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October 31, 2017

CAGW Names October 2017 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.

Earlier this month, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) "named Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) its October 2017 Porker of the Month for spreading falsehoods about commonsense tax reform."

CAGW explained the selection this way:

"Every American who pays taxes is subjected to an onerous and stressful ordeal.  Each year, it takes 8.9 billion hours to comply with the tax code, at a cost to the economy of $234.4 billion.  The instructions alone for a typical 1040 tax form used by most Americans has grown from just two pages in 1935, to 241 pages today.  For 94 percent of taxpayers, the process is so complicated that they pay someone else or use software to fill out their tax forms.

"This daunting reality stands in stark contrast to the improvements that will be accomplished through tax reform.  The Unified Framework released on September 27, 2017, proposes lowering taxes for every American, doubling the standard deduction, and reducing the number of tax brackets from eight to four.  In fact, the vast majority of Americans will be able to fill out their taxes on a postcard.  It also lowers the nation’s business tax rates, which are the highest in the industrialized world, so the United States can compete for more jobs and higher wages on the global stage.

"Yet, in a lengthy series of tweets on September 27, 2017, Sen. Wyden repeatedly called the proposal a “scam,” incorrectly claimed that the proposal, “rewards companies that sends red, white, and blue jobs overseas,” and falsely asserted that the plan, “raises taxes on many middle-class families.”

"CAGW President Tom Schatz said in a statement:  “April 15 strikes fear into the hearts of more than one hundred million Americans.  That anxiety is borne out of a complex, outdated, and harmful tax system.  Sen. Wyden sounds all too comfortable defending the status quo.  He thinks it’s a ‘scam’ to allow more Americans to keep their own money.  That flippant remark clearly shows that Sen. Wyden is wildly out of touch with the everyday struggles of hard-working taxpayers.”

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government. For information about CAGW, click here.

October 30, 2017

Arlington County Homeowners Likely to See Higher Tax Bills

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported today that "Arlington homeowners may bear brunt of higher tax bills in 2018."

He begins his reporting with the following lede:

"Unless County Board members can find a way to cut the real-estate tax rate without raising a backlash from special-interest groups, owners of single-family homes across Arlington likely will be on the hook for higher 2018 tax bills due to increasing assessments."

McCaffrey continues, writing:

"County Manager Mark Schwartz on Oct. 24 predicted a rise of 5 percent in the assessed value of single-family real estate in 2018, due to a competitive market. The owner of a typical, mid-20th-century $700,000 home that sees such a jump would pay $7,394 in real-estate taxes next year – $352 more than this year – assuming no change in the current tax rate of $1.006 per $100 assessed value.

"We see trends in residential sales and prices going up, especially on the single-family side,” said Emily Hughes of the county government’s Department of Management and Finance.

"Hughes noted that, for the first nine months of this year, the average sales price of a single-family home in Arlington was up about 7 percent from the same period a year before. Those increases will be factored into updated property assessments, to be released by the county government in late January.

"Those assessments will only cover half the equation that leads to a property owner’s ultimate tax bill; the other half will depend on where the county government sets the tax rate.

"But economic factors outside the residential-real-estate sphere could conspire against a cut in rates. County officials are anticipating declines or very limited growth in other segments of the real-estate world: office buildings, hotels and apartments. Assessed valuations of condominiums are expected to rise, but slightly.

"Without assessment increases in those sectors of the market, it could be difficult for County Board members do the favorite thing of politicians everywhere – vote for a tax-rate cut – and potentially could force them to raise the rate to cover a possible gap between revenues and expenditures.

"That’s what board members did earlier this year, when they increased the 2017 real-estate tax rate 1.5 cents per $100 to pay for school and Metro expenses."

McCaffrey also reported, "Schwartz said he expected Arlington’s office-vacancy rate to hover around 18 percent over the coming year, with the departure of the National Science Foundation in Ballston partially offset by the arrival of Nestlé in Rosslyn. Arlington’s occupancy rate, once the envy of the region, has reached historically high levels, owing in part to competition from across the metropolitan area and in part to changing workplace environments that require less space per employee than they used to."

His complete report is information-rich. You may also want to review the county's press release sharing the County Manager's budget forecast for FY 2019, which contains three talking points:

  • $10-13 million estimated gap between revenue and expenditures for County
  • Recommendations for $11.1 million in FY 2017 close-out funds
  • Input sought on FY 2019 proposed budget and close-out recommendations

You can access the County Manager's financial and budget forecast for FY 2019 and the financial closeout for FY 2017, which ended June 30, 2017 at the Board's October 24 recessed meeting (Agenda Items 46 and 47, respectively).

Through November 22, the Arlington County government is seeking feedback from residents on the FY 2019 budget. Specifically, they are seeking responses to three questions, specifically:

  • To what extent do you believe Arlington residents and businesses would be willing to pay more for services or programs through taxes or fees? Can you share specific types of services or programs where you think there would be broad support for an increased fee/tax to support the costs?
  • What, if any, services or programs, could be reduced, if necessary? What types of impacts could these types of reductions potentially have for different stakeholders in the County?
  • Do you have any additional suggestions for the County Manager as he develops the FY19 budget proposal?

Additional details, including a two-page budget infographic, are available here. You can also submit your ideas there.

Growls readers who are residents and taxpayers in Arlington County, and concerned about the Fiscal Year 2019 budget may also want to take a few minutes to make your views known 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.

