24, 2016

Arlington County Board Tells Half-Truth about Tax Rate Hike

At last night's recessed meeting, the Arlington County Board voted to advertise a real estate tax rate with "no change in tax rate," according to the online Arlington Sun Gazette this morning.

The Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey writes:

"Arlington County Board members on Feb. 23 advertised a real-estate tax rate for 2016 unchanged from 2015, while holding out the possibility that the rate could be trimmed slightly as budget season progresses.

"Even if the rate is cut slightly, however, the average local tax-and-fee burden on Arlington homeowners would continue to rise, due to higher trash-collection costs and the impact of home assessments that continue to rise slightly.

"The board’s decision to advertise a rate of 99.6 cents per $100 assessed value means that is the highest rate that can be imposed, although board members retain the option of lowering it before adopting the fiscal 2017 budget in April.

"County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $1.19 billion budget proposal, detailed to board members Feb. 17, dangled the possibility of a half-cent cut on the tax rate.

"With no cut in the rate, and factoring in other local taxes and fees paid by Arlington homeowners, the average local burden would be $7,859 – up $219 from last year. A half-cent reduction in the tax rate would shave about $30 off that increase."

But it's a half-truth, as explained in the Manager's report to the County Board for the agenda item (Item 19.A. of the Board's February 23, 2016 recessed meeting) in which they voted to advertise a public hearing to consider the CY 2016 real estate tax rate, commercial real estate tax rate, and sanitary district tax rate.

Attachment V of the Manager's report actually shows the Board voted to advertise an effective tax rate increase of 2.07%. (emphasis added). Why the difference? Because the total "assessed value of real property, excluding additional assessments due to new construction or improvements to property, exceeds last year's assessed value of real property by 2.8%. Further, when the rate is formally advertised, it will show the 'lowered tax rate' that is "necessary to offset increased assessments" will be $0.963 per $100 of assessed valuation. The bottom line is an effective tax rate increase of 2.07%.

Unfortunately, most news coverage will only report the Board's "half" of the story, i.e., no increase in the nominal tax rate. But because of the total increase in real property assessed value, Arlington County taxpayers will see an effective tax rate increase of 2.07%. So the final score? Arlington County Board -- 1 and Arlington County taxpayers -- 1.

The county's press release is here, and provides four bullets:

  • Advertised rate unchanged from CY 2016
  • Rate adopted in April will be at or below advertised rate
  • Two public hearings in March
  • Tax rate, fee changes, budget to be adopted in April

The ARLnow.com report of the County Board's action is available here. Their report includes the following chart, which shows how the real estate tax rate has ranged since 2002:

We growled about the FY 2017 budget last Thursday, February 18, 2016, and expect to growl frequently until the FY 2017 budget is adopted by the Arlington County Board in April.

Growls readers wishing to express their views about the real estate tax rate or  the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 budget are encouraged to voice your concerns to 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.

February 23, 2016

A Thought about Taxation

"No taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant."

~ George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

Source: Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot Post

February 22, 2016

As You Prepare Your Federal Tax Return

At the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy blog today, Scott Greenberg writes:

"As tax filing season gets underway, many taxpayers are figuring out whether to take the standard deduction or to itemize. How many Americans choose each option?

"According to the most recent IRS data, for the 2013 tax year,

  • 30.1 percent of households chose to itemize their deductions (44 million returns).
  • 68.5 percent of households chose to take the standard deduction (101 million returns).
  • 1.6 percent of households had zero or negative adjusted gross income, and were unable to take any deductions. (2 million returns)

"These statistics show that most American taxpayers choose to take the standard deduction. However, this is not the case for higher-income taxpayers. When it comes to households with incomes over $75,000, a significant majority itemizes deductions . . . ."

He included the following chart, which shows more precisely just who itemizes deductions:

Greenberg concludes by observing:

"While the federal tax code generally imposes a much higher burden on high-income households, itemized deductions are an area of the tax code that mostly benefits the wealthy. As a result, many recent tax reform proposals have sought to limit itemized deductions or eliminate them completely."

Now wouldn't it be better if Congress did away with all the deductions, and implement a flat tax instead?

Growls readers are encouraged to write to their Congressional representatives to tell them your views on tax deductions, progressive taxation, and a flat tax. Take a few minutes to write to them. You can find contact information at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Here are Arlington County's members of Congress:

  • 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

For more information about the non-profit Tax Foundation, visit here.

February 20, 2016

Student Debt and Freshman Economics

At the Library of Economics and Liberty, Arnold Kling writes that Washington Post columnist "Steve Pearlstein uses his column to explain some freshman economics." Kling includes the following from Pearlstein's December 1, 2004 column:

"What two things do a college education, health care and housing have in common?

"One is that the price of these things has been rising at least twice as fast as other prices. The other thing is that they are all subsidized by government . . . .

