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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.