October 28, 2017

$1 Trillion Deficits, Sooner Than Expected?

At the Fiscal Times on Thursday, Yuval Rosenberg reports, "We told you yesterday that the federal government appears to be headed for $1 trillion annual deficits faster than the Congressional Budget Office projected earlier this year, with Goldman Sachs forecasting a budget shortfall of $1.025 trillion in 2020, two years earlier than the government scorekeeper had forecast. Now it looks like we may reach the trillion-dollar mark even sooner than that."

He continued his report, writing:

"A report released Thursday by the Bipartisan Policy Center forecasts that the deficit could surpass $1 trillion as soon as fiscal 2019. The BPC analysis assumes that Congress will pass a tax bill early next year that adds $1.5 trillion on top of the $10 trillion in cumulative deficits that CBO projected through 2027. Given calls from lawmakers of both parties for increased spending for various priorities, the report also assumes that Congress will repeal the mandatory spending caps that took effect in 2013. And it projects that federal disaster relief costs for hurricanes, fires and floods will be about $200 billion over the next 10 years.

"The BPC report adds that this escalation in deficits isn’t a foregone conclusion. “It is not too late for policymakers to take action to put the federal government on a path to fiscal sustainability,” it says. “As the former public trustees of Medicare and Social Security warned, our most important social programs that are the key drivers of our debt need to be addressed soon to avoid sharp benefit cuts or tax increases. However, given past inaction, we believe significant congressional reform efforts of entitlement programs, the driver of most of the deficits during the 37-year period studied, will continue to be nearly zero in the next year.”

Rosenberg includes the following chart in his report:

 

The Bipartisan Policy Center report can be accessed here.

While we support the tax cuts the President and the Congress are proposing, although we would like a flat a whole lot more -- after all, it's taxpayer money and doesn't belong in the least to the government. However, there is the issue of fiscal responsibility that has to be considered.

Growls readers concerned about fiscal responsibility, and the inter-generational aspects that transfer today's irresponsibility to future generations, are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Ask them what they are doing to bring federal spending and the national debt under control. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 27, 2017

GDP Grows at 3% in 3rd Quarter, Exceeds Expectations

The Washington Examiner's Sean Higgins reported today, "U.S. gross domestic product rose by an annual rate of 3.0 percent in the third quarter of 2017, a higher-than-expected rate in the wake of hurricanes that hit Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico."

He went on to report:

"Analysts were expecting a 2.5 percent increase, and even President Trump was expecting growth under 3 percent because of the storms.

"The Commerce Department said its advance estimate of GDP growth in the third quarter was the result of higher personal spending and investment, and federal government spending.

"Commerce said personal income increased $113.7 billion in the third quarter, a bit lower than the $119.1 billion increase in the second quarter. But the savings rate fell from 3.8 percent to 3.4 percent between the second and third quarters.

"The U.S. is now in the eighth year of the economic recovery from the 2008-9 recession. Consumer prices rose by 1.8 percent in the third quarter, up from 0.9 percent in the second."

The complete report from the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis can be accessed here. The chart below is from the BEA's press release, and shows the real GDP's percent change from the preceding quarter for the years 2013-2017:

 

In reporting on the BEA's GDP report, CNBC.com's Patti Domm provided three talking points:

  • President Trump's goal of 3 percent growth has been reached in two of the last three quarters since he took office.
  • Economists say the trend can continue at least into the fourth quarter, with help from the rebuilding after hurricanes.
  • The White House says now Congress needs to act on tax cuts to keep the momentum going.

The ball is in your court, Congress.

October 26, 2017

Arlington County Officials Threaten Eminent Domain

In an online Arlington Sun Gazette story today, Scott McCaffrey reports "Arlington officials threaten eminent-domain proceedings to obtain industrial parcel," adding whether or not its a prudent step depends on who you ask.

McCaffey explains it this way, writing:

"Arlington County Board members on Oct. 24 voted to authorize County Manager Mark Schwartz to use the government’s eminent-domain powers, if needed, to acquire a property in the Nauck-Four Mile Run corridor for bus storage.

"It was a rare, but not unprecedented, move by the county government to entice – or coerce, depending on your point of view – a property owner to the bargaining table. And it didn’t sit well with the attorney for the owner.

“The county’s action sets a bad precedent,” said Jonathan Kinney of the law firm Bean, Kinney and Korman, who called the government’s behavior “a little bizarre.”

"Kinney represents Arcland, a D.C.-based real-estate firm whose subsidiary owns the properties at 2629 and 2633 Shirlington Road. The county government last year entered into a seven-year lease for the 2.5-acre parcel at 2629 Shirlington Road, where it stores Arlington Transit (ART) buses. Now, the government wants to buy both parcels.

"Kinney – an Arlington legal powerhouse – didn’t quite say it outright, but implied a lack of faith on the part of government officials.

“For some, trust and living up to one’s word is still important,” he told County Board members.

"An appraisal commissioned by the county government pegged the value of the two parcels at nearly $21 million. If Arlington uses its legal power of eminent domain to take the properties, the final value will be determined by a judge.

"The last time the county government publicly threatened to use its eminent-domain power came in 2011, when it announced the desire to acquire a building in the Courthouse area for use as a year-round homeless shelter. Eventually, the Canadian-based ownership group reached an agreement to sell to the county government for a little over $27 million."