"Let's take college tuition...But the reason, in the end, that they do raise prices is, like any business, because they can. And one of the big reasons they can is the ever-increasing amount of public money pumped into the system in a losing effort to keep college "affordable." In effect, these well-intentioned subsidies have the perverse effect of shielding colleges from the kind of market discipline that would have forced them to hold down prices by constantly improving their productivity and efficiency, as happens in just about every other industry."

Which brings us to a recent study by economics professors Grey Gordon, Indiana University, and Aaron Hedlund, University of Missouri, entitled, "Accounting for the Rise in College Tuition (here at the National Bureau of Economics Research, and here as a .pdf file).

Investor's Business Daily cited the study in a December 22, 2015 editorial about the explosion in student loans, advising readers that if the explosion makes you angry, then blame the federal government, explaining:

"In a sweeping new study, “Accounting for the Rise in College Tuition,” economists Grey Gordon and Aaron Hedlund conclude that “demand shocks” from federal loans, subsidies and aid “lead to higher college costs and more debt, and in the absence of higher labor market returns, more loan default inevitably occurs.”

"In a nutshell, federal loan aid to colleges is pushing up tuition faster than inflation. Students must take out ever higher amounts of debt to pay for their education, but starting salaries haven’t kept up. If students don’t get good jobs when they graduate, many will default.

"The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows conclusively that growth in one program — the Federal Student Loan Program — was more than enough to account for the entire rise in college tuition from 1987 to 2010 — a stunning conclusion that suggests a massive market failure.

"From 2006 to today, total student loan debt soared from $517 billion to $1.3 trillion, a 152% jump, to cover surging tuition costs. Over that same period, real starting wages for college grads were essentially flat.

"Sadly, this should be no surprise, given recent history.

"Whenever government gets involved in subsidizing anything — from sugar to home mortgages — higher prices emerge, leading to market disruptions and, often, a “crisis.”

The following chart from the IBD editorial shows graphically how fast student debt has increased:

At American Thinker the same day, Tom Lifson adds these comments:

"The higher education industry has become rich and fat off its ability to raise prices at a rate roughly triple inflation over the last five decades. Because intelligence tests are forbidden to be used by employers (as supposedly discriminatory), the only way to sort through job applicants by intelligence is through the rough proxy of a college degree. As gatekeepers to careers, colleges have been able to exploit the vulnerability of students (and parents) seeking to be hired by employers offering good prospects.

"Student loan debt, incurred to pay for skyrocketing college tuition, is a ticking time bomb in the American economy, roughly the same si(z)e as mortgage and credit card debt. But unlike mortgage or credit card debt, it cannot be discharged by personal bankruptcy.

"It should be noted that higher education is one of the major sources of donations to the Democratic Party and Democrat presidential candidates.  So some of the subsidy money for higher education ends up being laundered, indirectly, through higher education, into the coffers of the Democrats."

In an article by Ellen Wexler, originally published in Higher Education February 9, 2016, Slate magazine presents an alternative view this week, writing:

"But the idea that increased student aid drives up tuition is contentious, as is the researchers’ model. The paper’s conclusions depend on a model of one hypothetical college, which is based on data from private and public nonprofit institutions.

“This is an atom bomb mathematical technique on a problem that requires much more nuance,” said David Feldman, economics professor at the College of William and Mary and author of the 2010 book Why Does College Cost So Much?.

"Feldman said increasing federal aid will rarely change how high a college sets its tuition. A college’s sticker price is set by its wealthiest students’ ability to pay—and the wealthiest students never take out loans.

"That doesn’t mean colleges never use federal aid to their advantage. Especially at private colleges, Feldman said, federal aid may replace existing scholarships. Take a student who would have gotten $20,000 from a college. If she gets an extra $1,000 in Pell Grants, she may get $19,000 from her college instead. The student pays the same, but the college pays less.

"At public universities, increases in Pell Grants typically lower net tuition. “It’s a very different system,” Feldman said. “That’s the nuance that’s missing.” For-profits, on the other hand, are the one sector where the theory “applies in spades,” he said.

"While the paper looks at nonprofit institutions, the idea that student aid increases tuition is perhaps most evident in for-profit colleges . . . ."

At the Foundation for Economic Education, Alex Tabarrock, economics professor at George Mason University, observes:

"Sound familiar? Some of these results appear too large to me and the authors caution that they need to assume a lot of monopoly power to solve their model so the results should be taken as an upper bound. Nevertheless, the Econ 101 insight that subsidies increase prices (even net for those who are not fully subsidized) holds true."

