Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What do they do with all that money??

In light of the recent headlines and talks of $700 billion bailouts and ever-increasing government spending, we thought we'd highlight some states who are shining a brighter light on their own spending practices to give taxpayers more of an idea of just how their hard-earned money is being spent.

The Sunshine Review Blog, a project of the Sam Adams Alliance, focuses specifically on transparency and accountability in government spending. In the past week, they've recognized a couple states who are already drilling down for more details on state spending.

Rhode Island: "The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition (RISC) has released The Money Trail, a transparency website aimed at giving Rhode Islanders more information on how their government spends taxpayer dollars at multiple levels, as well as providing a platform for educated action."

Maine: " “We want to show Maine taxpayers — down to the agency, person and penny — where their dollars go. How can you get the most bang for the taxpayer’s buck?” Tarren Bragdon of the Maine Heritage Policy Center explained to the Bangor Daily News as the reason for launching a new website, "

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Breaking News: "Government misuses taxpayer dollars!"

Last chance to answer the "Question of the Day" below!

In other news, this fun tidbit from Cato's At-Liberty Blog: reports that one-third of recently surveyed federal managers believe “government misuses taxpayer dollars.” While I applaud this bunch for their honesty, I’m stupefied that any federal manager would say otherwise. One need only peruse the morning news to see that Uncle Sam’s spawn fritter away taxpayer dollars incessantly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

State's Right -To Mess it Up

First, don't forget to check out Delegate Saxman's "Question of the Day" below and share your thoughts!

In other news, Dr. Art Laffer presents research on "What Makes a State Competitive" for the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

With people, products, and capital free to move from state to state, state governments are ultimately competitors. Pro-growth and anti-growth state economic policies influence decisions on whether, where, and how much to work, save, and invest. These policies influence the ability of a state to retain and attract residents and businesses. The evidence suggests that pro-growth policies result in higher after-tax returns, increased economic activity, and an eventual improvement in overall state fiscal health; anti-growth policies result in the opposite effects.

Virginia earns a ranking of 6th (following Utah, Arizona, South Dakota, Wyoming and Tennessee), which is respectable, and places us ahead of most other states in our region, however it does leave us room for improvement. Though the report is focused on Texas, it is insightful into what factors make one state more economically competitve than another.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Question of the Day

So it's been awhile since my last post, but with the kids back in school and the start of Fall, I figure it is time to get back to blogging.

I know the focus on everyone's minds is the 2008 presidential election. But since we're not a political blog here, I want to try and steer away from that debate. That doesn't mean we can't talk about policy though, and with that in mind, I'll be starting a new "Question of the Day" here on the blog to get your thoughts on policy agenda items for the next administration.

So let's get started. Today's question:

What is the most useless department in the federal government?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Thoughts from Ted Nugent

He is a rock legend, but that hasn't stopped Ted Nugent from being vocal advocate for smaller government, as evidenced by this column from Human Events, "Sheep in Sheeps Clothing."

Not one to mince words, Ted writes:

The entrenched liberal paradigm is to grow and sustain Fedzilla, the amorphous blob that is gobbling up more and more of our tax dollars and in the process, becoming more and more unresponsive and unaccountable to its employers—you and me, the American taxpayer.

No one who’s smarter than a two-week old puppy seriously believes Fedzilla is a paragon of efficiency or respects the best interest of the American people.

He certainly doesn't sugar-coat the truth!

But Ted doesn't just complain about the size and growth of government, he puts forward some ideas for what we must do to change the system. They aren't realy new ideas, but Ted presents them in a very blunt and direct manner. Maybe that's what it'll take to get someone to listen!

Conservatives should commission a panel of private industry representatives to do a top to bottom review of Fedzilla for the purpose of identifying cost savings by transferring Fedzilla agencies and departments to the private sector, whose goal is to be efficient so that profits are maximized.

Regardless what the Fedzilla supporters write and pass, conservatives should put forth a separate balanced budget each year.

Conservatives must work hard to destroy the current burdensome, complicated tax system and replace it with a simpler, fairer system.

Conservatives should put forth a plan to reduce the overall size of the federal government by 6 ½% each year for next four years so that within four years the size of the federal government is reduced by 25% percent. Tax cuts without reducing spending are meaningless. The savings will be used to pay off our ten trillion dollar debt.

