« November 2016 | Main | January 2017 »

December 31, 2016

Some Year-End Economic Forecasts (vs. Actuals)

In this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Josph Zumbrun (behind the WSJ's  paywall) provides a  wrap-up of the most popular economic numbers, e.g., unemployment rate, inflation, GDP, etc., on page A2.

Since we frequently growl about several of these economic indicators, not to mention using them to measure the economic performance of our political leaders, these numbers are worth taking note of. He provides this introduction, noting the polling is done monthly:

"The Wall Street Journal polls a panel of the leading business, financial and academic forecasters to collect the best guesses of people who make predictions professionally. With a few exceptions, the economic forecasts they made for 2016 are shaping up to be pretty accurate."

Zumbrun comments on the following economic forecasts:

  • Unemployment rate -- average forecast for December 2016, 4.7&. Actual as of November 2016 -- 4.6%. A year earlier, the rate was 5%.
  • Inflation -- average forecast for December 2016, 2.2%. Actual inflation rate as of November 2016, 1.7%. The rate was 0.4% a year earlier. He adds, "The Fed had expected inflation to return to its 2% goal."
  • Real gross domestic product (GDP) -- (4th qtr-over-4th qtr, percent change) average forecast for 2016, 2.5%. Actual year-over-year growth through 3rd qtr, 1.7%. He adds, "The pace of growth has been one of the biggest disappointments during the economic recovery. It is too soon to be sure what growth will do in the fourth quarter of 2016, but it would take a pretty strong quarter to hit the growth rate that economists had expected."
  • Crude oil -- average forecast for December 2016, $43.46 a barrel. Average price as of December 22, $52.65 a barrel.

The WSJ provided a few other economic forecasts, e.g., nonfarm payrolls, Fed rate increases, and new-home housing starts, but the four above seem most popular.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year.

December 30, 2016

A Thought about 2016 and History

"Historians will look back on 2016 as an inflection year in world history, perhaps not as momentous (or violent) as the years that follow but marking a major global turning point, when the old order of world politics could be seen as crumbling. This disintegration actually has been going on for some time, but it was not so readily discernible during the intervening years as it became in 2016."

~ Robert W. Merry

Source: his 12/30/16 column, Commentary section, Washington Times. The global and domestic structures he discusses include the European Union, Asia, the Middle East, and America.

                                             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Robert W. Merry is political editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians, according to his National Interest profile.

December 23, 2016

Best Wishes for a Merry Christmas

ElGrowlerGrande will be visiting relatives the next few days, and, consequently, blogging may be light, but I hope to return by the middle of next week.

December 22, 2016

Regulations and the Increased Price of Your Car

Unnecessarily excessive regulations cost taxpayers nearly as much as excessive taxation, which explains why we often growl about them. In the past few months, we growled on September 22, noting that 25 regulations cost Americans almost $350 billion, "hurting small businesses, strangling middle class families, and robbing taxpayers." Earlier on July 18, we growled that "the U.S. Department of Energy (initiative) to regulate wine refrigerators will 'cost small businesses $12,500 each.'"

In a December 15, 2016 Issue Brief from the Heritage Foundation by research fellow Salim Furth, we learn:

"Evidence continues to mount that strict fuel economy standards are making cars and trucks more expensive than they would be otherwise. Up through 2008, new vehicle prices—adjusted for quality and the composition of the fleet—had declined steadily for decades. Since then, however, prices have stopped falling and are growing at almost the same rate as general inflation.

"Given that the average new vehicle costs $33,661,[1] the price of a typical vehicle is $7,698 higher than if the pre-recession relative price trend had continued. (emphasis added)

"The gap between what today’s cars would have cost at the pre-recession trend and actual prices continues to grow. A year earlier, the gap was $7,046; a year before that it was $6,059. Technological progress, which tends to make vehicles cheaper, is not keeping pace with regulation, which makes them more expensive."

According to Furth, EPA misunderstood the price indices, writing, "In defending costly new regulations of automobile fuel economy, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dismissed a Heritage Foundation study[2] which argued that the regulations were a cause of the major increase in new vehicle prices since 2009, as other scholars had predicted. However, the EPA’s dismissal of the work was premised on a basic misunderstanding of price indices."

With two charts, the 5-page issue brief is a fairly quick read. The following chart from the brief presents a clear picture of the point which Furth makes.

  

If the above chart isn't clear, take a minute to review the second chart the author included in the Issue Brief that shows the relative prices of new vehicles compared to the 2001-2007 trendline.

Take a few minutes to tell your representatives on Capitol Hill that you're tired of paying unnecessarily high prices based upon the whim of EPA bureaucrats. Tell them to tell EPA that "(g)iven the potentially very high cost of the fuel economy rules and the uneven quality of scholarship in the Proposed Determination, the EPA should re-visit its review of the Model Year 2022–2025 fuel economy standards with a full treatment of the potential costs of the regulation." For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

December 21, 2016

December Porkers of the Month Named

Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers.

                                             - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In this press release, earlier this week, "Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) named Reps. John Culberson (R-Texas), Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), and Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) its December Porkers of the Month for their reckless and secretive push to bring back wasteful and corruptive earmarks."

Here is how CAGW justified the selection:

"On November 14, 2016, the Daily Signal revealed that Reps. Culberson, Rogers, and Rooney filed an amendment during a private GOP rules meeting that would undo the 2011 moratorium on pork-barrel earmarks that the House adopted after taking back the chamber in 2010.  Two days later during a GOP conference meeting, after a substantial backlash, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) single-handedly halted the push stating, “We just had a drain the swamp election.  Let's not just turn around and bring back earmarks two weeks later.”  House GOP leaders agreed to table the issue until the first quarter of 2017, when the issue would receive a full public hearing.

"According to CAGW’s seven-point criteria, pork-barrel projects are funded for a specific purpose in circumvention of normal budget procedures.  Since 1991, Congress has approved 110,442 earmarks costing taxpayers $323.1 billion.  The earmark era was marred by high-profile boondoggles such as the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska, and a decade of scandals that resulted in jail terms for Reps. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Unfortunately, the 2011 moratorium did not completely eliminate the insidious practice.  As documented in CAGW’s 2016 Congressional Pig Book, there were 123 earmarks worth $5.1 billion in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bills.