Growls readers are encouraged to write to their Congressional representatives about student debt. Take a few minutes to write to them. You can find contact information at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Here are Arlington County's members of Congress:

  • 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

February 19, 2016

A Thought about Education and Knowledge

"A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

~ James Madison, letter to W. T. Barry, 1822

Source: Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

February 18, 2016

Arlington County's FY 2017 Budget Opens with $1.19B Gambit

At the online Arlington Sun Gazette this afternoon, Scott McCaffrey reports, "The typical Arlington homeowner would pay $7,859 in local taxes and fees – up $219 from last year – to help fund the $1.19 billion fiscal 2017 Arlington County budget proposed Feb. 18 by County Manager Mark Schwartz.

He continues, saying:

"The proposed budget represents a 2.8-percent increase from the current spending plan, but will remain a work in progress until County Board members finalize their own package in late April.

"Following direction he received from the County Board late last year, Schwartz put forward a budget package with no increase to the current real estate tax rate of 99.6 cents per $100 assessed value. If that rate is the one ultimately adopted – which remains to be seen – many homeowners would still pay more due to rising assessments.

"Schwartz held out the possibility that the tax rate could be cut a half-penny per $100, putting $30 back in the pockets of a typical taxpayer.

"In a work session with County Board members, Schwartz portrayed his spending plan as one that focuses on “core programs and assets, not new programs,” and continues the government’s efforts to dig out from spending restraints in place since the onset of the nearly decade-old recession.

“Slowly but surely, we are reclaiming some of the cuts,” he said."

McCaffrey also notes the following about real estate property assessments:

"The average Arlington residential real estate assessment grew from $587,100 in 2015 to $603,500 in 2016. With no change in the tax rate, the typical homeowner would pay $6,011 in real estate taxes, up from $5,848 last year. With the half-cent reduction dangled by Schwartz as a possibility, the average real estate tax bill would be $5,981." (emphasis added)

Take a minute or two to read McCaffrey's entire report since it contains a few more budget morsels.

The county's press release included four bullet points:

  • $13.2 million increase in schools funding
  • $1.6 million increase in public safety funding
  • New funding for streetlight repair, concrete maintenance
  • Options for tax rate reduction, additional investments

Additional FY 2017 budget information is available here (stop by frequently since it is regularly updated). The Manager's PowerPoint presentation (14 slides) is available here. Take a few minutes to study the budget overview; then share the link with your neighbors and Arlington County friends.

The often county-leaning online news site, ARLnow.com, also reported on the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 budget began their reporting by saying:

"More money for cops and firefighters, for economic development and for county employees — that’s the message from Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz, who presented his proposed budget to the County Board this morning.

"The $1.19 billion budget benefits from a 3 percent increase in overall projected revenues, allowing Schwartz to boost funding to a number of priorities and propose a slight tax rate decrease.

"The budget adds $1.6 million for the addition of 19 public safety employees. Among them: eight firefighters/EMTs, six police patrol officers, and four uniformed Sheriff’s positions.

"The new firefighters will covert existing three-person fire units to the nationally-recommended staffing level of four per unit. The extra police officers will help reduce overtime and officer fatigue. The extra Sheriff’s positions will address staffing levels at the county jail."

Former County Board candidate Mark Kelly used his weekly Right Note column to talk about the "next steps in the budget process," which included three reason why the Board should advertise a flat tax rate:

  1. "The Board just added a new audit function as a nod to fiscal responsibility. Why not give the new office a year to make recommendations on changes the Board can make before even entertaining a rate increase?
  2. "The average homeowner’s taxes are going up even with a flat rate simply because of increased assessments.
  3. If the last decade plus of history is any indication, revenues will comfortably exceed estimates – again. The “worst” thing that will happen is the Board will have a few million less on hand to spend at the end of the year in the closeout process."

With all the percentages thrown around in the county's press release as well as in the above reporting, it's worth noting the municipal cost index published by American City & County magazine (requires free registration) decreased 1.0% over the past year, dropping from 234.5 (December 2014) to 232.1 (December 2015).

We're sure to have a lot more to growl about the FY 2017 before it is finally adopted in April and becomes the Arlington County Board's adopted budget. In the meantime, we encourage all Arlington County taxpayers to become familiar with the contents of the County Manager's FY 2017 proposed budget.

Growls readers wishing to express their views about the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 budget are encourage to voice your concerns to 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.

February 17, 2016

Which President Grew Bureaucracy Faster?

Last Friday, at the Cato Institute's Downsizing the Federal Government blog, Chris Edwards, editor, writes about the growth of bureaucracy since 2001. According to Edwards (embedded links in original):

"President Obama’s new budget includes a table showing the number of executive branch civilian employees the administration expects to have in 2017. With that, we can compare the growth in federal government employment over eight years of Obama (2009 to 2017) to eight years of President George W. Bush (2001 to 2009).

"Federal civilian employment rose from 1,738,000 million in 2001, to 1,978,000 in 2009, to a proposed 2,137,000 in 2017. Thus, employment grew 13.8 percent under Bush and 8.0 percent under Obama, as shown by the bars on the left of the chart below.

