Mu­nic­i­pal fund­ing cuts could haunt Wall regime

Sask. Party’s tax and slash bud­get apt to be the gift that keeps on giv­ing to the NDP

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - MUR­RAY MANDRYK

The prob­lem for the Saskatchew­an Party gov­ern­ment’s 2017-18 bud­get is that it wasn’t over on Wed­nes­day. For the NDP Op­po­si­tion, it will be the tax-hik­ing, ser­vice-slash­ing deficit bud­get that is the gift that keeps on giv­ing. Some will see karma in that.

Even be­fore Premier Brad Wall’s Sask. Party, its fu­ture mem­bers/sup­port­ers were feast­ing on the Roy Ro­manow NDP gov­ern­ment’s 1992 and 1993 bud­gets that hiked the PST to nine per cent and closed 52 ru­ral hos­pi­tals and the Plains Health Cen­tre while cut­ting sup­port to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Of course, all this was nec­es­sary to deal with mas­sive debt left be­hind by the Grant Devine Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment — some­thing that was never quite ac­knowl­edged in a decade of Sask. Party gov­ern­ment that in­stead be­moaned the “in­fra­struc­ture deficit” left be­hind by the NDP tasked with clean­ing up the Devine mess.

While those NDP bud­gets were a quar­ter-cen­tury ago, their last­ing im­pact on mu­nic­i­pal and other tax­pay­ers turned out to be a gift to a young Sask. Party gov­ern­ment that just kept on giv­ing.

Well, it ap­pears the Sask. Party may be re­turn­ing the favour in its 2017-18 bud­get that may very well also keep on giv­ing.

And about the only dif­fer­ence is that Wall and com­pany have only them­selves to blame for their own debt. Just how much we can ex­pect this bud­get to re­ver­ber­ate be­came ob­vi­ous at an emer­gency Saska­toon city coun­cil meet­ing this week­end in which coun­cil voted unan­i­mously to pur­sue le­gal ac­tion as one way to cope with the mas­sive short­fall fol­low­ing last Wed­nes­day’s pro­vin­cial bud­get.

Es­pe­cially irk­some was the end of the $36-mil­lion an­nual grantsin-lieu to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties from the prov­ince for Crown cor­po­ra­tions ex­empt from tax­a­tion. For Saska­toon, it amounts to $11.4 mil­lion — enough to dou­ble the 3.89-per-cent tax hike Saska­toon city coun­cil ap­proved in De­cem­ber by an­other 3.93 per cent for what would be a nearly eight­per-cent in­crease.

In Regina, the lost an­nual rev­enue is about the same.

Ad­mit­tedly, the no­tion of var­i­ous lev­els of gov­ern­ment spend­ing our tax dol­lars on lawyers to sue each other over our tax dol­lars is a lit­tle hard to stom­ach.

More­over, from the Sask. Party gov­ern­ment per­spec­tive, the $11.4-mil­lion hit (about 1.5 per cent of Saska­toon’s an­nual bud­get) pales in com­par­i­son to the two-and-a-half-times more money Saska­toon is get­ting in mu­nic­i­pal rev­enue shar­ing than a decade ago. Not­with­stand­ing the ad na­seum re­minders from the Sask. Party that its gov­ern­ment spent more than the pre­vi­ous NDP gov­ern­ment, there is a le­git­i­mate ar­gu­ment that the Sask. Party has been fairer to the cities. And as Wall sug­gested on Twit­ter on the week­end, Saska­toon could dip into its $141 mil­lion in re­serves.

That said, the Sask. Party gov­ern­ment’s rail­ing about the NDP’s un­der­fund­ing of mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties was a great way to en­dear it­self to ur­ban vot­ers whose sup­port the Sask. Party needed to gain power. In fact, it was a dou­bly ef­fec­tive crit­i­cism be­cause it al­lowed the Sask. Party to claim that those high an­nual prop­erty tax bills were the fault of the NDP — a gift for the Sask. Party that kept on giv­ing.

For the past decade, the Sask. Party has con­grat­u­lated it­self on the prov­ince’s truly phe­nom­e­nal growth, which has oc­curred al­most ex­clu­sively in our cities — iron­i­cally, the places most af­fected by end­ing grants-in­lieu on pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment prop­erty. Pre­sum­ably, the cities still des­per­ately need this money to deal with their growth.

Yes, the $36-mil­lion Crown cor­po­ra­tion grants will im­pact 109 ur­ban mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties with gov­ern­ment build­ings, but the lion’s share of gov­ern­ment of­fice space is in Regina and Saska­toon, where vot­ers may be the first to lose faith.

Add this in­sult to the fact that ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal tax­pay­ers get more than dou­ble ($434 per capita) in rev­enue shar­ing than vil­lage, town and city tax­pay­ers ($205 per capita). This grant cut is just one of many, many 2017-18 bud­get is­sues that won’t be go­ing away for awhile.

Bud­gets like this one have a way of lin­ger­ing.

Mur­ray Mandryk is the po­lit­i­cal colum­nist for the Regina Leader-Post. He can be reached at mmandryk@lead­er­post.com.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.