"CAGW has chronicled the litany of scandals and conflicts of interest that arose in the era of profligate earmarking.  Often, pork projects were directed for selfish personal political reasons, such as repaving a specific road next to a representative’s home; used as a kickback to a campaign contributor; or directed toward ludicrous local ventures like the infamous teapot museum in South Carolina and the indoor rainforest in Iowa.

CAGW President Tom Schatz said: “Earmarks signify the height of government waste and corruption.  The fact that Reps. Culberson, Rogers, and Rooney would so swiftly defy the clear will of taxpayers is a stunning and shameful development.  I applaud Speaker Ryan for putting the brakes on this misguided scheme until the public can engage with their representatives and voice what we expect to be vociferous opposition to the potential return of Washington’s most corrupt and wasteful practices.”

"For secretly scheming to resurrect wasteful, pork-barrel earmarks, and ignoring the will of the taxpayers, CAGW names Reps. Culberson, Rogers, and Rooney its December Porkers of the Month."

 CAGW's press release has the embedded links that will take you to the supporting documents.

Interestingly, all three December Porkers of the Month received 2015 grades of B- or B from the National Taxpayers Union in their annual Congressional Ratings. Goes to show you can never be too careful about those who represent you in Congress.

Learn more about Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW). and kudos for their continuing work on behalf of America's taxpayers.

December 20, 2016

Another Thought About Taxation

"Since the purpose of the tax code is to raise revenue, it has as its core mission the objective of making people poorer The central question is: who?"

~ Douglas Holtz-Eakin

Source: page 46, "As Certain as Death: Quotations about Taxes," 2010 Edition, compiled by Jeffrey Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

                                            - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Holtz-Eakin was director of the Congressional Budget office from 2003 to 2005, according to Wikipedia.

December 19, 2016

IRS Employees Spent $1.4 Million on Lavish Travel + Hotels

 According to the Washington Free Beacon's Ali Meyer last week, "IRS employees spent $1.4 million in taxpayer funds on lavish travel and hotels, according to a new report from the Senate Finance Committee."

Meyer explained further, writing:

"Sens. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) and Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, respectively, wrote in May 2016 to the IRS and other federal agencies to evaluate their travel policies and practices, asking what the costs of those activities were and whether or not the agencies have done anything to reduce costs.

"The Finance Committee found that the IRS had 27 employees who traveled 125 business days at a cost of more than $1.4 million in fiscal year 2015. The average cost of each trip totaled $52,800 and lasted an average of 207 days.

"One employee racked up $72,544 in hotel costs, spending $43,726 at the Ritz Carlton in Arlington, Virginia, alone. Another employee spent nearly half a year living in the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., which cost taxpayers $38,799.

Instead of opting for hotels, some of the employees spent money at million-dollar townhouses and apartments. One employee spent $4,950 per month on a $1.07 million dollar townhouse in Arlington, Virginia. Another employee rented out an apartment in downtown Chicago that overlooked the Chicago River for a rate of $4,605 per month.

"Aside from lodging costs, IRS employees spent money on dry cleaning, cable and Internet bills, and taxi rides, including a $100 Uber Black car service tab for an airport ride. One employee spent $1,513 on dry cleaning, another spent $178 per month for a cable bundle that included premium channels, and another employee spent $1,185 for a monthly metro pass—which exceeded the daily commuting cost from their lodging to the IRS headquarters.

"The report said that while federal employees can spend up to $7,099 per month when traveling to Washington, D.C., there is virtually no circumstance where someone would need to do so."

A .pdf copy of the report, "A Review of IRS Employee Travel: Reductions in IRS Long-Term Travel Spending Needed," dated December 14, 2016, was issued by the Senate Finance Committee Majority Staff was announced in this December 14 press release.

The $1.4 million will barely make a pinprick in the national debt that we growled about yesterday. However, if members of Congress can't get the small things correct, there seems to be little hope they will ever be able to get the big things right.

Take a few minutes to tell your representatives on Capitol Hill your thoughts about this wasteful spending. For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

December 18, 2016

Illustrating Just How Massive the U.S. Debt Really Is

We've frequently growled about the size of the Unite States' national debt, but it seems that it's so large that it's difficult to understand just how burdensome it really is. For example, nine years ago, on April 24, 2007, we growled about the looming entitlement crisis threatening taxpayers; two years later on January 28, 2009, we growled about an effort opposing increasing the national debt; we growled again on June 5, 2010, when the national debt passed tyhe $13 trillion mark, noting it would buy more than 16 billion iPads or over 34 million Rolls Royce Phantoms; then two years later on September 4, 2012, we growled when the national debt passed the $16 trillion mark; and, finally, on October 23, 2016, we growled about a Congressional Budget Office projection saying, "the current path of growing spending and debt results in an annual income loss of about $12,000 for the average family by 2046."

Incidentally, that October 23 Growls includes a helpful chart showing how the national debt has grown under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

To find other Growls about the 'national debt,' use the search facility in the lower right column.

Which brings us to a chart featured in an August 19, 2016 article by John Gray in Conservative Review. He explains:

"Have you wondered how big our federal debt really is?

"Well, thanks to an array of awesome investment themed maps published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, you can take a look for yourself.

"According to the chart below, there is currently $60 trillion in outstanding public debt — or in other words, the combined debts of all the world’s governments.

"Sadly, among the great accomplishments of the United States — world superpower, first to conquer outer space, historic experiment in democracy, shining city on the hill, etc etc — the U.S. is also renowned for owning the largest share of that world’s debt.

"That’s not something we should be proud of.

"Even worse, the U.S. holds 29 percent of all world government debt but makes up 23 percent of the world economy. That means we owe more than we’re putting out in value. Or, put another way, our collective mouth is writing checks that our collective funds can't cash.

"Today, the U.S. government has more than $19.42 trillion in outstanding debt.  That amounts to more than $60,000 per person living in America.  Or, put differently, that’s $140,000 per taxpayer — those who are truly on the hook for paying off what our government has spent 'for our benefit.'"

The chart below is from Gray's article, and shows each country's percentage of that $60 trillion debt:

 

With over 29% of the world's government debt, it seems the nation's national debt will not only imperil the nation's economy, but could have spillover effects that threaten other world economies.

Do you know the record of your member of Congress in bringing the national debt under control? If not, take a few minutes to  send a message to your representatives on Capitol Hill. Ask them to provide you their record of fighting the national debt. After you receive their response, let them know if you are satisfied with their performance. For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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

And tell them ACTA sent you!