"Overall since 2001, federal civilian employment has increased by 399,000 workers, which is like a mid-sized city populated entirely by bureaucrats."

He concludes by noting, "If the next president wants to save some money, he or she should consider that the extra 399,000 workers since 2001 are costing taxpayers about $120,000 each in wages and benefits—that’s about $48 billion a year." The chart below is from the blog post:

 

If you want to learn more about just how big the federal is, take a few minutes to study the material posted at the Cato Institute's Downsizing the Federal Government center.

For more information about the Cato Institute, visit here.

February 15, 2016

A Thought about Character

“Bear in mind that brains and learning, like muscle and physical skill, are articles of commerce. They are bought and sold. You can hire them by the year or by the hour. The only thing in the world not for sale is character.” (Commencement address, College of William and Mary, 1996.)

~ Justice Antonin Scalia

Source: Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, February 13, 2016, post by Ken McIntyre.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia died on Saturday while on a hunting trip to Texas (see this Washington Times, February 13, 2016 story by Dave Boyer). Among the many things he will be remembered for include his caustic words and wit (see this Washington Times, February 14, 2016 story by Stephen Dinan).

February 14, 2016

Arlington County's ART Transit Operations

ART - Arlington Transit -- is Arlington County's transit system, which supplements Metrobus with cross-County routes and neighborhood connections to Metrorail.

A state-mandated Transit Development Plan is updated every six years. The plan identifies transit service needs, prioritizes improvements and determines the required resources. It is also "the foundation" for requesting state funds. It builds on the so-called Transit Element in the Master Transportation Plan.

The Arlington County Manager has appointed a 15-member Transit Advisory Committee (TAC), which reviews county transit services.

According to the 4th quarter and FY 2015 annual report:

  • Full FY 2015 ridership was 2,823,346 passengers, a decline of 0.48% from the prior year. The report attributes the decline to inclement weather days in the 3rd quarter and two fewer weekdays.
  • ART 41 is ART's strongest route with 34.2% of daily ridership, followed by ART 42 with 11.2% and ART 87 with 9.7%, which means that three of ART's 15 routes provide 55.1% of ridership.
  • In the 4th quarter of FY 2015, there were an average of 24.2 passengers per revenue hour, which was down from 26.06 in the same quarter of FY 2014. The report attributes the decline to the addition of a new route that doesn't approach productivity standards.

ART management measures revenue using a metric called called cost recovery percentage, which it defines as "farebox revenue divided by the cost of the operations and maintenance contract, fuel and tires." The cost recovery metrics in the report include:

  • 4th Qtr FY 2015 -- 31.42%
  • 4th Qtr FY 2014 -- 31.39%
  • Full FY 2015 -- 31.97%
  • Full FY 2014 -- 30.93%
  • ART 41 4th Qtr FY 2015 -- 52.9%

Six ART routes failed to meet cost recovery standards in FY 2015, including ART 51 (16.9%); ART 53 (10.9%); ART 61 (13.5%); ART 62 (14.9%); ART 74 (10.9%); and ART 92 (1.2%). In additions, available statistics show there have been significant decreases in ridership between FY 2012 and FY 2015 on four routes: ART 53 (19.05%); ART 61 (36.85%); RT 62 (28.35%); and, ART 74 (33.89%).

On-time performance in FY 2015 was 97.6%. By comparison, it was 97.3% in FY 2014.

The report also includes information about STAR -- Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents -- which provides a "curb-to-curb shared-ride alternative to MetroAccess, the regional paratansit service provided under provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act." Rides are "certified" by MetroAccess, or by Arlington County while MetroAccess is processing their applications.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure the financial performance of ART transit operations because operations are not accounted for with an enterprise fund. According to the Pioneer Consulting Group:

"An enterprise fund establishes a separate accounting and financial reporting mechanism for municipal services for which a fee is charged in exchange for goods or services. Under enterprise accounting, the revenues in expenditures of services are separated into separate funds with its own financial statements, rather than commingled with the revenues and expenses of all other government activities."

As reported in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), Arlington County uses enterprise accounting for four operating entities: 1) operations and maintenance of the county's water and sewer system; 2) Ballston Public Parking Garage; 3) Eighth Level Ballston Public Parking Garage; and 4) CPHD development. It seems that ART transit operations should be added as an entity that uses enterprise accounting.

Growls readers are also encouraged to express their views about the degree that Arlington County taxpayers subsidize ART transit operations. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

February 13, 2016

Maine Ends Dependence on Food Stamps. Virginia Next?

According to an editorial in this weekend's Investor's Business Daily (IBD), "The number of childless, able-bodied adult food stamp recipients in a New England state fell by 80% over the course of a few months. This didn’t require magic, just common sense."