According to the County Manager's report to the Board (Agenda Item #35, October 24, 2017 recessed meeting), the property in question is located at 2629 and 2633 Shirlington Road plus an outlot. The report to the Board says "Arlington County has a need for industrially-zoned land located within or immediately proximate to the County to permanently accommodate current and anticipated future County public transit facility needs and uses. After an analysis of industrially-zoned properties located within and immediately proximate to the County, County staff identified the Property as the most suitable property to meet the County’s identified transit facility needs and uses . . . ."

The final vote was 4-1. Additional information is available in an October 24, 2017 press release that includes four talking points:

  • Would meet current and future ART bus parking needs
  • Decision follows exhaustive search for appropriate property
  • Authorizes acquisition by eminent domain if necessary
  • Properties appraised at $20.5 million

Growls readers who are residents and taxpayers in Arlington County, and concerned about the acquisition of the property above, are urged to take a few minutes to make your views known 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.

October 25, 2017

Social Security Administration Spending Passes $1 Trillion Mark

CNSNews.com's editor-in-chief Terry Jeffrey reported today. "In fiscal 2017, real Social Security Administration spending topped $1 trillion for the first time, according (to) data published in the Monthly Treasury Statement. The Social Security Administration spent a total $1,000,812,000,000 in fiscal 2017, according to the Treasury."

He went on to explain:

"That was about 37 times as much as the Department of State spent during the year ($27,061,000,000), 32 times as much as the Department of Justice ($30,977,000,000), and 20 times as much as the Department of Homeland Security ($50,502,000,000).

"The $1,000,812,000,000 spent by the Social Security Administration in fiscal 2017 was also about 76 percent more than the federal government spent on Department of Defense and Military Programs ($568,905,000,000) during the year.

"According to the Monthly Treasury Statement, the only major spending category that absorbed more money than the Social Security Administration in fiscal 2017 was the Department of Health and Human Services, which spent $1,116,764,000,000.

"The combined $2,117,576,000,000 that the federal government spent on HHS and the Social Security Administration in fiscal 2017 equaled 53.2 percent of the $3,980,605,000,000 in total federal spending for the year.

"Real Social Security Administration spending first topped $600 billion in fiscal 1997. It then topped $700 billion in 2006, $800 billion in 2009 and $900 billion in 2013.

"The record $1,000,812,000,000 that the Social Security Administration spent in fiscal 2017, as reported in the Monthly Treasury Statement, encompassed both the Social Security program itself (which includes Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Disability Insurance) and the Supplemental Security Income Program. The latter is administered by the Social Security Administration but is funded by general federal tax revenues."

He also included an interesting discussion of spending in the Treasury report's Table 5 as well as a more interesting e-mail exchange with the SSA regarding Table 5's numbers, as well as links to the Treasury monthly report.

In addition, Jeffrey included the following chant of Fiscal Year 2017 federal spending in his report:

 

Note the observation at the top of the chart that Social Security Administration and HHS, which undoubtedly includes Medicare and Medicaid spending, were responsible for 53.2% of federal spending in FY 2017. Does anyone doubt that so-called entitlement spending is out of control?

Yet amid the recent talk of tax cuts and tax reform, there is virtually no talk about controlling federal spending or reducing the national debt.

Growls readers concerned about fiscal responsibility, and the inter-generational aspects that transfer today's irresponsibility to future generations, are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them they must do something to bring federal spending and the national debt under control. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 24, 2017

Arlington Schools Auditor to Compare Construction Costs

Earlier today, the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported, "The Arlington School Board’s internal auditor plans to take a crack at a vexing question: Why does it cost so much more to build a school in Arlington than elsewhere? Or does really cost that much more, after all?"

McCaffrey continued his report, writing:

"Comparing school construction costs will be part of the work plan of John Mickevice, who on Oct. 19 outlined his 2017-18 efforts to the School Board.

"School officials have agreed to hire an adviser to help Mickevice study school-construction costs. He told School Board members he plans to take an apples-to-apples approach.

“We want the consultant to find school districts that are comparable,” Mickevice said, apparently meaning those with similar extensive community-engagement processes and a focus on environmental sustainability.

"School-construction costs represent “a question that we, and the County Board, get on a regular basis,” said School Board member Nancy Van Doren.

"That Arlington’s school-construction projects come with high costs attached is hardly a surprise. To cite one example: A 2010-11 Virginia Department of Education report compared the cost of the new Wakefield High School with the two other high schools under construction in Virginia that year, and found Arlington’s costs were significantly higher.

"Wakefield cost $202.56 per square foot compared to $148.74 for a new high school in Loudoun County and $120.64 for a new high school in Clarke County, according to state data. On a per-student basis, costs were $40,681 for Wakefield, $31,080 in Loudoun and $26,357 for Clarke County.

"(And while they were not built at exactly the same time, Wakefield’s construction was also significantly more expensive than Alexandria’s new T.C. Williams High School, located just a few miles to the east.)

“We think we have good explanations” for the higher costs of various projects, Van Doren said. “This will be an excellent opportunity to look into that.”

He also quoted your humble scribe:

"Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association (ACTA), said he was gratified that the auditor was taking a look at the situation – and unlike Van Doren, he questioned whether the school system’s explanations for high costs were valid.

“ACTA has frequently pointed out the high cost of new construction,” Wise said. “Hopefully, the internal auditor will be able to tell Arlington taxpayers why it was necessary, for example, to build a school with 143 square feet per pupil and a building cost of almost $289 per square foot for the elementary school at the Williamsburg site, while Prince William County provided 119 square feet per pupil with a building cost of less than $151 per square foot.”