December 17, 2016

America's Middle Class Feeling Better

The Washington Examiner's Paul Bedard reported in his Washington Secrets column yesterday, "The reports of the death of America's middle class appear to have been an exaggeration."

He continued, writing:

"According to new survey work, many more Americans feel that they are now part of the middle and upper-middle class, not the working or lower class.

"Gallup found an increase from 50 percent when President Obama was reelected to 58 percent today of those who feel they belong to the middle class. On the other end, just 38 percent now say they are in the working, or lower class.

"And they have space to grow. During the Bush administration, an average of 61 percent felt they were middle class.

"It comes after several reports that the middle class was dying. Many of those voters chose Donald Trump in the election after he made his focus jobs and his campaign theme 'Make America Great Again.'"

Importantly, Bedard pointed out "(t)he analysis was of a handful or(sic) polls and found growth of self-identified middle classers continuing since 2012 and not directly the result of the election."

In a report released on Thursday, prepared by Frank Newport, Gallup highlighted three things:

  • 58% identify as upper-middle or middle class in 2016
  • This is up from 50% in 2012 and 51% in 2015
  • The rise in middle-class identification has occurred across income groups

They also point out the difficulty of classifying who is middle class, writing:

"Researchers over the years have made many attempts to classify who is and who is not middle class, based on income and household composition. The Pew Research Center, for example, analyzed government data and reported that the percentage objectively in the middle class has declined significantly from 1971 to last year. It is, however, still too early for analysts to determine whether the percentage of Americans who can be grouped in the middle class based on their incomes and household compositions did in fact rise in the final months of this year."

The chart below is from the Gallup report:

 

As Gallup notes, the "uptick in middle-class identification was not directly related to the presidential election, even as economic confidence rose sharply after Nov. 8," the above can serve as a useful benchmark.

December 16, 2016

A Thought about Bureacratic Growth

"In 1961, according to my analysis, John F. Kennedy oversaw 450 political and career executives who occupied 17 bureaucratic layers at the top of government. Mr. Trump will soon oversee more than 3,000 executives in 63 layers. This leads to a Washington hallmark: titles like chief of staff to the deputy assistant secretary. Such complexity distorts information as it travels up the chain of command, and then thwarts guidance on the way down.”

~ Paul C. Light, Professor at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service

Source: his 12/15/16 Wall Street Journal article (behind WSJ's paywall), "What Purple America Wants from Trump."

                                        - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

In 1999, Light wrote "The True Size of Government,' published by Brookings Institution Press, which addressed the "simple question: Just how many people really work for the federal government?"

December 15, 2016

Arlington County is Nation's 8th Richest in New Census Data

CNS News' Terry Jeffrey reported this afternoon on new Census Bureau data, writing:

"The four richest counties in the United States, when measured by median household income, are all suburbs of Washington, D.C., according to newly released data from the Census Bureau.

"They are Loudoun County, Va., where the median household income was $125,900 in 2015; Falls Church City, Va., where it was $122,092; Fairfax County, Va., where it was $112,844; and Howard County, Md., where it was $110,224.

"The Census Bureau treats independent cities such as Falls Church, Va., as the equivalent of a county when calculating its median household income statistics.

"Nationwide, the median household income in 2015 was $55,755, according to the Census Bureau. That means the local median household income in each of the nation’s three richest counties—all of which are Washington suburbs in Northern Virginia—are more than twice the national median household income."

He also points out:

"Of the Top 20 richest counties in the nation, nine are suburbs of the city that serves as the seat of a federal government that in fiscal 2016 taxed away $3,266,774,000,000 from the American people, spent $3,854,100,000,000, and ran a $587,326,000,000 deficit.

"Six of the Top 20 richest counties are in Northern Virginia. That gives Virginia twice as many counties in the Top 20 as any other state.

"Maryland, New Jersey and California all put three counties on the Top 20 list. New York, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee and Georgia each had one.

"Maryland’s three counties in the Top 20—Howard, Calvert and Montgomery—are all suburbs of Washington, D.C."

In the table of the 20 Richest Counties in the U.S., which Jeffrey includes in his story, Arlington ranked 8th with a median household income of $104, 354.

The map below shows the 2015 median household income of the total population for America's 3,141 counties. Note especially "the corridor of territory that runs from Virginia and Maryland and then north along the East Coast."

 

Let's hope the Arlington County Board will try to adopt a responsible budget as they get set to receive the County Manager's proposed FY 2018 budget in two months, February 2017, rather than trying to keep up with their neighbors, the Jones.

At the moment, there are 51 reader comments, a few of which are worth reading.

CNS News seeks to be "a news source for individuals, news organizations and broadcasters who put a higher premium on balance than spin and seek news that’s ignored or under-reported as a result of media bias by omission."

UPDATE (12/21/16): At the Cato Institute's blog, Cato-at-Liberty, Dan Mitchell discusses "the lavish life of overcompensated bureaucrats."in a post last Friday. He notes some good news, which is that while the region now has 9 of the Top 20 richest counties in America, a similar analysis in 2012 found the region had 10 of the 15 richest counties.

December 14, 2016

Arlington County Board Buys Land in Springfield

The Arlington Sun Gazette reported this morning, "The Arlington County government soon will have a permanent home for the repair of its Arlington Transit (ART) bus fleet."

The weekly Arlington Sun Gazette went on to report:

"County Board members on Dec. 13 approved purchase of a $4.7 million parcel on Electronic Avenue in Springfield to replace the current repair facility, located on leased space in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County.

< . . . >

"County officials included $37 million in funding for the purchase of a site and construction of the facility as part of the government’s fiscal 2017-26 capital-improvement program.

"The ART fleet, which is operated by a private contractor under direction of the county government, currently includes 65 buses, a number expected to grow to as many as 90 by 2020.

"In recent years, Arlington and several other local governments have expanded their own bus networks in order to get away from an overreliance on the more expensive Metrobus service."

The "agreement of sale" resulted from approval by the Arlington County Board of agenda item #44 at their recessed meeting Tuesday evening. Here's how the County Manag4r summarized his request to the County Board:

"The attached Agreement of Sale (“Agreement”) is an offer by Shirley Investors, LLC, a Virginia limited liability company (“Seller”), to sell to the County Board the property known as 6701-6705 Electronic Drive, Springfield, Virginia (the “Property”), being a portion of Lot 34, Shirley Investors LLC, TM: 80-2-(1)-34, Fairfax County, Virginia, for a purchase price of $4.65 million. Acquisition of the Property is needed for the location, construction and operation of an Arlington Transit (“ART”) bus heavy maintenance facility. Approval and execution of the attached Agreement will allow the County Board to acquire the Property, consistent with the terms and conditions set forth in the Agreement."