The IBD editorial continues with by explaining:

"From December 2014 to March 2015, the caseload of able-bodied Maine adults with no dependents crashed from 13,332 recipients to 2,678, says the Heritage Foundation. This is a remarkable change and needs to be repeated in government programs across the country.

"How Maine achieved this is no mystery. Gov. Paul LePage simply established work requirements for food stamp recipients who have no dependents and are able enough to be employed. They must, write Heritage policy analysts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “take a job” — just 20 hours a week — “participate in training, or perform community service” for a mere 24 hours a week. Recipients who do none of those are stripped of their food stamp benefits after three months.

"This isn’t a radical new idea. Rector and Sheffield cite a successful historical precedent:

“When work requirements were established in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in the 1990s, nationwide caseloads dropped by almost as much, albeit over a few years rather than a few months.”

"In the Obama era, “the food stamp caseload of adults without dependents who are able-bodied has more than doubled nationally, swelling from nearly 2 million recipients in 2008 to around 5 million today” across the country, Rector and Sheffield report. That’s far too many Americans who can take care of themselves living at the expense of others. The situation cries out for reform.

The editorial provides a great deal more detail, and concludes by saying:

"The success in Maine is but a blip, affecting only a thin slice of the nation’s welfare rolls. Yet it is a model, a prototype for reforming welfare programs in need of change or elimination, which is all of them. Policymakers at all levels should be rushing to adopt it, then adapt it."

The IBD editorial is based upon a February 8, 2016 commentary by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield in the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal news platform and Heritage Foundation's research report (Backgrounder #3091, February 8, 2016) by researchers Rector, Sheffield and Kevin Dayaratna.

Virginia readers of Growls are encouraged to contact their Delegate and Senator in the General Assembly to learn what their legislators have done to pass legislation that would require childless adults to work to get food stamps. Members of the Virginia General Assembly who represent Arlington County include: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, or Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, or Mark H. Levine. Contact information for members of the General Assembly can be found here  -- use one of the "quick links" to locate the senator and delegate who represent you.

And tell them ACTA sent you!

February 12, 2016

Congress Passes Permanent Ban on Internet Taxes

In a press release yesterday, "The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) lauded the passage of the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act (PITFA) in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 by a vote of 75-20 in the Senate today.  The provision permanently bans states from taxing Internet access."

The press release went on to say:

"In 1998, the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) placed a moratorium on discriminatory taxes on the Internet and taxes on Internet access. With widespread bipartisan support, the Internet tax ban has been extended seven times.  For 17 years, the ban on Internet taxes has benefited millions of Americans by empowering them to conduct transactions on the Internet free from the fear of additional tax burdens.

"CCAGW President Tom Schatz said, “Passage of PITFA is a tremendous win for the American people.  To finally have the prospect of taxes on their Internet access eliminated permanently will provide tremendous economic certainty for the future.”

CCAGW is  the lobbying arm of Citizens Against Government Waste.

The National Taxpayers Union also applauded Senate passage of the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act. Their press release is here, and includes:

NTU has worked tirelessly for nearly a decade to ensure that taxpayers are not forced to pay yet another tax on their telecommunications services. A January 2016 poll conducted by Harris Poll for NTU showed that a four in five—or 83 percent—of Americans agree that Congress should continue to ban taxes on Internet access. Upon passage, National Taxpayers Union Executive Vice President Brandon Arnold issued the following statement:

Today the Senate passed an important bill that prevents government tax collectors from setting up tollbooths on the information superhighway. The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act will help to achieve the goal of making Internet access affordable for Americans all across the country. This marks an enormous win for taxpayers and consumers, and we applaud the Senate for sending this critical measure to President Obama's desk.

"The Internet Tax Freedom Act was originally passed in 1998 under the Clinton Administration and has been temporarily extended seven times since then. H.R. 644, more commonly known as the U.S. Customs bill, passed today 75-20 with bipartisan support throughout the Senate."

Virginia's Senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) voted Yea on the conference report. The House passed H.R. 644 on February 12, 2015 by a vote of 279-137. Rep. Beyer (D) voted nay.

If you wish to thank Senators Warner and Kaine or write to Rep. Beyer, take a minute or two to do so using the links below. If you live elsewhere, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Here are Arlington County's members of Congress:

  • 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

February 11, 2016

A Thought about the Work of Private Citizens

"The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.”

~ Alexis de Tocqueville

Source: BrainyQuote.com.

February 10, 2016

A Thought on the Minimum Wage

"When liberals want to discourage smoking, they hike cigarette taxes. When they want to encourage college attendance, they subsidize tuition. They clearly understand the relationship between price and demand.

"Yet when it comes to the minimum wage, progressives insist on pretending there is no connection — and come up with all sorts of rationalizations to explain why making people pay more for labor will not make them buy any less of it.

"Reality, however, is delivering a painful object lesson.