Reducing spending. Something politicians on all levels of government could do more of to benefit their constituents- the American taxpayers.

So he may not be the most politically-correct or subtle guy, but Ted Nugent is willing to call it like he sees it, and his challenge is one worth paying attention to.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Patriotic? Here's an idea for you...

So by now we've all heard Joe Biden's comments from ABC's "Good Morning America" where he tells folks that paying higher taxes (and redistribution of wealth) are patriotic.

Really, Joe? Things must be different up there in Delaware (or maybe in Washington, DC).

Last I checked though, turning over more money to the government for them to waste on bridges to nowhere and monuments to sitting Congressmen (thanks, Charlie Rangel!).

But the good folks over at the Heritage Foundation have a better idea. They write that "Real Patriots Cut Taxes," which sounds like a much better plan to help build our economy.

Over the last decade almost every member of the European Union has cut its corporate tax rate. Germany cut its rate from almost 40% to nearly 30%. The United Kingdom reduced its rate to 28% from 30%. Even the famous Scandinavian welfare states have gotten in on the corporate tax cutting game. Sweden and Norway both dropped their corporate tax rate to 28%, down from 60% and 50%, respectively. Meanwhile, the U.S. corporate tax rate, after averaging in state corporate tax rates, is stuck at 39%. This is higher than all 27 members of the EU.

High corporate tax rates are undermining U.S. international competitiveness. In today’s global economy, high rates deter companies from taking advantage of new market opportunities in countries they otherwise would be eager to compete in. According to the
2008 Index of Economic Freedom, the U.S. has the fifth-freest economy in the world (behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Ireland and Australia). Of the top 10 freest economies in the world, the U.S. has the highest corporate tax
. Even seventh-ranked Canada has joined the tax cutting crowd. Canadians recently cut their corporate tax rate to 19.5% and they have already scheduled another cut in their corporate tax rate to 15% by 2012.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the fast track to disaster

While we are very supportive of alternative solutions to our transportation needs in the Commonwealth, as we noted in yesterday's post, some solutions are certainly better than others.

Solutions that can't deliver and end up costing taxpayers far more than they should are never good ideas, as evidenced by the Reason Foundation's latest study of California's venture into high-speed rail.

From the press release: California's High-Speed Rail System Will Cost Tens of Billions More Than Estimated, Adding to State Deficit, Reason notes:

The high-speed rail system will cost tens of billions more than advertised and ridership numbers will be much lower than predicted, according to a due diligence report on the California High-Speed Rail Authority's plans.

Yikes! Tens of billions more?? That's no small change, even for California!

"The current high-speed rail plan is a fairy tale," said Adrian Moore, Ph.D., vice president of research at Reason Foundation and the study's project director. "The proposal suggests these high-speed trains will be the fastest ever; the most-ridden ever; the cheapest ever; and will convince millions of Californians they no longer need to drive or fly. Offering up a best-case scenario is one thing, but actually depending on all of these miracles to happen simultaneously is irresponsible public policy."

Fairy tales might make good bedtime stories, but they rarely make good public policy.

Click here to read the full report.

View the brief on just how big a financial boondoggle this may be here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


For some time, we here at the VACostCutting Blog have talked about alternative ideas to address Virginia's transportation needs. We've discussed various ideas about privatization, fixing a seriously flawed federal funding system, public-private partnerships for maintenance, as well as HOT lanes.

And now, HOT lanes are becoming a reality in Virginia.

The process of adding High Occupancy Toll lanes to the Capital Beltway in Virginia is under way, forcing motorists to be aware of new traffic patterns. The $1.9 billion project will introduce express toll lanes to the Beltway, allowing commuters to pay to use the lanes and speed past traffic delays in the normal travel lanes.

This is a good thing for Virginia commuters, and we look forward to seeing more innovative solutions to our transportation needs in the Commonwealth.

Economic Freedom on the Decline?

At least here in the United States according to the latest annual report on "Economic Freedom of the World," from the Cato Institute and the Fraser Institute of Canada.

The foundations of economic freedom are personal choice, voluntary exchange, and open markets. As Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich Hayek have stressed, freedom of exchange and market coordination provide the fuel for economic progress. Without exchange and entrepreneurial activity coordinated through markets, modern living standards would be impossible.