And here's how the Manager described the "fiscal impact" of purchasing the $4.7 million parcel in Springfield:

"The total costs associated with the acquisition of the Property, estimated to be $4.757 million, including: i) the $4.65 million purchase price; ii) the cost of potential reimbursement of Seller for out-of-pocket costs for early termination of a tenant (capped at $50,000.00); iii) the total cost of potential County extensions of the Land Use Approvals deadline ($39,000.00); and iv) the estimated closing costs (approximately $18,000.00), are available from the following sources:

  • $2,030,000 General Obligation Bonds (317...43515.MA14)
  • $1,587,120 Virginia Dept. of Rail and Public Transportation grant funds (331...43515.MA14)
  • $1,139,880 TCF – C&I / Commercial & Industrial Tax (331...43515.MA14.CT00)
"This is part of the ART Heavy Maintenance Facilities program in the FY17-FY26 CIP, under Transportation, Transit; this amount is consistent with the land acquistion cost assumed in the adopted Capital Improvement Plan."

Growls readers wishing to comment on the purchase of land in Springfield are urged to write to members of 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.

December 13, 2016

Intellectural Property Rights and the Economy

A week ago at the Swine Line, the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste, Deborah Collier wrote about a report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA), noting the report highlighted "the economic impact copyright industries have on the economy.  These industries include producers and distributors of books, journals, movies, music, software, and video games."

According to Collier:

"The study measures the economic contribution of various industries that are primarily responsible for creating and distributing copyright content.  It also breaks down the impact of core industries that are directly involved in creation and distribution of copyright; partial copyright industries that only support some aspect or portion of the products they create for copyright protection; non-dedicated support, such as transportation services, telecommunications, wholesale, and retail trade; and interdependent industries, such as those that produce, manufacture, and sell equipment which either uses, creates or facilitates the creation of copyrighted material.

"The authors of the study found that in 2015, core copyright industries contributed more than $1.2 trillion dollars in added value to the U.S. GDP, accounting for 6.88 percent of the U.S. economy.  The study also noted that total copyright industries added nearly $2.1 trillion in value to the U.S. GDP.  In 2015, core copyright industries employed 5,540,300,000 individuals with a share of 3.87 percent of the total U.S. employment.

"As a pivotal driver in today’s economy, it is crucial that intellectual property rights be protected."

The 25-page  IIPA report, The 2016 Report of the Copyright Industries in the U.S. Economy, is available here.

For information about the history and mission of Citizens Against Government Waste, visit here.

December 12, 2016

A Thought about Tax Fairness

"We cannot lose sight of the fact that complexity is the result of our struggle for fairness."

~ Margaret Milner Richardson

Source: page 144, "As Certain as Death: Quotations about Taxes," 2010 Edition, compiled by Jeffrey Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

                                    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Richardson was IRS Commissioner from May 27, 1993 to May 31, 1997.

December 11, 2016

Progressive Portland, Oregon to Tax High CEO Pay

On Thursday, the Huffington Post's Hayley Miller reported, "The progressive city (of Oregon) is ramping up its fight against income inequality while increasing annual revenue by as much as $3.5 million."

She went on to report:

"In an effort to combat income inequality, Portland, Oregon, on Thursday became the first jurisdiction to adopt a tax penalty on companies with excessive CEO-worker pay gaps.

"Under the new law, companies doing enough business in Portland to pay the city’s business fee will be taxed an additional 10 percent if their CEO makes 100 times what median workers earn ― and an additional 25 percent if they make 250 times more.

“This is meant to be a signal that these kinds of ridiculous [pay] ratios are unacceptable,” Portland’s city commissioner Steve Novick told The Huffington Post. “You do not do better as a company because you decide to pay outrageous salaries to your CEOs.”

"The law will go into effect next year, and Novick said the tax could generate up to $3.5 million in annual revenue for the city.

"Sarah Anderson, co-editor of Inequality.org at the Institute of Policy Studies, believes the legislation could “spread like wildfire” to other cities across the nation."

Ms. Miller also reported. "Still, an op-ed by the Wall Street Journal editorial board last month warned the legislation could encourage businesses to abandon Portland, but Anderson “can’t imagine” that would happen."

The New York Times weighed in on Portland's CEO tax in a story on Wednesday, December 7, by Gretchen Morgenson, who wrote:

"Criticism of how much chief executives are paid has risen in recent years as their compensation has grown substantially. In 2015, the median compensation for the 200 highest-paid executives at public companies in the United States was $19.3 million, up from $9.6 million five years earlier.

"Comparing such compensation with how much lower-level employees earn is likely to show a very wide gulf. A 2014 study by Alyssa Davis and Lawrence Mishel at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning advocacy group in Washington, found that chief executive pay compared with the earnings of average workers had surged from a multiple of 20 in 1965 to almost 300 in 2013.

"Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics and an authority on income inequality who wrote “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” said he favored the Portland tax as a first step.

"“This is certainly part of the solution,” Mr. Piketty wrote in an email, “but the tax surcharge needs to be large enough; the threshold ‘100 times’ should be substantially lowered.”

She concluded with a response from a business alliance, writing:

"Among those objecting to the new tax was the Portland Business Alliance, a group of 1,850 companies that do business locally. Alliance officials have predicted that the measure would not have the desired result of reducing income inequality.

“We see it as an empty gesture,” said Sandra McDonough, the alliance’s president and chief executive, in a telephone interview. “We think they’d be far better off trying to work with business leaders to create more jobs that will lift people up and improve incomes.” Publicly traded companies, she added, are “an easy group to pick on.”

"Mr. Hales conceded that the pay ratio is “an imperfect instrument” with which to solve the problems of income inequality. “But it is a start.”

Fortune magazine also reported on Portland's new CEO tax. In a report on Thursday, Polina Marinova wrote, "The chief executive compensation tax is more symbolic than practical," adding, "Portland, Ore., is on a crusade to solve income inequality, even if only in its mind." In concluding, she wrote:

"Finally, though Portland’s “symbolic” tax on CEO pay will doubtfully make a material difference to the businesses it targets, it could drive away new business and investment.