We have frequently growled about the high cost of constructing APS schools, recently here.

Growls readers who are concerned about the cost of constructing by the Arlington Public Schools are encouraged to write to the Arlington School Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 23, 2017

A Thought about Today's Colleges and Universitities

"The biggest cowards in our country today are many, if not most, of our college and university administrators followed closely by a fair amount of their faculty.  They are allowing their institutions to be taken over by a monolithic world view that is increasingly totalitarian and antithetical to the diversity of opinion on which the search for truth depends."

~ Roger L. Simon

Source: his April 27, 2017 Pajamas Medical column.

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

Roger L. Simon is co-founder of PJ Media. His book, Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown, was re-released in an updated edition in 2011, according to his PJ Media biography.

October 22, 2017

Who Paid Federal Taxes in 2015?

A national survey of 1,501 adults by the Pew Research Center in April 2017 reported:

"A majority of Americans now view the federal tax system as unfair, including similar shares of Republicans and Democrats. But partisans differ in their concerns about the tax system, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans to express frustration that some corporations and wealthy people don’t pay their “fair share.'

”Among the public overall, 62% say they are bothered “a lot” by the feeling that some corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes, and 60% say the same about some wealthy people not paying their fair share.

"About four-in-ten (43%) say they are bothered a great deal by the complexity of the system. But with the April 18 tax filing deadline approaching, only about a quarter (27%) say they are bothered a lot by the amount they pay in taxes. And just 20% say that about the feeling that the poor do not pay their fair share of taxes."

The Pew Research Center report contains several charts that readers might find helpful.

Let's take a look at who paid federal income taxes in 2015, the latest year for which data is available. Thanks to Demian Brady, Director of Research at the National Taxpayers Union, posted some helpful information, October 11, 2017, at the NTU/NTUF blog that shows just who pays income taxes by Adjusted Gross Income.

The top 1% earners, i.e., those who had AGIs above $480,930, had a total AGI of 20.65%, and paid paid 39.04% of all personal income taxes, or almost double their AGI. He also compares 2014 and 2015 shares of AG and taxes paid. Here is the chart for Tax Year 2015, which Brady provides:

In his weekly column last week, posted here at Townhall.com, Walter E. Williams observes, "Politicians exploit public ignorance. Few areas of public ignorance provide as many opportunities for political demagoguery as taxation. Today some politicians argue that the rich must pay their fair share and label the proposed changes in tax law as tax cuts for the rich." In addition to discussing individual income tax data, he also discusses corporate taxes as well as tax-related accounting costs.

So when you hear a politician saying the rich need to pay their "fair share," ask them to explain what they mean by "fair share."

And, since the president and the Congress have tax reform plans (see 9/27/17 staff story at The Hill), which they currently hope to get passed before the end of year, now seems an especially important time for Growls readers to make their views known. So take a few minutes to write or call your Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 20, 2017

GOP Congress Sets 2nd Highest Spending Record in History

CNSNews.com editor editor Terry Jeffrey reported today, "Real federal spending in fiscal 2017, which ended on Sept. 30, was higher than in any year in the history of the United States other than fiscal 2009, which was the year that President Barack Obama’s $840 billion stimulus law was enacted."

Jeffrey continues, writing:

"Fiscal 2017 also saw the second highest real federal individual income tax totals of any year in U.S. history, according to the Monthly Treasury Statement released today.

"Total federal tax revenues were the third highest in U.S. history.

"While it was collecting the third highest total tax revenues in U.S. history, the federal government ran a deficit $665,712,000,000 because of its high total spending.

"Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives since 2011, after winning a majority of seats in the 2010 election. They have controlled the Senate since 2015, after winning a majority in the 2014 election. In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, a Congress in which the Republican Party controls both houses was responsible for enacting all federal spending legislation.

"Total federal spending in fiscal 2017, according to the Treasury, was $3,980,605,000,000. Total federal tax revenue was $3,314,893,000,000.

"Prior to this year, the highest level of real federal spending was the $4,024,794,600,000 in constant 2017 dollars (adjusted using the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator) that the Treasury spent in fiscal 2009."

He also reported that tax collections "hit their all-time peak in fiscal 2015" and then dropped slightly in FY 2016 and climbed slightly in FY 2017. In addition, he links to several recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports.

The below chart, from Jeffrey's CNSNews.com report, shows the recent annual growth in federal spending:


Growls readers concerned about fiscal responsibility, and the inter-generational aspects that transfer today's irresponsibility to future generations, are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them they must do something to bring federal spending under control. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 19, 2017

More Government Waste, Fraud and Abuse

The Washington Free Beacon's Ali Meyers reported today, "The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services made $2.4 million in Medicare Parts A and B payments after beneficiaries died, according to an audit from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General."

She continued her report, writing in part:

"The agency is required to implement policies to prevent beneficiary payments from being made to deceased individuals and should ensure that improper payments are recouped if they are made.

"Our objective was to determine whether CMS's policies and procedures ensured that capitation payments were not made to MA [Medicare Advantage] organizations for Medicare Parts A and B services on behalf of deceased beneficiaries after the individuals' dates of death," the auditors said.