"Several big cities have imposed minimum-wage hikes, with more on the way. The result? Hiring has screeched almost to a halt. Investor’s Business Daily reports the grim news, based on Labor Department data:

< . . . >

"So a lot of people in those big cities are now earning zero dollars an hour. On the bright side, at least they aren’t subject to the cruelty of earning $7.25."

~ Editorial, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Source: Editorial, February 8, 2016, Richmond Times-Dispatch.

February 09, 2016

President Releases FY 2017 Budget

President Obama released his FY 2017 budget today. According to CNS News' Terry Jeffrey, the president proposes spending a record $4,147,224,000,000; collects a record $3,643,742,000,000 in taxes; and results in a $503,482,000,000 Deficit. Yes, those numbers are trillions of dollars. He adds:

"The taxing and spending totals would be records in inflation-adjusted dollars as presented by the White House Office of Management and Budget in the historical tables it released today along with the budget."

He includes a copy of Table 1.3, which provides a history of receipts and spending dating back to 1940 with dollars stated in constant 2009 dollars.

In today's Washington Times, Dave Boyer writes, the president's budget "would keep deficits in check only by relying on speculative liberal assumptions of tax increases, immigration reform and economic growth." Boyer goes on to say:

"House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, called the president’s proposal “a progressive manual for growing the federal government at the expense of hardworking Americans.”

“President Obama will leave office having never proposed a budget that balances — ever,” Mr. Ryan said. “Americans deserve better. We need to tackle our fiscal problems before they tackle us.”

"But the White House said Mr. Obama is still relevant and still has leverage to get most of what he wants from the Republican-majority Congress, as he did last fall.

"Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said some conservative lawmakers want to “blow up” the agreement by cutting spending below levels outlined in the October deal.

"The question here isn’t a fight between the administration and Republicans,” Mr. Donovan said. “It’s a fight within the Republican Party.”

Finally, at the Washington Free Beacon today, Elizabeth Harrington writes:

"The president’s final budget, widely considered to be dead on arrival due to the Republican-controlled Congress, projects the nation would face a $27.4 trillion debt in 2026.

"The budget set the actual total debt for 2015 at $18.1 trillion, projecting an increase of $9.3 trillion. When President Obama took office the debt stood at $10.6 trillion.

"The White House budget for fiscal year 2017 includes old and new items of the president’s agenda, including the “Fair Share Tax” on the rich, known as the “Buffett Rule,” and a new tax on oil that would increase taxes by $319 billion over 10 years.

"The $4.1 trillion budget also includes raising the minimum wage, “free community college” for two years, and the hiring of 200 new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives special agents to “reduce gun violence.”

Concerned about the federal budget, the deficit, and the national debt? Take a few minutes, and write to one of your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

February 08, 2016

A Thought on the Wealth of Cities and Counties

"Economic freedom in U.S. cities faces a constant threat from those who would raise taxes, spend more on pet projects, redistribute wealth or impose restrictions on how others use property. The metropolitan areas that resist these demands reap the gains of greater economic freedom."

~ Michael Cox and Richard Alm

Source: their op-ed, 2/8/16, Investor's Business Daily

Michael Cox is founding director of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University and former chief economist at the Dallas Fed. Richard Alm is writer-in-residence at the school.

The complete 28-page study is available at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business.

February 06, 2016

Tomorrow's Super Bowl 50, aka Subsidy Bowl 50

Jared Meyer, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, posted an article at the Institute's economics portal about the subsidies provided by local taxpayers to professional football teams. Meyer writes, "As anticipation for Super Bowl 50 builds, one winner has already been decided. When it comes to what team treats its local taxpayers better, the Carolina Panthers blew out the Denver Broncos."

According to Meyer:

"To determine the winner, we can compare the burdens of direct taxpayer subsidies for the teams’ stadiums. The Broncos received $400 million (adjusted to 2016 dollars) for Sports Authority Field, or 75 percent of the total cost. Taxpayers gifted the Panthers $165 million, or 30 percent of Bank of America Stadium’s total bill."

Here's a portion of what he has to say about each team playing in Super Bowl 50:

"Denver Broncos

"The Denver Broncos play at Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. Taxpayers took on a $300 million share of the $400 million cost of the stadium when construction began in 2002. One of the ways this public financing was paid for was through a 0.1 percent sales tax that was applied to taxpayers in six Colorado counties until 2012.

"Even though taxpayers funded the majority of the stadium, they are forced to split the $6 million annual profits from naming rights 50-50 with the Broncos. Instead of the operating revenues going back to the taxpayers, Sports Authority Field’s proceeds go to the Broncos’ billionaire owners, the Bowlen family.

"Carolina Panthers

"The Panthers' home field since 1996, Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, was billed as "privately financed," even though the city provided $40 million for land, and the county provided $10 million for building relocation.