“Companies feel that being in a specific location, they’re always on the defensive. That’s not helpful,” McDonough said. “It could impact decisions on business investment and expansion.”

Progressive trying to do good. What can go wrong?

Thanks goodness that Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. Otherwise, can you imagine all the "good" that Arlington County's progressives could do. We talked about the Dillon Rule when we growled about Portland CEO tax on November 20.

UPDATE (12/12/16): Jazz Shaw opened a post today at Hot Air, writing:

"Despite the popular revolt which seemed to characterize the 2016 elections, it seems to me as if some of you still just don’t get it. And by “you” in this case, I mean the city council in Portland, Oregon. You see, guys, the idea is to encourage companies to grow and hire more people. It’s not to drive them away. And yet we see new laws being passed such as this." (italics in the original)

She concluded it this way:

"This isn’t how you build an economy, guys. It’s how you crater one. No wonder you’re so proud of the phrase, Keep Portland Weird. Put down the bong, folks. You’re supposed to be creating jobs and wealth."

December 10, 2016

U.S. Senator: 'This Year . . . a Half Trillion in Overspending'

At CNS News yesterday, Barbara Hollingsworth writes, " Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) says Congress will not be able to exercise its oversight responsibility regarding federal expenditures – including a half-trillion dollars in overspending this year alone - until regular order is restored and individual appropriations bills are once again debated and amended on the floor of the House and Senate."

She goes on to report:

“Until we can get our budget and the appropriations bills on the floor, we never can do really good oversight of the actual discretionary spending of the U.S. government because the appropriations process is the best place to do that,” Lankford told CNSNews.com.

"So that is still missing, and we're coming up to a continuing resolution (CR) vote and we're missing out on real oversight. And the hope is to get back to that process."

"Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) have repeatedly promised a return to regular order instead of relying on take-it-or-leave-it omnibus bills and short-term CRs to fund the federal government.

"However, they have not kept that promise. On Thursday, the House passed a $1.1 trillion short-term CR (HR 2028) to keep the federal government operating until April 28, 2017.

"Lankford said Thursday that he will vote against the CR when it gets to the Senate on Friday."

She also writes:

"But the senator warned that even with a return to regular order, there will be no quick fix to the government’s overspending problem.

“When you have $19.5 trillion in total debt, and you’re paying $225 billion a year in interest, you don’t solve that in a year. You don’t solve that in ten years. It’s going to take a long-term concerted effort,” he told CNSNews.

“I came [to the House] in the class of 2011. Most of us had no political background, and came in intentionally to be able to change the way Washington works,” continued Lankford, who was elected to the Senate in 2014 in a special election to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).

“And for me, I’ve been hammering away now for six years. But if we continue to implement a lot of things we fought for over the last six years, we can get this done,” said the  author of  the second edition of "Federal Fumbles" - a 149-page list of egregious examples of wasteful government spending.

"Lankford  added that getting a handle on the “waste, duplication and inefficiencies” of government in addition to curbing federal regulatory overreach is even harder now because federal agencies “are shifting from doing contracting, which has become very structured, to grants, which are unstructured. We now spend $650 billion a year just on grants, which have very little oversight.

“Just this year, there’s a half-trillion dollars in overspending,” he emphasized. “The budget process itself is a very broken process,” he continued, noting that 75 percent of all federal spending is on “automatic pilot”.

“The post-Watergate budget process was created to try and make it a more transparent process. But what it actually created was a process so complicated, it’s only worked four times since 1974. So we have to fix the process as well or this doesn’t get better,” Lankford told CNSNews."

Finally, Hollingsworth reported:

"CNSNews asked the senator if members of Congress understand how angry the American people are about the federal government’s profligate spending. (emphasis added)

“I do think Congress understands that,” he responded. “The difficulty is that it’s a challenge for the American people to also understand how slow government works, and that implementation of changes and cuts in government spending often takes 18 to 24 months.

“And so change in government is incredibly slow and in some ways rightfully so, because it involves so many people and affects so many people."

Ms. Hollingsworth's article is well-worth reading in its entirety since it includes a number of embedded links.

She also wrote about the second edition of Federal Fumbles, a 149-page report of government waste. You can access the entire report at the report's press release.

Do you know what your members of Congress are doing to fix the budget process and reduce government spending, not to mention government waste, fraud and abuse? Take a few minutes to write and ask them. For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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.

December 09, 2016

Metro & Schools to Drive FY 2018 Arlington County Budget

At their monthly meeting earlier this week, Arlington County Civic Federation delegates welcomed Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy.

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey posted two online stories as a result of his reporting of the two executives' visits to the Civic Federation. On Thursday, he reported on Dr. Murphy's response to a question about the number of special needs students in the Arlington Public Schools. According to McCaffrey:

"The percentage of special-needs students in Arlington’s classrooms is staying steady but rising along with overall enrollment, which is providing both budget and instructional challenges, Superintendent Patrick Murphy told delegates to the Arlington County Civic Federation on Dec. 6.

"About 3,600 students require some type of special-education services, which as a percentage of the overall student body of 26,000 has stayed “relatively consistent” in recent years, the superintendent said in his annual report to the Civic Federation.

"But as the overall student body grows – it is expected to top 30,000 by 2022 – the number of students receiving a broad range of special-education services is likely to increase, too.“

"The community isn’t aware of the enormous number” of students who receive special-education services, said Michael Beer, who chairs the Civic Federation’s schools committee."

Then yesterday, McCaffrey reported on both executives' annual visit with Civic Federation delegates. On the issue of WMATA, McCaffrey reported:

"Under ordinary circumstances, it would be almost the perfect scenario for a veteran budgeteer like Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz.

"Anticipated county-government revenue for the next fiscal year is likely to just about match projected spending. That would mean no big community or staff fights over new initiatives (since there’s not enough money for them) and also no angst over prospective cutbacks (as the government has enough money to pay its bills).

"And that’s the scenario facing Schwartz as he gazes toward the fiscal 2018 budget process that already is under way but will speed up in coming months. He’s projecting a $5 million budget gap – peanuts for a county spending package that now tops $1 billion a year."

"It should be a great scenario. But looming over it all is the future of the Metro system, and how the transit agency’s budget woes will impact the localities, like Arlington, that a half-century ago agreed to fund the system through good times and bad."

He also reported, "Superintendent Patrick Murphy says he believes the ultimate shortfall on the schools side will be less than now projected. “If history is any indication, that gap continues to shrink” as budget season progresses, he said."

