A tax­ing task

The Southern Gazette - - EDITORIAL -

Let’s not talk about rein­vent­ing the wheel. Let’s talk about adding more wheels for no par­tic­u­lar rea­son. Tues­day, Fi­nance Min­is­ter Tom Os­borne an­nounced a new in­de­pen­dent com­mit­tee would re­view the province’s tax sys­tem, re­port­ing by Novem­ber 2018.

“The main ob­jec­tives of the in­de­pen­dent tax re­view are to en­sure the province’s tax sys­tem is com­pet­i­tive and fair, iden­tify ways to sim­plify the tax sys­tem, and re­duce costs for both gov­ern­ment and tax­pay­ers. Dur­ing the re­view, con­sid­er­a­tion will be given to whether the ap­pro­pri­ate tax mix is ap­plied to tax­pay­ers as well as the pro­gres­siv­ity of the tax sys­tem,” the news re­lease said. “The tax re­view will also con­sider the province’s tax ca­pac­ity, tak­ing into ac­count is­sues such as com­pet­i­tive­ness and eco­nomic im­pacts.”

The re­view will cost more than $100,000, and its panel in­cludes mem­bers from across the province: Bot­wood, Corner Brook, Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay and St. John’s.

Given the sheer breadth of its man­date, $100,000 will be a drop in the bucket.

But that’s only half of the is­sue.

By go­ing out­side to find ex­per­tise, you’d think the gov­ern­ment was sug­gest­ing it had no par­tic­u­lar skill in tax pol­icy.

But the num­bers tell a dif­fer­ent story. Ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil has a se­nior eco­nomic pol­icy ad­viser who makes $115,474, the cabi­net sec­re­tariat has a direc­tor of re­search and anal­y­sis ($108,399), the trea­sury board sec­re­tariat has seven em­ploy­ees — in­clud­ing a deputy min­is­ter and two as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ters — earn­ing a com­bined an­nual to­tal of $726,552.

The Depart­ment of Fi­nance has an en­tire tax pol­icy di­vi­sion — six peo­ple in all, earn­ing a com­bined to­tal of $534,876 a year — in­clud­ing a direc­tor of tax pol­icy and three pol­icy an­a­lysts. Also in fi­nance, there’s a pro­vin­cial comp­trol­ler gen­eral ($137,236), a direc­tor of pol­icy and strate­gic plan­ning ($105,928) a pair of as­sis­tant deputy min­is­ters ($127,999 and $147,793) and a deputy min­is­ter ($178,265).

That same depart­ment has an eco­nomic re­search and anal­y­sis di­vi­sion with a direc­tor and four economists ($404,370 an­nu­ally), a fis­cal pol­icy di­vi­sion ($287,461 an­nu­ally), and a pol­icy and pro­gram anal­y­sis di­vi­sion ($384,859 in salaries). The pro­vin­cial au­di­tor gen­eral’s of­fice costs $3.9 mil­lion a year, with all of its ex­per­tise. And that’s re­ally just the tip of the ice­berg.

So why, ex­actly, is Os­borne spend­ing ex­tra money and adding a new layer of pub­lic pol­i­cy­mak­ing?

Well, maybe for strate­gic rea­sons. The Lib­er­als’ last round of tax pol­icy changes earned them a pub­lic kick­ing, de­spite the fact this province was in a huge fis­cal hole.

The tim­ing of the com­mit­tee’s work will al­low the Lib­er­als to take the com­mit­tee’s find­ings and put them in place dur­ing what will prob­a­bly be the party’s last bud­get be­fore a pro­vin­cial elec­tion.

And, if there are tough choices to be made, there will be a lovely in­de­pen­dent straw horse to blame for each and every one of them.

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