Potentially advantageous exchanges do not always occur. Their realization is dependent on the presence of sound money, rule of law, and security of property rights, among other factors. Economic Freedom of the World seeks to measure the consistency of the institutions and policies of various countries with voluntary exchange and the other dimensions of economic freedom. The report is copublished by the Cato Institute, the Fraser Institute in Canada and more than 70 think tanks around the world.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Breaking down education spending

We like videos!

This quick video from the Heritage Foundation gives a quick look at education spending in the United States and provides some basic, but important, facts to remember when looking at the issue of education reform.

Paying for all the government

The folks over at Bearing Drift as the question, which would you prefer: "Oil Revenues or Tax Hikes?"

State Senator Frank Wagner says Virginia could net $200 million a year in new revenues from safe, environmentally sensitive offshore drilling. Imagine what that could do to alleviate our transportation infrastructure challenges - without raising taxes.

What, you mean there are solutions that don't involve higher taxes?!

Competition Inspires

John Stossel, Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell discuss school choice and how free market principles should be applied to improve education in America in this great video.

Friday, September 12, 2008

School choice saves $$$

Visit School Choice Virginia to learn more.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Drew Carey takes on traffic

Drew Carey takes a look at ideas to address traffic congestion- without using taxpayer dollars- in this episode of the Drew Carey Project at

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A sad day in Virginia

It is with great sadness that we read the latest edition of Bacon's Rebellion only to learn that the publisher, Jim Bacon, has announced that this will be his final edition of the e-zine.

For anyone not familiar with Bacon's Rebellion (and we're sure most of the readers of this blog are quite familiar as we have referenced their articles on countless occassions), you have been missing out on the best publication in Virginia dedicated to government and reform. Over the years, Jim has solicited articles from some of the best minds in policy and politics, and they have shared many insightful looks into what Virginia does well, and what we can do better.

As Jim explains:

Our writers explored how Virginians should respond to the challenges of globalization, the Knowledge Economy and the depletion of our natural capital. We railed against complacency and challenged the status quo. We advocated the wholesale transformation of outmoded institutions that no longer work well -- from education to economic development, from transportation to land use, from energy to the environment.

And they have done it so well for so long. They have stimulated debate, and hopefully changed the way that at least some in government look at the way we do business.

The good news is that Jim assures us this will not be the end of Bacon's Rebellion as a publication, but his presence will certainly be missed. We hope that Jim will not completely leave the discussion he has started with Bacon's Rebellion. As we all know, it is an on-going discussion on how we can make our great Commonwealth an even greater place to live, work, run a business and raise a family, and we know that Jim still has plenty left to say on how we can all work to accomplish these goals.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Where does all that money go?

Not to the transportation projects that need it, reports Dr. Ronald Utt at the Heritage Foundation.

Seems like it isn't just Virginia that has the problem using transportation dollars in a way that will actually benefit motorists and ease traffic congestion. Dr. Utt reports that the federal Highway Trust Fund is being looted by Congress for a number of projects that are doing nothing to actually address pressing transportation needs.

In "Congress Undermines America's Infrastructure by Looting the Highway Trust Fund," Dr. Utt writes:

Among the many reasons these congressional tax-and-spend schemes will fail to relieve worsening traffic congestion and road deterioration is that less than two-thirds of current federal surface transportation spending is devoted to the general purpose roads that the typical motorist or truck driver (who finances the fund) use in the ordinary course of travel. The other third goes to a growing collection of costly diversions that have little to do with the mobility needs of the average motorist or to the economically essential movement of freight.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Spicing Up Budgeting!

Ah, budgets.... not exactly the most exciting topic of conversation, but the folks in Nevada are adding a little spice to things... some SAGE to be precise.

Okay, well maybe that's going a bit far, but when faced with a billion dollar budget shortfall (where have we heard that before??), the Governor implemented a Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) Commission.