In his weekly The Right Note column at ARLnow.com yesterday, Mark Kelly explains how "(e)very December our leaders in Arlington begin talking about a mythical budget gap. It is the first step in building a case with the public to pay more next year in taxes." According to Kelly:

"It’s a mythical gap because every year, at about the same time, the County Board is spending tens of millions of dollars in the closeout process. This year end budget boost comes from additional tax revenue and reallocation of other unspent funds in the budget.

"With only a $5 million “gap” on the horizon for the next fiscal year (practically a rounding error), Arlington’s County Manager is using a different tool in the public relations game — Metro. He’s “worried” Arlington may have to chip in a substantial, and still unknown, amount in the coming year.

"Mr. Schwartz did go out of his way in his recent Civic Federation presentation to take Metro to task for putting itself in this position. And I would hope the County Board would not come to the taxpayers for more money without first requiring real reforms from the flagging system.

"But in case Metro’s woes were not scary enough, the schools have announced they may need as much as $25 million more than last year’s budget — about half for projected enrollment increases. In case you missed it, the schools just received $8.6 million from excess revenues collected in FY 2016 as part of the closeout process. A similar unbudgeted amount is sent their way every year.

"Schools and Metro are certainly core line items in the budget, and they are extremely popular with the public. This is precisely why they are being used as the rationale for us to pay more (again) in 2017.

"And if there is any doubt as to the bent of our leaders to tax and spend more, you need only look at the legislative package being considered by the Board in the coming days. It includes support of a change in Virginia law to allow localities to raise their meals tax to 8% without a referendum vote."

Looks like another exciting budget season, which will begin when the County Manager releases his proposed FY 2018 budget at the Arlington County Board's February 2017 meeting.

December 08, 2016

Initial Planning for a Fourth High School in Arlington County

In a story on Tuesday, the Arlington Sun Gazette reported that "Arlington school officials are taking the first steps in engaging the public on priorities for what could be the county’s fourth comprehensive high school."

Here's the essential information:

"School officials have put information about the process on the county school system’s Web site at www.apsva.us. “It’s an initial launch, but we’ll add information as we go along,” Murphy said. (link embedded in the original)

"Under the current timeline, School Board members in the fall of 2017 will receive recommendations on where a new school could go, and whether it should have a specific focus.

"Between now and then, “there are people who want to have an input,” said School Board Chairman Nancy Van Doren. “People can submit their thoughts.”

"Also an open question: whether there should be a single, 1,300-seat high school, or whether it should be split into several pieces and programs."

The Arlington Public Schools webpage with information about the new high school says, "The 2017-26 Capital Improvement Plan, which the School Board adopted on June 16, 2016, included $146.71 million funding for 1,300 new high school seats to be completed in time for the start of school in 2022." The steps in the process as well as a timeline are also included. They even provide an e-mail contact point should you have questions or suggestions.

Given the implications for taxpayers, Growls readers may also want to direct questions to members of the Arlington School Board, especially that $146.71 million cost. Tell School Board members more work is needed to bring down that cost. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

December 07, 2016

Few Americans Believe Human Activity Causes Climate Change

The headline of a CNS News today says that according to Pew Research Center polling, "only 27% of Americans believe there is consensus that human activity causes climate change."

Here's the story, according to CNS News' Matthew Hrozencik:

"A recent survey by the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that a large majority of Americans are skeptical about the prevailing scientific understanding of climate change, with only 27 percent saying they believe there is a consensus that human activity is its main cause.

"That belief is at odds with the scientific community, Pew noted, citing a 2013 report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that concluded “with 95% certainty that human activity is the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

"The Pew survey was conducted between May 10 and June 6 as a part of an examination of  public attitudes about scientific research related to climate change and genetically modified foods.

"The survey found that only 28% of Americans surveyed believe that climate scientists understand the causes of climate change “very well’- compared to 32% who said that scientists had a "not at all well" understanding of the causes of climate change.

"It also suggested that despite their skepticism over the cause of climate change, Americans still tend to trust information on it provided by climate scientists over other sources, including the energy industry, the news media, and elected officials.

"Pew reported that 39% of those surveyed said that they trust climate scientists “a lot to give full and accurate information”, while only 7% answered that they trust energy industry leaders and the news media to do so.

"Only 4% of survey respondents said they trusted elected officials to provide accurate information on climate change.

"The study also found a deep divide between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, with 54% of liberal Democrats saying they believe that climate scientists understand the causes of climate change “very well” -  a view supported by only 11% of conservative Republicans.

"Moderate- to- liberal Republicans and moderate- to- conservative Democrats fell somewhere in between that wide 43% gap."

According to the study, "Recent Pew Research Center studies have examined in depth what the public thinks about scientists and their research related to climate change and GM foods. These surveys found that public views of scientific experts in these two areas spring from different factors: When people think about climate scientists, their views are strongly divided by politics. When they think about scientists dealing with GM foods, their views are more closely tied to their level of science knowledge than to their politics." (emphasis added)

Is this just another instance of the divide between the political elite and hoi polloi? After all, it's the political elite who like to trot out the mantra there is 97% consensus in climate change among climate scientists. Interestingly, as the Pew study showed, only 4% of the public trust climate change information that comes from elected officials.

Do your representatives in Congress know your position on anthropogenic global warming -- aka climate change? It's worth asking since their positions may be much different than yours. According to this April 1, 2016 press release, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined an "amicus brief in support of President Obama's clean power plan." And in this July 29, 2015 press release, Rep. Don Beyer issued a "call for action to address national security threats from climate change." For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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.

December 06, 2016

Land Exchange Proposed for Part of N. Quincy Site

An online story in last Friday's (December 2) Arlington Sun Gazette reported that "Arlington county manager seeks consideration of land-swap proposal."

Here are the details of the Arlington weekly newspaper story:

"Arlington County Board members later this month will be asked to authorize the county manager to enter into negotiations that could see the local government trade property it may soon own on North Quincy Street in exchange for property on South Shirlington Road.

"The proposal was initiated by Arcland Property Co., which owns a parcel in Shirlington currently used by the county government to store buses. Arcland wants to exchange 3.5 acres it owns in exchange for 2.3 acres of a 6.1-acre parcel the county government is contemplating purchasing on North Quincy, across from the Arlington Education Center.