"While auditors found that the agency generally had procedures in place to ensure payments were not made to dead people, they found that the agency did not recoup all of the improper payments. Auditors found that as of March 2017 the agency did not recoup $2,420,761 made to 978 dead beneficiaries.

"The agency makes monthly capitation payments to MA organizations, which use the payments to cover Medicare Parts A and B services beneficiaries would normally need.

"At the beginning of each month, CMS makes a capitation payment to each MA organization to cover any medical services provided to each beneficiary in that month," auditors explain. "If CMS receives changes to beneficiary information that would alter previous monthly payments, it adjusts the applicable capitation payment."

"Such adjustments are processed retroactively to the effective date of the change and reported to the MA organizations on monthly payment reports," the auditors said.

"The report found that the agency's data systems were generally effective in signaling when a beneficiary had died so that improper payments were not made."

You can review the entire report, "CMS's Policies and Procedures Were Generally Effective in Ensuring That Capitation Payments Were Not Made After Beneficiaries' Dates of Death (A-07-16-05087)," including both the entire report as well as a "brief" version. Just click here.

October 18, 2017

The Good and the Bad of APS Graduation Data

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey reported today that the Arlington School Board will "dissect good, bad of 2017 graduation data" at its meeting tomorrow, October 19.

According to McCaffrey:

"When it comes to high-school graduations, 2017 proved to be the best of times, and the worst of times, for Arlington Public Schools:

  • The school district recorded the most high-school graduates in its history, or at least since the peak of the Baby Boom more than four decades ago.
  • But the district also saw the highest number of dropouts (101) in four years, a figure that is up from 61 just two years ago.

"What does it all mean, and how are school leaders addressing the issue? The Arlington School Board will be briefed on the matter at its Oct. 19 meeting.

"Superintendent Patrick Murphy has made reducing the dropout rate a key component of his tenure, and for a time efforts seemed to be working well: The number of students recorded as dropouts declined from 157 in 2010 to 140 the next year and then 135, 103 and 82 before bottoming out at 61 in 2015, according to figures reported by the Virginia Department of Education.

"But it then rose to 81 in 2016 and 101 in 2017."

You can watch the School Board meeting live online or on Comcast Channel 70 or Verizon Channel 41

The School Board briefing is a presentation by the Graduation Task Force which was created in 2010 (Monitoring Agenda Item E-2). There are eleven slides in the staff presentation, and includes several informative charts.

We growled about APS highest cost-per-student in the region on November 21, 2016.

Given the implications for taxpayers, we urge Growls readers to write to members of the Arlington School Board on whether the Arlington public schools are performing up to the level of resources, which taxpayers provide to the schools. Tell School Board members there is no need to pay Cadillac prices for a Chevrolet education. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 17, 2017

Where does Virginia Rank on State and Local Tax Collections?

At the Tax Foundation's Tax Policy Blog, Morgan Scarboro, policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, posted an analysis last week of where states rank on state and local tax collections.

She writes in her introduction:

"Total state and local tax collections per capita vary drastically across the country, but the highest collections might surprise you. The three states with the highest state and local collections per capita are North Dakota ($9,746), New York ($8,410), and Alaska ($7,555). The three states with the lowest state and local collections per capita are South Carolina ($3,220), Tennessee ($3,092), and Alabama ($3,002). Most people wouldn’t expect to find North Dakota and Alaska on this list – but their presence points to a bigger story about tax incidence and ways to measure taxes.

"There are many ways to measure taxes – marginal rates, effective rates, collections, tax burdens – and each measure tells a different side of the story. North Dakota and Alaska’s collections per capita are high, because both states collect a significant amount in severance tax revenue. Though the revenue is technically collected in their state, the tax is actually exported and paid by residents of other states who consume oil and gas.

She went on to point out the difference between the economic and legal incidence of the various taxes, and then further notes that "(t)ax exporting can be a significant feature of certain states’ tax codes."

In FY 2014, Virginia ranked #26 in the capita collection of state and local taxes, collecting $4,204 per capita, as shown on the map below:

Growls readers who are concerned about the level of state and local tax collections in Virginia should take a few minutes to write to Governor McAuliffe. Click-on the following link:

Growls readers should also write 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  -- then use one of the "quick links" to locate the senator and delegate who represent you.

Since members of the House of Delegates will appear on the ballots on next month's election, three weeks from today, it's especially important you understand their positions on taxes.

And tell them ACTA sent you.

For information about the Tax Foundation, click here.

October 16, 2017

A Thought about 'Green Energy' Poverty

"For industrialized nations, “green energy poverty” refers to households in which 10% or more of family incomes is spent on household energy costs – due to policies that compel utilities to provide ever increasing amounts of expensive, less affordable, politically preferred “green” energy. It’s a regressive tax that disproportionately affects low and fixed income families which have little money to spend beyond energy, food, clothing, rent and other basic needs. Every energy price increase hammers them harder.

"Beyond our borders, the concept underscores the lot of families that enjoy none of the living standards we take for granted. They have no electricity or get it a few hours a week at random times, burn wood and dung for cooking and heating, and spend hours every day collecting fuel and hauling filthy water from miles away. Corrupt, incompetent governments and constant pressure from callous environmentalist pressure groups in rich countries perpetuate the misery, joblessness, disease, starvation and early death.

"In the United States, green energy policies affect the poorest households three times more than the richest households. In fact, rising electricity prices affect all goods and services, for all electricity users: homes, offices, hospitals, schools, malls, farms and factories. With 37 million American families earning less than $24,000 per year after taxes, and 22 million households taking home less than $16,000 post-tax, it’s pretty obvious why wind and solar mandates are unfair, unsustainable and inhumane."