"In April 2013 the Charlotte City Council voted unanimously to give the Panthers $87.5 million to upgrade their stadium and renovate luxury suites. In exchange for this handout, the Panthers promised to stay in Charlotte for six more years. One of the reasons for the package's unanimous approval was a fear that the team would pack up and move to the Los Angeles area.

"Maybe now that the St. Louis Rams and the San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, the commonly-used bargaining chip of threatening to move a NFL team there will finally be off the table. However, NFL owners are professionals at extracting public funds. Rumor has it that the Oakland Raiders are considering a move to Las Vegas, so it is likely that taxpayer extortion will continue.

"Publicly-funded stadiums are not unique to the Broncos and Panthers. All but two NFL stadiums received direct subsidies for their stadiums (the Jets’ and Giants’ Meadowlands and Patriots’ Gillette Stadium are the exceptions)."

He also provides details about the subsidies provided for the San Francisco 49ers' new home, Levi's Stadium, where Super Bowl 50 is being played. He also provides links to his other analyses: Bengals, Seahawks, Steelers, Vikings. Cardinals, and Patriots.

In summary, Meyer writes:

"Even if the Broncos are able to pull out an upset against the Panthers on Sunday, at least Carolina residents can still celebrate. When it comes to the Super Bowl of tax subsidies, Denver taxpayers have already lost. Unfortunately, most other taxpayers also lose to the NFL."

This article originally appeared in Forbes magazine.

For more about the Manhattan Institute's economics portal, click here.

Enjoy tomorrow's Super Bowl 50! May the team you are rooting for wins.

February 05, 2016

Raising Taxes on the Top 1%. How much would be Raised?

In a December 15, 2015 Taxpayer's Tab posted at the National Taxpayers Union Foundation (NTUF), Demian Brady and Timothy Howland answer the question of how much could be raised by raising taxes on the the top 1%.

The question is especially relevant since one of the 2016 presidential candidates -- Bernie Sanders (D) -- has as his leading issue, income and wealth inequality. According to the campaign website, the first step he would take to reduce income and wealth inequality would be:

"Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. As president, Sen. Sanders will stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. He will create a progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. He will also enact a tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings."

But let's go back to the question of just how much revenue would be raised by increasing taxes on the top 1%. According to Brady and Howland:

"A new report from the Pew Research Center shows that the middle class is shrinking. This confirms what NTUF has observed in the tax statistics reported by the Internal Revenue Service showing that a taxpayer with income of $74,000 is included the top 25 percent of earners, while over a third of filers have no income tax obligation, up from one in four in 2000. We have a progressive tax system so that those who earn more, pay more as they move up the income ladder. And as we pointed out in our last edition of the Tab, the income tax burden has shifted significantly upward. The top 1 percent of earners have shouldered an increasingly disproportionate share of taxes, and an amount nearly twice as much as their percentile’s share of income.

"Yet we continue to hear that the wealthy are not paying their “fair share”.

"In the second debate among the Democratic presidential hopefuls, the candidates were asked how they would pay for their proposals [note: they were not asked how they would address the federal debt].  All three on the stage indicated that they would increase taxes. Senator Bernie Sanders fell short of specifying a rate, but did declare that he would not raise the top rate to 90 percent.

"With a hat tip to the Tax Foundation who used to feature these calculations, we thought it would be interesting to see how much additional revenues could be raised by increasing rates on the wealthy, and for how many days would the theoretical new revenues fund the government?"

Brady and Howland provide an answer in the following graphic:


(The above version of the 12/15/15 actually appears on this page).

The entire Taxpayer's Tab can be found here. Brady and Howland conclude by writing:

'There are also economic consequences. Senator Sanders was referring back to the top marginal tax rate last seen in the early 1960s. What he didn’t note was that under President Kennedy’s proposal to reduce it to 70 percent (enacted in 1964 after his death), the economy grew and employment rates improved.

"Equity is an important part of a tax system and as the data reflects, our system is quite progressive. And if the “fair share” crowd argue that tax hikes are necessary because of inequality, a study by the Brookings Institution study found that raising the top rates would not reduce income inequality. A fair tax code also encourages individual achievement and economic growth. The political rhetoric imploring higher taxes runs the risk of undermining these tax reform principles."

If you are concerned about federal taxes, take a few minutes, and write to one of your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

Kudos to the National Taxpayers Union -- "The Voice of America's Taxpayers/"

February 04, 2016

United States Drops from 6th to 11th in Economic Freedom

At CNS News.com on Monday, Anthony Kim wrote, "Millions of people around the world are emerging from poverty thanks to rising economic freedom. But by sharp contrast, America’s economic freedom has been on a declining path over the past decade."

Kim, who researches international economic issues at the Heritage Foundation, continues:

"America’s declining score in the index is closely related to rapidly rising government spending, subsidies, and bailouts.

