Pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment needs to rein in spend­ing on things like health care first

Edmonton Sun - - NEWS - Lorne GUNTER [email protected] @sun­lorne­gunter

A sales tax doesn’t bother me — in the­ory. It’s in the real world that a sales tax scares the be­jee­bers out of me.

A con­sump­tion tax (a tax on how much you buy) is prefer­able to a tax on how much you earn (in­come tax) be­cause, in the­ory, it al­lows you to con­trol how much tax you pay by con­trol­ling how much you spend.

But in the real world, a tax by an­other name is still a tax. In the real world, most of us feel we have lit­tle con­trol over what we spend.

The fam­ily needs a house. Both spouses need ve­hi­cles. The kids need food, clothes, sports fees and school sup­plies.

We all need a lit­tle va­ca­tion or a din­ner out or tick­ets to a game now and then.

Since most of us feel there is lit­tle we can do to con­trol our spend­ing, we’re not con­vinced a sales tax would be any dif­fer­ent from other kinds of tax.

Im­pos­ing a sales tax would sim­ply in­crease the amount the gov­ern­ment takes from our pock­ets even more and lower the amount we have left to spend on the things our fam­i­lies need and want.

A gov­ern­ment that im­poses a sales tax, then, is sim­ply adding to our tax bur­den. No “ifs,” “ands” or the­o­ries about it.

But what if a gov­ern­ment (like the UCP) made big spend­ing cuts and bal­anced the Al­berta bud­get, first? Then it im­posed a small-ish PST (pro­vin­cial sales tax) — say three per cent — and agreed to put a cor­re­spond­ing amount in the Her­itage Sav­ings Trust Fund each year.

I could live with a small PST that went to rainy-day sav­ings.

But that’s easy to say be­cause I don’t ever ex­pect any pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment to meet those re­quire­ments.

In a re­port re­leased on Thurs­day, Grant Bishop of Toronto’s C.D. Howe In­sti­tute, said Al­berta has a unique op­por­tu­nity to, through “spend­ing re­straint and re­struc­tur­ing of its rev­enues … move to sav­ing re­source rev­enues and in­creas­ing in­vest­ment in­come for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.”

Bishop’s pre­scrip­tion would not be easy to im­ple­ment.

He cal­cu­lates a freeze on over­all pro­vin­cial spend­ing would be needed, plus a per capita re­duc­tion of 11 per cent in ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing and nearly 14 per cent in health spend­ing over the next four years.

These cuts sound like a lot — and they are — but they would only bring Al­berta back down to the spend­ing lev­els of other “have” prov­inces.

Un­der the Red­ford Tories and Not­ley NDP, our pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment per­mit­ted pu­bic spend­ing to get way out of whack.

How far out of whack? An­other study, this time by the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion (CTF), also re­leased on Thurs­day, cal­cu­lates that Al­berta health care pro­fes­sion­als earn more (of­ten far more) than their coun­ter­parts in other prov­inces.

In 24 of 26 health em­ploy­ment cat­e­gories ex­am­ined in the CTF study, Al­berta pub­lic em­ploy­ees were paid sub­stan­tially more.

A top Al­berta nurse, for in­stance, makes al­most $113,000 a year (salary and ben­e­fits). That’s nearly

18 per cent above her or his Prairie col­leagues.

“Over 90 per cent of Al­berta’s health-care po­si­tions ex­am­ined re­ceive more than the av­er­age of the other prov­inces” and “more than half of all po­si­tions ex­am­ined earn more than $10,000 more than the av­er­age of the other prov­inces ev­ery year,” ac­cord­ing to the CTF.

We spend more per capita on health care than any prov­ince (ex­cept maybe New­found­land), yet our health out­comes and wait times are in the mid­dle or lower third of na­tional re­sults.

Be­fore we even start to talk about a PST, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment needs to re­duce these wage gaps and re­in­state (and abide by) bal­anced bud­get leg­is­la­tion.

Then, and only then, a gov­ern­ment that wanted a PST could go to Al­ber­tans in a ref­er­en­dum and make its case.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.