~ Paul Driessen

HT his April 22, 2017 Townhall column, "Green Energy Poverty Week."

October 15, 2017

A Thought about Social Media

"Social media -- a permanent marinade for the human brain -- is causing a vast, mysterious transformation of how people process experience, and maybe someday a future B.F. Skinner will explain what it has done to us."

~ Daniel Henninger

Source: his June 15, 2017 Wonderland column (behind paywall), "Political Disorder Syndrome," page A15, Wall Street Journal.

October 14, 2017

Chicago Repeals Its Soda Tax

At the National Taxpayers Union's blog on Thursday, Tom Aiello reported that Cook County (Chicago and inner suburbs) realized their mistake and repealed their soda tax after just 71 days.

He went on to explain:

"Yesterday, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to repeal the disastrous sweetened beverage tax. After going into effect back in August, the tax has united 87 percent of residents in opposition due to its adverse economic impacts. With a super majority voting in favor of repeal, shoppers and businesses will no longer have to bear the burden of the penny-per-ounce tax starting December 1st.

"In addition to the county’s sweetened beverage tax, Chicagoans already pay a 3 percent tax on soft drinks. Adding both on top of Chicago’s sales tax rate of 10.25 percent (the highest of any major city), soda sold in the city is among the most expensive in the country. According to research from the Illinois Policy Institute, “a two-liter bottle of pop with a base price of $2.49 now costs $3.49, an effective 40 percent combined tax rate on soda.” In fact, the county’s tax on sweetened beverages is more than five times higher than Illinois’ state tax on beer and alcohol.

"When consumers are faced with higher prices on goods, they will end up reducing their purchase quantity. This law of economics holds true in Chicago as small businesses are struggling to offset  loss of revenue from the lack of soda sales. As a result of sagging sales, employers are  cutting hours from their employees or not filling vacant positions. In total, the impact of Cook County’s beverage is tax devastating with an estimated 6,100 lost jobs, $321 million in lost wages, and $1.3 billion in lost economic activity."

Aiello added that with Cook County having to make up a $200 million shortfall, taxpayers need to be prepared to fight the next proposed tax increase.

The National Taxpayers Union was founded in 1969. For more information about our friends at NTU, click here.

October 13, 2017

A Thought about Prejudices

"Prejudices are what fools use for reason."

~ Voltaire

HT ThinkExist.

October 12, 2017

Americans Say the Sales Tax is the Fairest of Taxes

A survey of 1,000 Americans, published last month by Rasmussen Reports (tm) and conducted September 6 - 7, reported:

"Even as the fight over charging sales tax for online retailers ensues in Congress, Americans still think sales tax is the most fair type of tax they pay. But they’re nearly as likely to see income tax as both the most (and least) fair type of tax today.

"A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 39% of American Adults, when given four chief types of taxation, view a sales tax as the one that is most fair. Thirty percent (30%) rate an income tax as fairest, while eight percent (8%) feel that way about property taxes and 5% consider a payroll tax the most fair. Eighteen percent (18%) are undecided."

Sales taxes seem little more than the state version of the FairTax. For more information about the FairTax, visit the FairTax.org website.

FairTax legislation, S.18, has been sponsored in the 115th Congress (2017-2018) by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), and currently has four co-sponsors. In the House, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Georgia), has sponsored FairTax legislation, H.R. 25, and currently has 45 co-sponsors.

Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, explains the flat tax in this April 2010 U.S. News & World Report article. A brief, seven-page guide to the flat tax, authored by Mitchell, is available at the Heritage Foundation.

With tax cutting and tax reform legislation about to be the major focus of Congress, Growls readers are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them about the Rasmussen survey, and what you think about a flat tax and/or the FairTax. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 11, 2017

Another Thought about Patriotism

 "Our obligations to our country never cease but with our lives."

~ John Adams, letter to Benjamin Rush -- 1808

HT Founders' Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

October 10, 2017

Arlington Public Schools Pass All-Time Enrollment Record

According to the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey today, "It may not be as high as school officials had projected, but Arlington’s student population has now overtaken the previous all-time record, set during the heart of the Baby Boom generation."

A few more details from his reporting include:

"Arlington Public Schools officials submitted an official 2017-18 count of 26,927 students to the Virginia Department of Education, based on the number of youngsters in class on Sept. 30.

"The official count was up 789 students – 3 percent – from a year before, and has now risen 27 percent since the 2010-11 school year.

"And it has now surpassed the previous record of 26,927 students in 1963.

"The official count, submitted annually to state officials by all of Virginia’s school districts, is “the basis for budget planning and planning for next year’s projections,” Superintendent Patrick Murphy said at the Oct. 5 School Board meeting.

"While now at a record high, the enrollment count was below what had been anticipated. “We had projected over 27,000,” Murphy said. The school system could still get there this year, as “we will ebb and flow throughout the year,” he said."

McCaffrey points out that compared to last year, "total enrollment was up 2.8 percent at the elementary-school level, 4 percent at the middle-school level and 2.6 percent at the high-school level,." Surprisingly, he wrote, "Arlington has a smaller percentage of households with school-age children, compared to surrounding jurisdictions."

