AllenN's blog

Debt clock ticking on

Fiscal conservatism 703

Our federal debt is now at $19 trillion and will be closing in on $20 trillion at the end of Obama's presidency. While the growth in debt has been slightly lower in the past couple of years than originally projected, the future deficits (especially since Congress scuttled the sequester deal) are expected to really start growing fast in a couple of years, because of several structural changes like the baby-boomers set to retire and the potential normalization of interest rates. (See Congressional Budget Office website: https://www.cbo.gov/).

Utopia

Fiscal Conservatism 702

2015 Municipal W-2 Wages

Here are the links to the municipal (town) employee W-2 earnings for 2015, from information provided by the Town.

The following information was received with the file: Please note this includes variable items such as retroactive payments, education incentive, vacation buyback, and outside details.
Also, medical opt out payments are taxable compensation per IRS guidelines.

We have posted the file twice, once organized by salary from highest to lowest, which is available here: http://www.actonforum.com/sites/default/files/CY2015_municipal_wages.xls

Cats, Dogs and Charity

Fiscal conservatism 701

Let me start by saying that we all believe in charity. If someone is starving, I want to give them food. If someone doesn't have a place to live, I think they need shelter. If someone is bleeding, they need to see a doctor.

But humans are animals (at least if you believe in evolution.) We have many similarities to those lab rats, which is why we use rats to conduct experiments. If you give a rat unrestricted access to drugs, for example, it will overdose.

Thought game - Part Two

This is Part Two of a thought game I have constructed to make a point. If you have not read Part One, then STOP IMMEDIATELY and read Part One here: http://www.actonforum.com/blogs/allenn/thought-game

* * * * *

So in Part One, we introduced a story about a girl named Sarah who was taking a bus trip from Acton to Los Angeles. There are a lot of assumptions made in the framing of this story. In fact, everything in the story is a total lie, except for one detail, and that is the amount of money her parents gave her for the trip. They did give her $10,000 for a trip to L.A.

Thought game

Today we are going to have some fun. I am constructing a "thought experiment" and I'd like you to participate.

Below is a fictitious scenario which I'd like you to read and then answer some questions about. For the purpose of this game, just read the scenario once. After you answer the questions, you can re-read it if you want to.

The heroine of the story is named Sarah, my second-favorite girl's name.

* * * * *

It's Bloomberg Time

The Democratic Party is in very serious trouble. No, I’m not talking about their candidates per se, I’m talking about their philosophical anchors. They are adrift having lost their moorings.

We keep hearing from the Left that we need to compromise, but compromise is impossible with socialists, at least for fiscal conservatives. Their ideas are diametrically opposed.

Marginal rates and risk

Fiscal Conservatism 609

Let’s say I give you $1,000,000 with the stipulation that you must go to a casino and bet at least $1,000,000. Other than that, you can do whatever you want with the proceeds.

Let’s say you go to “No Limits Casino” and you have three (and only three) possible choices to wager on at the roulette wheel.

1. You can place your bet on black or red. There is a 48% chance of either outcome (with 0 or 00 the other 5%, roughly.) This means you will either walk away with $0 or with $2,000,000.

Senior Center projections misleading

ANALYSIS OF POPULATION AND USAGE DRAWS DIFFERENT PICTURE

Over the past few years, I’ve been keeping one eye on the effort to build a new senior center. There have been a few committees packed with town staff and new-Senior-Center supporters and eventually, after months or years of hard work, they come out with a recommendation that we need to spend a lot of money for a new Senior Center.

It’s true: seniors’ property taxes are rising much faster than inflation

Last week, I attended a meeting of the Senior Center Building Committee (SCSC) which is proposing to build a new $10 million Senior Center on Arlington Street in Acton. The SCSC estimated that the new facility, if approved, would add about $100 a year to the average single-family property tax bill.

ALG plans 5.6% property tax increase to $11,000 next fiscal year

At the 7:30 am Acton Leadership Group (ALG) meeting of January 7, 2016, the draft ALG spreadsheet shows a "tax to the max" revenue projection next fiscal year (FY17, starting on July 1, 2016) of $77.6 million, an increase of 5.8%, with a School assessment increase of 5.17%, a municipal budget increase of 2.82%, and use of reserves of $2.9 million. This leaves the plan with a $500k surplus which the ALG discussed could be used to have a slightly lower tax increase or a slightly lower use of reserves next year, or some combination of the two.

Senior Center proposal remains unconvincing

The Beacon reports this week that the Senior Center proposal is moving forward, with unanimous support from the Board of Selectmen (See http://acton.wickedlocal.com/news/20160105/acton-selectmen-support-senio...).

New Senior Center Building Committee Chair Dean Charter, the former Acton Manager of Municipal Properties, has been on previous Senior Center building committees. The new proposal is to locate the Senior Center on Arlington St., about 1.8 miles from Town Hall. And the new plan abandons the concept of a Community Center.

