May 25, 2016

A Thought about a Lottery

"A lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math."

~ Anonymous

Source: page 38, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

May 24, 2016

Individuals and Businesses Drowning in Ever More Red Tape

The Heritage Foundation released their latest report on the regulatory state yesterday, entitled "Red Tape Rising 2016: Obama Regs Top $100 Billion Annually." The authors are senior research fellows James Gattuso and Diane Katz.

Writing in the Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal, the two researchers point out that 20,642 regulations were added during the Obama presidency." Here's the lede:

"The tide of red tape that threatens to drown U.S. consumers and businesses surged yet again in 2015, according to a Heritage Foundation study we released on Monday.

"More than $22 billion per year in new regulatory costs were imposed on Americans last year, pushing the total burden for the Obama years to exceed $100 billion annually."

According to Gattuso and Katz, "These are just a few of the 2,353 regulations of 2015—and there have been 20,642 since Obama took office in 2009."

Here's the summary from their 22-page report (Backgrounder #3127, May 23, 2016):

"The number and cost of federal regulations increased substantially in 2015, as regulators continued to tighten restrictions on American businesses and individuals. The addition of 43 new major rules last year increased annual regulatory costs by more than $22 billion, bringing the total annual costs of Obama Administration rules to an astonishing $100 billon-plus in just seven years.

"The effects of this rampant rulemaking are widespread. Among them: higher energy rates from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Clean Power Plan”; increased food prices for both people and pets as a result of excessively prescriptive food production standards; restricted access to credit for consumers and small businesses under Dodd–Frank financial regulations; fewer health care choices and higher medical costs because of the Affordable Care Act; and reduced Internet investment and innovation under the network neutrality rules dictated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

"The tide of regulation is expected to rise even higher in 2016—President Barack Obama’s final year in the White House. Historically, rulemaking increases as Presidents scramble to fulfill their regulatory agenda before leaving office. With 144 new rules already in the pipeline, Americans should be prepared for a regulatory surge before year’s end.

"In a post-Obama era, the need for reform of the regulatory system will be greater than ever before. Immediate reforms should include the requirement that legislation undergo an impact analysis before a floor vote in Congress, as well as a requirement that every major regulation obtain congressional approval before taking effect. Sunset deadlines should be required for all major rules, and independent agencies should be subject to the same White House regulatory review as executive branch agencies."

The following chart, showing the number and costs due to major regulations during both the Bush and Obama presidencies, is from the Gattuso and Katz paper:

The paper contains additional charts, which serve to make the report more understandable.

Growls readers. Please take a few minutes to look further at the Backgrounder. Is it any wonder the economy is mired in stagnation? Then write to a member of Congress to express your views about this excessive burden of the regulatory state. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And tell them ACTA sent you.

May 23, 2016

A Thought about "Settled Science"

"Masking opinions in a white smock is a brilliant, albeit infuriating and shabby, rhetorical tactic. As the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Science is the language of facts, and when people pretend to be speaking it, they’re not only claiming that their preferences are more than mere opinions, they’re also insinuating that anyone who disagrees is a fool or a zealot for objecting to “settled science.”

"Put aside the fact that there is no such thing as settled science. Scientists are constantly questioning their understanding of things; that is what science does. All the great scientists of history are justly famous for overturning the assumptions of their fields. The real problem is that in politics, invocations of science are very often marketing techniques masquerading as appeals to irrefutable authority. In an increasingly secular society, having science on your side is better than having God on your side – at least in an argument.

"I’m not saying that you can’t have science in your corner, or that lawmakers shouldn’t look to science when making policy. (Legislation that rejects the existence of gravity makes for very silly laws indeed.) But the real intent behind so many claims to “settled science” is to avoid having to make your case. It’s an undemocratic technique for delegitimizing opposing views and saying “shut up” to dissenters.

"For example, even if the existence of global warming is “settled,” the policies for how to best respond to it are not. But in the political debates about climate change, activists say that their climatological claims are irrefutable and so are their preferred remedies."

~ Jonah Goldberg

Source: his 5/20/16 National Review Online essay, "Who are the real deniers of science?" also posted at American Enterprise Institute.

HT Red Eye Radio.

May 22, 2016

Federal Government Waste: What does the Data Show?

It's not a pretty picture. According to an editorial posted Friday evening by Investor's Business Daily (IBD), "The federal government wasted more than $100 billion on overpayments last year. It knows this, even tracks it, but somehow can’t seem to stop it. Is there a better indication that government is too big?"

The federal government even has an official website -- PaymentAccuracy.gov -- that is replete with charts and data.

The term most often used with this government waste is improper payment.  Improper payments occur when either (from the frequently asked questions (FAQ) webpage):

  • federal funds go to the wrong recipient,
  • the recipient receives the incorrect amount of funds (either an underpayment or overpayment),
  • documentation is not available to support a payment, or
  • the recipient uses federal funds in an improper manner.

IBD writes in their editorial:

"Last year, the government made $126 billion in overpayments, nearly double the amount of made in President Bush’s last year.

"Improper payments in Medicare, for example, went from $10 billion in 2008 to $43 billion last year; and for Medicaid, the figured jumped from $19 billion to $29 billion.

"The Payment Accuracy site notes that the government also underpaid by $11 billion last year. Still, at $115 billion, the net overpayment just in 2015 is massive.

"It is, for example, equal to the combined budgets of the Departments of Justice, Energy, Interior, State and the EPA for 2015.

"It’s twice as much all the income taxes paid by everyone making less than $50,000.