He didn't mention, however, the cost of those additional 789 students. Using the FY 2017 cost-per-student of $18,957 from the most recent WABE Guide, the FY 2018 cost won't be available until later this month, the additional 789 student will cost Arlington County taxpayers almost $15 million.

Will the Arlington School Board direct the Superintendent to take immediate steps to find $15 million in cost savings to pay for the additional students? We doubt it. Growls readers with questions or comments about the year-to-year growth in enrollment can direct them to the Arlington School Board. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 09, 2017

A Thought about Mass Movements

"The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world."

~ Eric Hoffer

HT Thomas Sowell's Collection of Favorite Quotations.

October 08, 2017

Deregulating America's Regulatory Burden

At his American Enterprise Institute blog last week, James Pethokoukis highlights a new report from the President's Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) on the growth potential of deregulation.

In introducing the report, Pethokoukis reminds us that "not every regulation is a bad one or is preventing sustainable and balanced economic growth. But some do, and the report correctly highlights occupational licensing as one barrier to labor market entry. Regulation that empowers incumbents over challengers is what I worry about. Bans on plastic water bottles in national parks, less so."

Here is the CEA report's summary:

"Excessive regulation is a tax on the economy, costing the U.S. an average of 0.8 percent of GDP growth per year since 1980. This taxation by regulation has increased sharply in recent years, with approximately 500 new economically significant regulations created over the last eight years alone. Through a thorough review of the literature, the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) finds that deregulation will stimulate U.S. GDP growth."

Pethokoukis presents a picture of America's regulatory burden in five charts, including a chart comparing the regulatory burden borne by the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, which appears below:

 

So take a few minutes to scan the other four charts that Pethokoukis highlights. The 18-page CEA report discusses each of the charts more fully. It contains almost three pages of references.

Finally, we growled on June 12, 2017 pointing out the cost and burden of federal regulations is $1.9 trillion, based upon the most recent report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Growls readers are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Tell them what you think about the cost burden of federal regulations. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

And ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 06, 2017

Record 154.3 Million Americans Employed

In response to today's Labor Department jobs report, CNS News' Susan Jones reports, "Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are long gone, and despite dire predictions, they did not dampen the September jobs report in most key areas."

She explained her lede this way, writing:

"The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday said the labor force participation rate of 63.1 percent reached a high for the year in September, up two-tenths of a point from August.

"The number of employed Americans reached 154,345,000 in September, setting a sixth record since January. As the number of employed Americans reached an all-time high, the number of unemployed Americans in September -- 6,801,000 -- hasn't been this low since May 2007.

"The already low unemployment rate dropped another two-tenths of a point to 4.2 percent last month. That is the lowest since early 2001.

"BLS noted that the recent hurricanes had "no discernible effect on the national unemployment rate."

"The number of Americans not in the labor force declined a bit in September to 94,417,000. The record, set in the final full month of the Obama presidency, stands at 95,102,000 Americans not in the labor force.

"On the negative side, BLS said no new jobs were added in September: In fact, BLS counts a job loss of 33,000, and it blamed the net effect of the two hurricanes for the negative jobs-added number.

"BLS noted that a “steep” employment decline in food services and drinking places and below-trend growth in some other industries likely reflected the impact of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Employment rose in health care and in transportation and warehousing.

"BLS said job gains have averaged 91,000 over the past three months.

"And wages are going up: In September, average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 12 cents to $26.55. Over the past 12 months, average hourly earnings have increased by 74 cents, or 2.9 percent,, BLS said."

The Washington Free Beacon's Ali Meyer also reported on the report from the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), writing:

"The number of employed Americans hit a record high of 154,345,000 in September, according to the latest numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"There were 906,000 more Americans who gained employment over the month, and more individuals joined the labor force as well.

"There were 575,000 more Americans who joined the labor force in September, while 368,000 fewer left.

"The number of Americans not participating in the labor force declined from 94,785,000 in August to 94,417,000 in September. The bureau counts those not in the labor force as people who do not have a job and did not actively seek one in the past four weeks.

"The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that has a job or actively looked for one in the past month, increased from 62.9 percent in August to 63.1 percent in September. The participation rate hasn’t been this high since March of 2014."

Meyer also observed, "The unemployment rate for all Americans declined from 4.4 percent in August to 4.2 percent in September, which is the lowest level seen in 16 years."

The Wall Street Journal's economics blog provides several reports about the BLS jobs report. These include: 1) 9 charts; 2) the numbers; 3) economists reactions; and 4) five things to watch for in the report.

The BLS' employment situation report is available here.

October 05, 2017

A Thought about America

"The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind."

~ Thomas Paine, Common Sense -- 1776

Source: Founder's Quote Database, The Patriot Post.

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

"Thomas Paine, (born January 29, 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England—died June 8, 1809, New York, New York, U.S.), English-American writer and political pamphleteer whose Common Sense and “Crisis” papers were important influences on the American Revolution. Other works that contributed to his reputation as one of the greatest political propagandists in history were Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution and of republican principles; and The Age of Reason, an exposition of the place of religion in society." (Encyclopedia Britannica)

October 04, 2017

Improving Government with a $250,000 Chandelier?

The Washington Free Beacon's Elizabeth Harrington reported today that "Fannie Mae charged taxpayers $250,000 for a chandelier."

According to Investopedia, "Fannie Mae (officially the Federal National Mortgage Association, or FNMA) is a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE)," and operates under Congressional charter." Its stock has been publicly traded since 1968.