"According to the 2016 Index of Economic Freedom, an annual publication by The Heritage Foundation, America’s economic freedom has tumbled. With losses of economic freedom in eight of the past nine years, the U.S. has tied its worst score ever, wiping out a decade of progress.

"The U.S. has fallen from the 6th freest economy in the world, when President Barack Obama took office, to 11th place in 2016. America’s declining score in the index is closely related to rapidly rising government spending, subsidies, and bailouts. (emphasis added)

"Since early 2009:

  • Government spending has exploded, amounting to $29,867 per household in 2015.
  • The national debt has risen to $125,000 for every tax-filing household in America—a total over $18 trillion.
  • The government takeover of health care is raising prices and disrupting markets.
  • Bailouts and new government regulations have increased uncertainty, stifling investment and job creation.

"This is not something to take lightly. Economic freedom is the foundation of U.S. economic strength, and economic strength is the foundation of America’s high living standards, military power, and status as a world leader. The perils of losing economic freedom are not fictional."

He embeds a 3-minute video that covers much of what he writes about in his CNS News opinion piece here, which also was published in the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal.

The Heritage Foundation's complete 2016 Index of Economic Freedom is available here, and includes:

  • country rankings
  • tools to graph the data
  • an interactive 'heat map'
  • tools to further explore the data, and
  • links to download report chapters

If you are concerned about America's decline in economic freedom, take a few minutes, and write to one of your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.

February 03, 2016

A Thought about Taxpayers and Government's Beneficiaries

"Government grows as its beneficiaries find ways to outmaneuver the interests of the taxpayers.”

~ Lawrence H. White

Source: page 336, The Clash of Economic Ideas.

HT Cafe Hayek, 1/29/16.

February 02, 2016

Grading Arlington County's Snow Removal Efforts

This morning, management at the ARLnow.com news site offered readers an opportunity to grade the snow removal efforts of Arlington County during the recent blizzard of 2016. Local Fox5 TV provides, literally, an hour-by-hour thread, beginning Friday, January 21, 2016 and updated through the afternoon of January 25, 2016.

We growled about those efforts on January 21, 2016 before the blizzard after a 1" snowfall brought the region to its knees. We also growled after the blizzard on January 27, 2016.

ARLnow.com provides the following context for their "morning poll" -- not including embedded links:

"The blizzard of 2016 is long gone, but reminders of it are still piled high on the side of local roads and parking lots.

"Life has largely returned to normal — students went back to school today for the first time since Wednesday, Jan. 20 — though there are scattered reports of continued mail delivery issues.

"It was a Herculean task to clear two feet of snow from local roads. Though major arteries were plowed and made passable pretty quickly, as usually happens with large snow storms in Arlington the residential streets remained snow-covered and treacherous for days, prompting complaints."

As of 11:34 PM, 2,424 readers voted in ARLnow.com's "morning poll." The results were distributed as follows:

A -- 15.55% (377 votes)

B -- 33.46% (811 votes)

C -- 24.34% (590 votes)

D - 16.09% (390 votes)

F - 10.56% (256 votes)

Those vote totals seem about fair although it may shake the faith of Arlington progressives who believe the stuff about the county being a world-class community. As the Arlington Sun Gazette's said in the lede of their front-page story in this week's paper edition, "Arlington government leaders didn't exactly assign themselves a letter grade based on performance during and after the January 22-23 snowstorm, but their words suggest there were some successes -- and plenty of room for improvement."

I don't know how long ARLnow.com will be tallying votes, but readers wishing to express an opinion on the quality of Arlington County's snow removal efforts during the blizzard of 2016 are urged to vote. Click here to cast your vote at ARLnow.com.

Growls readers are also encouraged to express their views on Arlington County's snow removal operations. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

February 01, 2016

National Debt Hits $19 Trillion Mark

The Washington Examiner's Pete Kasperowicz reported earlier today, "The national debt hit $19 trillion for the first time ever on Friday, and came in at $19.012 trillion."

In his report, Kasperowicz added:

"Back in November, the debt ceiling was suspended again, after having been frozen at $18.1 trillion for several months. As soon as it was suspended, months of pent-up borrowing demand by the government led to a $339 billion jump in the national debt in a single day.

"Under current law, the debt ceiling is suspended until March, 2017, meaning the government can borrow without limit until then. Obama is expected to leave office with a total national debt of nearly $20 trillion by the time he leaves office."

He includes a table that breaks down the debt for the past few days between intragovernmental and debt held by the public.

We growled about the national debt in 2015, including February 1, 2015 and July 13, 2015. We also growled about deficits, debt and ticking time bombs on October 19, 2014.

Concerned about America's national debt? If so, take a few minutes, and write to one of your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' 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

Remember to ask for a written response, and tell them ACTA sent you.