"It’s roughly equal to the combined 2015 profits of Apple, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Google, Pfizer and Comcast."

Let me repeat those last paragraphs since they are truly mind-boggling (emphasis added):

"It’s twice as much all the income taxes paid by everyone making less than $50,000.

"It’s roughly equal to the combined 2015 profits of Apple, Exxon Mobil, Wal-Mart, Google, Pfizer and Comcast."

Another way to look at the total amount of improper payments, consider the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) threshold in 2013 for the top 25% of taxpayers was $74,955 while the AGI threshold to be in the top 50% was $36,841, according to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) analysis of who pays federal income taxes.

The editorial reminds us that some improper payments can be for the correct amount, but lack documentation. However, they point out:

" . . . But Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University who has studied these data, says the figures on waste are probably too low. She notes that Harvard University’s Malcolm Sparrow says that 20% of federal spending on health care programs could result from fraud.

“The government has become so big that no one is accountable, oversight is impossible, and no one seems to care at all,” she writes.

"And, indeed, if you bother to read audits from agency inspectors general or the Government Accountability Office, you’ll be treated to an endless stream of depressing examples of rampant mismanagement of taxpayer funds."

Take a few minutes to browse the data and charts at the PaymentAccuracy.gov website, and then write to a member of Congress to express your views about this form of federal government waste. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Thomas website (use left-hand column). Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -  write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (5/23/16): Title rewritten into a question.

May 21, 2016

A Thought about Over-Taxation

"Over-taxation cost England her colonies of North America."

~ Edmund Burke

Source: page 44, "As Certain as Death: Quotations About Taxes," 2010, compiled by Jeffrey L. Yablon, TaxAnalysts.com.

May 20, 2016

New CIP "Seeks No Additional Funds for Aquatics Center"

The Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey continues flushing out details of the County Manager's proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) today. According to McCaffrey:

"Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz fulfilled a pledge on the Long Bridge Park aquatics center, saying the project can be completed without going to voters for a third round of funding.

“We’re not requesting any additional resources” and should be able to move the project forward with funds already approved in referendums, Schwartz told County Board members on May 17, opting not to include a request for additional cash in his 10-year capital-improvement plan.

"Schwartz in April proposed a 73,000-square-foot aquatics complex – down from 116,000 square feet – that would cost $40 million to $44 million to build (not including design, project-management and contingency fees). He was following up on a March 2015 County Board directive, calling for staff to revisit the aquatics-center concept after it had been put on hold by then-County Manager Barbara Donnellan.

"In 2004, county voters approved bond funding for the entire Long Bridge Park complex in Crystal City, but higher-than-anticipated costs, and a more grandiose concept of what the facility should be, led government leaders to put more funding for the facility on a 2012 park bond.

"Voters approved the 2012 bond, but sent a warning shot over the bow: Its margin of victory – 63 percent – was about 20 percentage points lower than for several other bonds on the 2012 ballot, including those for schools and Metro.

"From there, things got worse for the effort to build the facility. Estimated costs both for construction and operation ballooned, and the aquatics center joined Artisphere, the Columbia Pike streetcar system and “million-dollar” bus stops as symbols of the Arlington government’s capital-spending overreach."

Scroll down to yesterday's Growls where we embedded links to make it easier to access such source documents as the county's press release; the CIP, and the Manager's PowerPoint presentation of the CIP to the Arlington County Board.

Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice concerns about the proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

May 19, 2016

Flushing Out Details of Metro Bond Referenda

Beginning Sunday, May 15, we started growling about the amount that Arlington County taxpayers subsidize Metro -- see our May 15 and May 16 Growls; yesterday, we growled about the FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which the County Manager proposed Tuesday evening.

Today, Scott McCaffrey of the Arlington Sun Gazette reported the Arlington County Manager is seeking $30 million for Metro in this fall's bond referenda. According to McCaffrey:

"The Arlington County government’s subsidy to operate the Metro system will amount to about $130 for every county resident over the next two years, based on the county manager’s bond-referendum proposal detailed May 17.

"Mark Schwartz is seeking $30 million for Metro funding, up 31 percent, as part of a $59 million transportation referendum likely to go to voters on Nov. 8. The proposal also calls for $24 million for paving and road maintenance, up 27 percent from what was included in the 2014 transportation bond passed by voters.

"Rising costs for Metro come even as Arlington is looking to lighten its load by moving more transit service to the less-costly ART bus service. The $30 million spending proposal doesn’t count interest costs that will accrue during the life of the bonds."

The $30 million for Metro is almost half of the $59 million the Manager is proposing in the Metro and Transportation bond referenda. Over the next 10 years, though, the Manager proposes spending $1.3 billion, or just over 46% of the total 10-year, CIP, for transportation programs.

According to the press release explaining the CIP, the fall bond referenda for Metro and transportation would spend:

  • Metro – fulfilling our ongoing commitment – $30 million, a 31 percent increase from the 2014 referenda ($23 million).
  • Paving – maintaining our roads – $24 million a 27 percent increase over the last CIP

Additional information is available beginning at the Capital Improvement Plan webpage. From there, you can access the FY 2017 -- 2026 CIP; the Manager's PowerPoint presentation of the CIP to the County Board; and, the seven chapters of the FY 2017 -- 2026 CIP.

Growls readers are urged to write to members of the Arlington County Board to voice concerns about the proposed FY 2017 -- 2026 Capital Improvement Plan. Just click-on the link below:

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

And tell them ACTA sent you.

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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister