It’s budget time again for the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, and if you like Kabuki, you’re bound to love budget time. The same special interests (often members of public employee unions) get to stand up and beg the board to raise our taxes in order to fund some oh-so-important initiative, citizens stand up and tell the board that they don’t have additional money to fork over, and by and large the Board pretends it’s fiscally conservative and only raises our taxes by a little. Because it’s for the children, you see.
It’s about time to rile up the electorate here, as it’s getting screwed.
The whole dance starts with the county staff preparing a budget proposal that is more of an infomercial pitch than a financial document. Only aggregated expenditures are shown, the only detail provided is to justify increases over the base rate of tax inflation, and the only justifications for the current level of expenditures and the new ones are the results of a survey, of all things. About the only use for the various surveys conducted at great taxpayer expense throughout the year is to justify spending. It’s like the tax hikers hired a marketing firm instead of an accounting firm. Actually, that pretty much describes the start of this dance.
Next up is the usual banter between public employee unions and the board where the unions warn us of such dire consequences if taxes aren’t raised. Funny, the problem is school overcrowding, the cause of school overcrowding is largely due to illegal immigration, the solution has nothing to do with extracting ever greater shares of our rapidly diminishing wealth to accommodate foreign nationals wanting a free American education but to address the problem of illegal immigration. Neither the school board nor the PWEA wants to have anything to do with actually solving the problem, so they just demand we continue to fund the problem. Other times we get global warming-esque alarmism that if we don’t hire more police or fire department personnel the county will burn down or will be overrun with rapists. Despite not meeting the staffing levels police and fire unions demand, the incidence of structure fires and the incidence of violent crime are both down sharply. Go figure.
Then we get supervisors nibbling around the edges of the staff budget proposal to reduce the tax rate from the vastly tax inflationary advertised rate to something won’t quite cause so many seniors on fixed incomes to run away from the county because they can’t afford to live here. It didn’t hurt quite so much, you’ve still got one arm left, and aren’t we just wonderful for making sure you didn’t lose both of them? Taxes are up 109% in the last decade while population rose 42%. Welcome to fiscal conservatism, Prince William County style.
The problem isn’t that we tax too little, it’s that we spend too much on things that don’t return value to the taxpayers. To the extent we can figure out where the money is going in this laughably inadequate budget document, mountains of spending that is wasteful or ineffective isn’t all that hard to find. Here’s a few examples:
- $532,549 to lobby the General Assembly. Last session the county’s biggest lobbying push was to try (and fail) to defeat a Constitutional Amendment ballot question on protecting private property rights from unconstitutional seizure by state and local governments. Effectively, these lobbyists were fighting against the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and taxpayers were actually paying for this insanity. Taxpayer funded government advocates trying to undermine your constitutional rights? If county government really needs a voice in Richmond, maybe we ought to elect representatives to the General Assembly to do something like that. Maybe someone like Bob Marshall, Jackson Miller, Chuck Colgan, Scott Lingamfelter, Mark Dudenhefer, Dick Black, David Ramadan, Toddy Puller, or Luke Torian might be up to the task.
- $385,025 for Media Production. Last year they produced 21 videos that got on average 150 views, two newsletters that no one pays attention to, and the Prince William Channel 23 that nearly no one watches. Honestly, I’ll do all of that for half what the taxpayers are currently paying and I promise the Prince William Channel audience will more than double and county produced videos will get triple the number of YouTube views they do now. Can anyone actually say we’re getting actual value out of this expenditure right now?
- $169,472 for “Employee Relations” to internally handle EEO complaints. Last year this entity handled a whopping five complaints at a cost per complaint of over $33,000. Cripes, lawyers don’t even cost that much money.
- $146,987 for “EEO Training and Outreach.” The only justification for this entity is that last year employees rated it “helpful and excellent” in a survey. Did it actually improve the quality and performance of county employees as they labored on behalf of the taxpayer? Of course not, because that’s not the point here. The point is generating high satisfaction levels in internal satisfaction surveys, silly!
- $3,481,232 to support the Supervisors and their staff. Last year one of them decided he had so much extra money he could afford to hand over $100,000 to a charity that primarily benefits residents of Fairfax County, but they need the same amount of money this year that they couldn’t spend last year.
- $553,520 for the “Human Rights Office.” This duplicates a state agency and does little more than pursue political agenda and hand out awards to leftists from “Mexicans Without Borders.” One of their performance metrics actually used to justify their budget expenditures is “Citizens aware of the programs and activities of the Human Rights Commission.” We’re paying for government largely for the purpose of ensuring citizens are aware of its existence. What a phenomenally stupid idea.
If the budget proposals weren’t so bloated with survey-fueled marketing propaganda it would be a lot easier to pick out many more examples where taxpayers aren’t getting value for their dollars. Big-budget departments like Information Technology and Public Safety don’t break out spending in any meaningful way making it impossible to determine what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and even why specific activities are being performed at all. Hidden within one of those budgets not too long ago was one of the biggest corruption scandals in county history, one which cost county residents tens of millions of dollars.
I have to wonder if supervisors, who have to slog through the mountains of marketing material they get from county staff every year, even care what’s actually in these proposals. In private industry, regulations under Sarbanes-Oxley would make decision makers personally liable for any failure to exercise due diligence on something like this, but in county government there’s an incentive to not ask too many questions at budget time. If the county actually cut wasteful or ineffective spending there’s be less room for borrowing. Bond issues for capital expenditures for things like road construction and libraries are capped at a percentage of the overall county budget, so if you spend less, you don’t have the borrowing capacity to widen Route 1 or enclose a library structure in plexiglass, and can’t go tell the voters you honored a campaign promise.
The only folks with a real interest in cutting government waste are the taxpayers, and one elected official who got the message loud and clear while knocking doors last election cycle. Supervisor Peter Candland seems to really understand the problem here and is trying to make sure tax bills don’t rise again this year, but is getting pushback not only from staff, but from other Supervisors as well. He could use your help on this.
If voters don’t complain loudly to their elected representatives to get this under control, in ten more years taxes will again double. All it takes is for taxpayers to remain silent about spending and what it’s costing them.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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