Good time to tighten the belt?

Happy New Year, everyone!

Acton Forum had to switch servers over the holidays and there may be some changes and small bugs that will crop up on the new platform. Hopefully all the articles and comments will continue to operate.

Holidays and New Year's resolutions remind one of going on a diet. I wonder if the town (and school system) in Acton should adopt a New Year's resolution to take a little weight off the Acton taxpayer.

Thanks, DJ!

At almost the closing bell of the year, reader “DJActon” posted one of the most humorous responses to a column of mine (http://www.actonforum.com/blogs/allenn/economic-musings) that I have ever read. It was delightful. Thank you, DJ, and thanks for reading Acton Forum.

His letter really explains how “the other side” views the world, and it is a real eye-opener. You can read it directly here: http://www.actonforum.com/blogs/allenn/economic-musings#comment-4008

Economic musings

There are lots of unanswerable questions about economics. The latest to bother me is the drop in the price of oil and the explanation that this is somehow hurting the economy and stock prices.

Boxboro's FinCom commits heresy

PART THREE ON ACTON'S SPECIAL TOWN MEETING

The Boxborough Finance Committee committed heresy last week, judging from one of their member’s quotes as reported by the Beacon in this week’s (12/3/15) issue.

Massages and rent control

Fiscal Conservatism 608

I was having my semi-monthly massage with a massage therapist who shall remain nameless. We have a good conversational friendship where we often talk politics. She tends to be very left (but not always) and I am the fiscal conservative who usually votes for Republicans. She is planning to vote for Hillary and I haven't focused too much on the other side but would rather cut off my leg than vote for Mrs. Clinton.

FinCom's four seconds of misconduct

(This is Part Two on Acton's Special Town Meeting (STM) of November 10, 2015 which approved two union contracts, articles four and five. Part one (http://www.actonforum.com/story/bos-gets-union-contract-costs-wrong-stm) focused on the actions of the Board of Selectmen. This article looks at FinCom's role.)

Interest, disinterest, and vested interest

Fiscal Conservatism 607

When public decisions are being made, there are (at least) three categories of participants as referenced in the article title.

Interested participants are people who have a small stake in the outcome. For example, a taxpayer would be an interested person when discussing tax policy. Yes, if taxes go up, they will pay more. But the increase to them personally on a tax matter would probably be a few dollars per year. They have an interest but they can make decisions unbiasedly.

Warrant article recommendations

I received the warrant for the special town meeting next week, and it has quite a few articles, including more land purchases, more steps towards redevelopment of Kelley’s Corner, and loads of other stuff.

For the insiders, I’m sure all this is business as usual. We have lots of money and we might as well spend it.

With taxes going up every year like clockwork, Acton is in no danger of losing our spot as the 15th highest property-tax town in the state. Yet with inflation at near zero, why do taxes keep going up? How come we can’t control our expenses?

Free stuff

Fiscal conservatism 606

I’ve read in several places this past week comments made by Jeb Bush that he won’t be a president who is going to be giving away “free stuff” in order to buy votes, in contrast to the Democratic presidential candidates who are trying to outbid each other as to how much free stuff they can promise their constituencies in order to buy their votes in the primary. (See http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2015/10/we-all-get-free...). The giveaways I’m sure will be even more dramatic in the general election.

Money Supply

Fiscal Conservatism 605

We are living in strange times, but perhaps these days, the new normal is strange.

The other day, I read that the big banks no longer want large quantities of cash. It costs them money to hold it, since interest rates are so low and they have more cash than they can lend. Companies are hoarding cash and have nowhere to put it other than the bank. With the economic uncertainty and the many negative federal policies, they don't want to hire workers or expand, so they stockpile their profits.

Two wrongs don't make a right

We all know that two wrongs don't make a right. You don't compound your error by repeating it, nor do you willfully make another error with the excuse of the first.

This lesson has been lost on many of our political leaders and voters. Here are three current examples.

Huber-O'Connell employment contract posted

The three-year employment agreement for Elizabeth Huber-O'Connell is now available on our website here: http://actonforum.com/sites/default/files/Huber_contract_2015.pdf

The contract was for the second year of a three-year employment agreement ending on June 30, 2016. Acton school contracts for administrators are typically for three years.

Anything wrong with a public employee making $500 per hour?

NOTE: FOURTH PAYSTUB RECEIVED. In response to the posted article below, ACTON FORUM has just received an email from Glenn Brand with a "corrected" paystub for May 14, which shows Huber-O'Connell received $18,236 in miscellaneous pay instead of $73k, bringing her "YTD" total to $67,473. Brand also explained that the Munis accounting system identifies "days" worked but calls them "hours" so the $492.89 would be the daily rate.