As events and topics arise I will discuss them here in a chronological basis. More information by topic will be listed in the Issues section.
April 1, 2011
Yesterday Councilor Shane Keating (Ward 12) tweeted about how the $42 million the city took from the Provincial School Tax was going to help his ward by providing Rec centers. He referred to it as the city taking "tax room".
For me statements like this are very self serving and a little frightening. They demonstrate a tendency towards self delusion and justification. I have never been a big fan of the end justifying the means.
Don't get me wrong. I am not singling out a rookie alderman. Shane was only one of 13 members of city council who could not resist the lure of easy money. It just makes me somewhat sad that they all sold out so cheaply and so quickly. Sometimes it is not a question of "if" people will sell out for money but just a question of "how much".
In reality a transparent city council debates budget issues and public spending in public. Which they did. After a few weeks city council settled on $2.7 billion as the cost of running Calgary for the next year. That's about $100 million more than last year. That's the important number. HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
The percentage increase in taxes is really a red herring because it will be different for everyone depending on property value (which is another rant entirely because since when does the value of a home determine how much city services you should pay for?). So the 4.4% really doesn't matter. What matters is that city council decided to spend more money running the city than last year. What we need to know is how much more and on what.
Part of the tax process in Calgary is that about half of property taxes goes to the province to help cover education. I say part because the province spends almost twice the amount of money on Calgary's eduction system than it takes in property taxes.
So the city guesses how much the province will need as their budget comes out later. If the city underestimates then taxes will go up accordingly. In this case they over estimated. Shouldn't that mean taxes then will go down?
At the end of the day there was $42 million that the province decided it didn't need (despite laying off 200 teachers less than three weeks later). That is when city council got greedy and decided to take that money for things that they chopped from the budget a few weeks back.
What happened to transparency? What happened to establishing priorities? If the city had been $42 million short does anyone really think the city would have paid it out of their own budget without coming back to the taxpayer for more? Of course not.
This was not "tax room". This was over taxation. This was taking something that didn't belong to them. And ultimately it was simply wrong. Despite the good intentions.
If a known drug dealer offered a charity (or a politician) $100,000 would it be right to take the money? Despite knowing that the money would be used for a good purpose? Our bishop just grappled with that decision when he banned the Separate school board from using money taken from gambling. While the money was needed the source was tainted.
If the city wanted more money from property taxes then they should have taken it during the budget debate. They didn't. They chose not to and they make a lot of noise about not doing it. Suddenly however there is an accounting error and an extra $42 million is in the bank account. How it got there really doesn't matter. It should be returned to the rightful owner.
Lets say you came into my store and I accidentally over charged you for an item. You paid and left. At the end of the day I noticed my mistake. Should I call you and tell you or suddenly remember how that money could be used to fix the front door that is always sticking. Should I be ethical or prudent?
When I called Keating on this in a tweet his reply was "As a teacher I had to educate individuals that opposition from bias is sometimes opposition with little thought #yyccc"
I would have to agree that someone didn't really give a lot of thought to the consequences of the action but I am pretty sure it wasn't me. As a cop I learned that right and wrong are not always black and white but they are still right and wrong. Doing wrong things for right reasons does not suddenly make it right. And maybe sometimes one does have to do wrong things. But lets not sugar coat it and make it seem noble.