Harrington began her report, writing:

"Fannie Mae is charging taxpayers millions for upgrades to its new headquarters, including $250,000 for a chandelier.

"The inspector general for the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), which acts as a conservator for the mortgage lender, recently noted $32 million in questionable costs in an audit for Fannie Mae's new headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

"Fannie Mae will be the flagship of Midtown Center, which is scheduled to complete construction in June 2018. The inspector general reported that costs for the new headquarters have "risen dramatically," to $171 million, up from $115 million when the consolidated headquarters was announced in 2015."

She continued her reporting, writing:

"The inspector general blamed expensive upgrades for cost overruns, such as a third glass walkway costing $2 million to connect Fannie Mae buildings, $1.2 million for "decorative wood slatted ceilings," decorative wood "lunch huts," and pergolas, or garden-style pavilions, in elevator lobbies.

"FHFA officials have had poor oversight of the project, according to the inspector general, because they "did not review whether any of the major upgrades were cost-effective or whether lower cost alternatives were available."

"Among the upgrades: a $250,000 chandelier that no one was quite sure what it was for.

"For example, we identified an upgrade in the 80 [percent] General Contractor construction design documents identified as a $250,000 chandelier," the inspector general said. "The expert's representative explained that the expert first thought it was a light fixture but learned later that it was an ‘architectural feature' for the trading room, intended to ‘evoke' the activity in that room and assumed that this feature was part of some ‘government art program.'"

"The acting deputy director of the FHFA told the inspector general he was "unaware" of the pricey chandelier, but said he would "question the expenditure of $250,000 for a piece of art."

"We found no evidence, however, that FHFA has ever challenged this expenditure," the inspector general said.

"After the inspector general inquired about the chandelier, officials scrapped plans for a $150,000 "hanging key sculpture," and $985,000 for "decorative screens" in a conference room."

Harrington concluded by noting the pushback from the FHFA director:

"FHFA director Watt pushed back against the report and said the new Fannie Mae headquarters will "benefit taxpayers."

"I consider the build-out features reasonable, cost-effective and consistent with my responsibilities under the law and I, therefore, did not object to them," he wrote in response to the audit. "Some of these relate to the effective and efficient operation of Fannie Mae's market room, which provides critical capital markets financial services to help support and sustain the U.S. housing market."

Sure looks as if more of the proverbial swamp needs draining.

Growls readers concerned about government waste at Fannie Mae, or another of the so-called government-sponsored enterprises, are encouraged to take a few minutes to write or call their Congressional representatives. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. 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

Be sure to ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

October 03, 2017

Arlington's Unemployment Rate Stiill Lowest in Virginia

The weekly Arlington Sun Gazette reported yesterday that "Arlington’s jobless rate stood unchanged from July to August, retaining its position as lowest in the commonwealth, according to new data."

The Sun Gazette provided additional details, including:

"With 146,881 county residents employed in the civilian workforce and 3,721 looking for jobs, Arlington’s August unemployment rate of 2.5 percent was the same as a month before, according to the Virginia Employment Commission.

"Unemployment rates across Northern Virginia in August changed little on a month-to-month basis, remaining unchanged at 2.8 percent in Falls Church; 2.9 percent in Alexandria; 3.1 percent in Fairfax County and in Loudoun County; and 3.4 percent in Prince William County.

"Across Northern Virginia as a whole, August’s unemployment rate of 3.2 percent – unchanged from July – represented 1,578 million employed and about 51,600 looking for jobs.

"Statewide, the non-seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate was up a tick to 3.9 percent, with 4.17 million employed and 165,000 seeking jobs."

The chart below was included in the Sun Gazette's reporting:

The Sun Gazette observed that Virginia's unemployment rate ranked the state 19th nationally.

October 02, 2017

How High are Excise Taxes in Virginia?

Morgan Scarboro, Tax Foundation policy analyst, looked at the amount of excise tax collections in each state last week at the the Foundation's Tax Policy Blog.

She sets the context for the blog post, writing:

"Excise taxes are particular taxes levied on specific goods or activities, not general tax bases like income or consumption. Some excise taxes are fairly well-known to the public, like cigarette or alcohol taxes, but others are more hidden, like taxes on admission for amusement businesses.

"On average, these excise taxes make up a relatively small portion of state and local tax revenue – about 11 percent – but per capita collections vary widely among states. Vermont has the highest state and local collections at $1,068 per capita, followed by Nevada with $910, and Hawaii with $885 in collections per capita.

"On the other hand, some states collect relatively little per capita in state and local excise taxes. South Carolina collects $317 per capita, Arizona collects $301, and Idaho collects the least in the country with only $292 per capita."

As can be seen on the Tax Foundation map below, Virginia ranks #31 in excise tax collections, based on FY 2014 excise tax collections of $466.

 

Scarboro closes with the following caution:

"We’ve written extensively about the challenges associated with various excise taxes. Cigarette tax revenue is unstable. The soda tax has serious unintended consequences, particularly as they pertain to health. Most of these excise taxes are regressive.

"Excise taxes are typically either propped up as a way to either reduce consumption of a good or raise revenue, but these goals contradict each other. Reduced consumption naturally leads to a decline in revenue. Excise taxes are also often touted as a quick way to fill budget shortfalls. However, legislators should fund important policy priorities with broad-based, stable taxes, not narrow and nonneutral tax policy."

For information about the Tax Foundation, click here.