From the order establishing the Commission:

WHEREAS, Nevada continues to be one of the fastest growing states in the nation, resulting in dramatic increases in government expenditures over the past thirty years. Specifically, the total state budget has increased by 35.3% (per capita, adjusted for inflation) since 1979; and

WHEREAS, it is incumbent on any responsible government to ensure that its expenditures are reasonable, responsible, and prudent, particularly when a state continues to experience rapid population growth with a corresponding increase in government expenditures; and

WHEREAS, the wise and responsible use of taxpayer dollars is a goal that all public officials should support and strive for; and

WHEREAS, it is imperative that state government maintain a low tax burden on its citizens while still providing essential state services; and

WHEREAS, a careful examination of state expenditures by an objective, neutral and bi-partisan body will help provide increased government efficiency and accountability and ensure that state government operates within its means and in a responsible manner; and

Wow- isn't it nice to have a Governor support keeping the tax budget low and opt for examining government efficiency and accountability rather than going right for a tax hike?

The folks over at Reason's "Out of Control" blog take a closer look as the SAGE Commission prepares its first set of recommendations.

We look forward to seeing the work of Nevada's SAGE Commission, and we wish them the best in implementing those recommendations, for as we know, that is often the hardest part...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

No wonder they don't like transparency!

The folks over at the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) took a closer look at Missouri's use of taxpayer funds, and the findings were shocking.

NTU reports: "Missouri Tax Dollars Spent at Beauty Salons, Bra Shops, and Donut Bakeries, Review Finds."

Bra shops? Seriously? What's worse- apparently this was an on-going expenditure, totalling more than $15,000 over 8 years! I'd honestly like to see someone try and explain that one. I realize it is a relatively small amount out of an overall state budget, but that is no excuse.

A review by the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU) of an online database listing Missouri's public expenditures found more than $2.4 million of taxpayer money spent for questionable purposes over the past eight years, including purchases made at bakeries, beauty salons, bra stores, coffee shops, and picture-framing galleries, among others.

Kudos to NTU for their efforts to expose this type of wasteful spending. Now if we could only get a clear picture of where all of Virginia's tax dollars were being spent...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Haven't we said this before?

School choice saves money!

So many times it seems like the only solution politicians have for "fixing" education is to pour more money into a broken system. But time and time again we have seen that more money doesn't seem to be making things any better.

And as we have discussed before here at the VA Cost Cutting Blog, school choice can save money and improve education at the same time.

Our friends over at School Choice Virginia have a new post on their blog today looking at the issue of school funding and the tired argument that choice would "take money away from public schools."

They reference a new article from the Heartland Institute that looks into the actual numbers, and shows that:

The data prove the superiority of school choice. With vouchers, the government can completely fund poor students in failing districts to attend successful public or private alternatives, and could save on average up to 30 percent of their currently reported education costs, and probably a lot more since those costs are undoubtedly being routinely underestimated, as Coulson notes.

These millions of saved dollars could be used to increase the overall per-pupil funding in the remaining public schools -- which is exactly what the anti-voucher advocates are calling for.

Save money? Improve education? Sounds like a win-win situation for everyone- especially for our students.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Survey says...

Citizens don't think they're getting their money's worth from local government!

The Richmond Times Dispatch is reporting that Richmond's auditor's office has released a survey of 800 city residents, and the majority are reporting they don't think they city government is doing a good job spending their tax dollars.

Of note:
  • The number of cases cleared per officer in Richmond is two-thirds the rate of Newport News and three-quarters the rate of Virginia Beach, even though Richmond's per capita spending is 2.1 times Newport News' total and 2.4 times Virginia Beach's.
  • Richmond's effectiveness in fighting fires, measured by the percentage of fires contained to a single room, lagged behind Newport News' even though per capita spending was nearly 50 percent higher in Richmond.
  • About 43 percent of Richmonders surveyed thought city schools do a poor or fair job.
  • 70 percent of Richmonders think water and wastewater fees are too high.

Resisting sunshine

We've talked a lot about transparency here at the Cost Cutting Caucus blog lately, and we're all too familiar with the reluctance by many in government to follow through when it comes to shining more light on government spending habits.

Jim Waters over at the Bluegrass Beacon, a publication of the Bluegrass Institute, takes a look at the situation in Kentucky as government officials like to talk-the-talk but not always walk-the-walk on transparency.

Sound familiar?

Now that's cutting some costs...

The Reason Foundation's "Out of Control" Blog takes a look at some privatization moves and cost cutting action from Alaska...