"The county government earlier signed an option agreement giving it the ability to purchase the entire North Quincy Street parcel for $30 million from developer Bill Buck. County officials have until next November to exercise the option.

"The proposed land swap between the county government and Arcland would involve no cash changing hands, county officials said. Arcland aims to build a self-storage facility on a portion of the North Quincy Street property, while leasing back some of the parcel to the county government."

On Tuesday of last week (November 29), the county issued a press release about the land exchange proposal. Five bullet points were listed:

  • Proposed exchange of portion of Buck property for Shirlington Road land would yield net gain of 1.2 acres of public land
  • Would leave 2/3 of Buck property for County, School needs
  • Shirlington Road site could be long-term solution for ART bus parking
  • Would save County $4 million
  • Manager to seek Board support to further explore option

The press release provides a more complete explanation of each of the five bullet points. Of special interest to residents near the North Quincy Street site is the proposal to construct a six-story, 150,000 square foot self-storage facility on 1.2 acres of the site.

Additional information is available at the county's Land Exchange Proposal -- Buck Property webpage, and includes a 3 1/2 minute video clip of the County Manager discussing the land use proposal. The next steps, listed on this county webpage, are the following:

"The County Manager plans to seek County Board support to pursue negotiations with Arcland during the County Board Recessed Meeting on Dec. 13, 2016. If the Board supports negotiations, any agreement would come before the Board for consideration in 2017.

"If an agreement is reached, the County would continue to seek community input on the remainder of the N. Quincy Street site, and on the Shirlington site."

Growls readers wishing to comment on this proposed land exchange are urged to write to members of 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.

December 05, 2016

Trump State Winners & Hillary State Losers

In his Commentary column in today's Washington Times, Steve Moore talks about "the blue state depression." Moore is a senior economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Moore explains it this way:

"I’m talking about an economic depression in the blue states that went for Hillary. Here is an amazing statistic. Of the 10 blue states that Hillary Clinton won by the largest percentage margins — California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut — every single one of them lost domestic migration (excluding immigration) over the last 10 years (2004-14). Nearly 2.75 million more Americans left California and New York than entered these states.

"They are the loser states. They are all progressive. High taxes rates. High welfare benefits. Heavy regulation. Environmental extremism. Super minimum wages. Most outlaw energy drilling. The whole left-wing playbook is on display in the Hillary states. And people are leaving in droves. Day after day, they are being bled to death. So much for liberalism creating a worker’s paradise.

"Now let’s look at the 10 states that had the largest percentage vote for Donald Trump. Everyone of them — Wyoming, West Virginia, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Dakota, and Idaho — was a net population gainer.

"This is part and parcel of one of the greatest internal migration waves in American history as blue states especially in the northeast are getting clobbered by their low tax, smaller government rivals in the south, southeast and mountain regions.

"By the way, pretty much the same pattern holds true for jobs. The job gains in the red states carried by the widest margins by Mr. Trump had about twice the job creation rate as the bluest states carried by Hillary.

"The just-released 2016 edition of ALEC’s Rich States, Poor States, which I co-author with Reagan economist Arthur Laffer and economist Jonathan Williams shows a persistent trend of Americans moving from blue to red states. The best example is that from 2004-2014, the two biggest conservative states in terms of population size — Florida and Texas — gained almost one million new residents each. The two most populous liberal states — California and New York — saw an equal-sized exodus."

Moore notes that "(e)ven when it comes to income inequality blue states fare worse than red states. According to a 2016 report by the Economic Policy institute, three of the states with the largest gaps between rich and poor are … those progressive icons New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Sure, Boston, Manhattan and Silicon Valley are booming as the rich prosper. But outside these areas are deep pockets of poverty and wage stagnation."

Moore's Washington Times column contains a chart showing the top 10 Trump states and top 10 Hillary states by vote margin. Unfortunately, the chart is not available available in digital form. However, here are the vote margin for each campaign:

Top 10 Donald Trump States

  1. Wyoming -- 27,391
  2. West Virginia -- 16,719
  3. Oklahoma -- 106,133
  4. North Dakota -- 36,612
  5. Kentucky -- 54,650
  6. Alabama -- 103,580
  7. Tennessee -- 281,998
  8. South Dakota -- 22,594
  9. Nebraska -- -21,401
  10. Idaho -- 88,127

Too 10 Hillary Clinton States

  1. California -- -1.265.447
  2. Massachusetts -- -156,861
  3. Hawaii -- -36,439
  4. Vermont -- -9,107
  5. Maryland -- -145,560
  6. New York -- -1,468,080
  7. Illinois -- -669,442
  8. Rhode Island -- -70,591
  9. Connecticut -- -153,918
  10. New Jersey -- -527,036

We last growled about the American Legislative Exchange Council's "Rich States, Poor States" report on April 14, 2010. The most recent "Rich States, Poor States" is the 9th edition, published April 12, 2016.

So ask yourself: who benefits from the the progressive agenda with its burdensome taxes and regulations? Do taxpayers get to live in a more prosperous society? The bottom line according to Steve Moore?

"The lesson to be learned from the states is that the “progressive” tax and spend agenda has been put on trial. Not only do the policies lead to much slower growth, they also benefit the rich and politically well-connected at the expense of everyone else."

If you're not happy with the progressive agenda, take a few minutes to write your favorite legislator. We've embedded links to most of their offices in most of the Growls we write. Scroll down until you find your favorite pol.

December 04, 2016

Third Quarter GDP Revised Upward

The Washington Free Beacon's Ali Meyer reported last week, "The U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter of 2016 as real gross domestic product grew at a rate of 3.2 percent, according to the second estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis."

Meyer provided the following details in her report:

"Real GDP represents the value of the production of goods and services in the economy and is adjusted for inflation. The third quarter growth in 2016 of 3.2 percent, which includes performance from July, August and September, was an increase from the 1.4 percent growth seen in the second quarter of 2016.

"The GDP estimate released Tuesday was revised up from the first estimate of 2.9 percent that the bureau released earlier this year.

“With the second estimate for the third quarter, the general picture of economic growth remains the same; the increase in personal consumption expenditures was larger than previously estimated,” the bureau said.

"Real GDP in the third quarter of 2016 also increased from the previous year, when GDP expanded at 2.1 percent in the third quarter of 2015, according to the second estimate.

“The increase in real GDP in the third quarter primarily reflected positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, private inventory investment, and federal government spending, that were partly offset by negative contributions from residential fixed investment and state and local government spending,” the bureau said. “Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased.”

"The bureau will release its third estimate for the third quarter of 2016 on Dec. 22."

The following chart is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) report on GDP, and shows the percent change from the preceding quarter. It dates back to the 4th quarter of 2012.

 

Are you satisfied with your member of Congress' position on economic growth? If not, take a few minutes, and send a message to your representatives on Capitol Hill. Tell them they need to focus on factors that will result in faster economic growth, e.g., lower corporate taxes and fewer regulations. For those not living in Arlington County, contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact their members of Congress by just clicking-on the embedded link:

  • 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.

December 03, 2016

A Thought about Liberty

"The Founders understood that the greatest threat to liberty is an all-powerfull central government, where the few dictate to the many. They also knew that the rule of the mob would lead to anarchy and, in the end, despotism."

~ Mark R. Levin

Source: page 4, "Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto."

December 02, 2016

Virginia's Economy is "Muddling Along"

Writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Wednesday, November 30, James Koch, Professor of Economics and President Emeritus of the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University writes about the just completed second State of the Commonwealth Report.

Here is a portion of what he wrote:

"The second State of the Commonwealth Report once again finds the Virginia economy muddling along and growing at a rate slower than the United States as a whole. Indeed, economic growth in the nation accelerated in the third quarter of this year and the economy grew at a rate of 2.9 percent, after inflation. Meanwhile, in Virginia, our economy grew at least 1 percentage point slower and this was evidenced by disappointing tax collections. (emphasis added)

< . . . .>

"Particularly worrisome is the continued stagnation of the commonwealth’s labor markets. Despite a rate of unemployment that hovers around 4 percent, the number of individuals actually employed in Virginia is about 16,000 below last year’s number at this time. Further, an increasing percentage of Virginians of prime working ages have chosen, for a variety of reasons, to stop looking for employment. This is bad news because one way or another, society ends up paying for their continued existence.

"This year’s report focuses attention on Virginia’s hotel industry, which functions somewhat like an economic thermometer. Since bottoming out in 2010, hotel revenues nationally have increased more than 54 percent. In Virginia, however, we recorded only a 22 percent increase, though Richmond performed better than this and Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia measurably worse.

"The impact of automation and robots on Virginia’s workers is an attention-getter in the report. A recent study suggested that up to 47 percent of all jobs are susceptible to being eliminated by intelligent machines and software that learn as they operate. Interestingly, higher levels of education are not necessarily a bulwark against having one’s job eliminated. Instead, it is those jobs that require nonrepetitive actions, the ability to adjust on the fly, and the application of judgment that are most resistant to being automated out of existence. Thus, first-grade teachers and social workers are less vulnerable to being replaced by smart machines than are college professors and financial analysts.

"The report also assesses the economic impact of stock car racing in the commonwealth. While racing tracks in Virginia still attract large crowds, it appears that stock car racing passed its peak of popularity several years ago and it remains to be seen if the industry can reverse this trend."

The report is the product of Old Dominion University's Center for Economic Analysis and Policy (www.ceapodu.com). The entire State of the Commonwealth for 2016 can be downloaded here. Koch advises readers "interested in absolutely up-to-date economic data and information on Virginia and 10 metropolitan areas within the commonwealth" to visit the Center.

The report includes the following comments about Northern Virginia's economy and Virginia's hotel industry (emphasis in the original):

Northern Virginia: Turning the Corner?  NOVA now accounts for 37 percent of all employment in Virginia, but approximately 45 percent of the value of the Commonwealth’s economic activity. Recent growth in professional and business services employment suggests that the region may have turned the corner toward a more diverse, private sector-oriented economy.

The Hotel Industry in the Commonwealth: Over the past quarter-century, the hotel industry has become a relatively less important part of the Virginia economy. Occupancy rates have yet to recover to prerecession levels and price- adjusted hotel revenue and revenue per available room in 2015 similarly were below their previous peaks.

Growls readers who are not satisfied with the "state of the Commonwealth" should take a few minutes to review the entire State of the Commonwealth report, and then write to Governor McAuliffe. Click-on the following link:

Growls readers who are concerned that Virginia is moving in the wrong direction economically should provide their comments to their state legislators. The following legislators represent Arlington County in the Virginia General Assembly: Senators (Adam Ebbin, Barbara Favola, or Janet Howell) and Delegates (Rip Sullivan, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, or Mark 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.

December 01, 2016

More on Arlington Public Schools' Cost-per-Student

Ten days ago, we growled on November 21 that with release of the FY 2017 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide, the Arlington Public Schools (APS) continued their streak of being the region's costliest.

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey posted a detailed story this morning about APS's "highest rate in region'"' spending. He noted that "school officials defend costs as reasonable." His reporting includes interviewing the chairman of the Arlington School Board as well as our November 21 Growls.

Here's the portion of McCaffrey's reporting that includes comments by the school board chair:

"While school leaders in the past have largely ignored the question – noting that voters must think spending levels are fine or they wouldn’t approve county school bonds by four-to-one margins – Van Doren went a step or two further.

“Arlingtonians are very proud of our schools and the success of all Arlington students. While our cost per pupil may be higher, we certainly reap the benefits of this investment in our students and community,” she said, pointing to three areas the require the additional spending:

• “Our salaries reflect Arlington County’s higher cost of living and allow APS to remain competitive in maintaining a highly qualified corps of instructional staff and school leaders/"

“We have consistently maintained smaller class sizes to ensure that we provide strong instructional experiences while also focusing on meeting the needs of the whole child.”

• “We proudly provide a greater array of instructional resources and specialized programs.”

(And it’s not as if high per-student spending is a new phenomenon: The Northern Virginia Sun way back in December 1959 reported that Arlington that year topped all jurisdictions statewide.) (emphasis added)

"Van Doren notes that the school system asked the state government in 2012 to conduct an efficiency review, which resulted in 27 recommendations. The school system implemented 23 of them, she said.

“We will continue to look for ways to run our operations efficiently, but we are committed to maintaining the high-quality services we provide for children,” the School Board chairman said."

Be sure to read the entire story. And kudos to Scott McCaffrey for following-up on our November 21 Growls.

Given the implications for taxpayers, we urge Growls readers to growl to members of the Arlington School Board about the cost of public education in Arlington County. Tell School Board members there needs to be greater accountability for taxpayer dollars. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.