Klein: Base Tax on Roads Wrong Approach

Excellent column by Gerry Klein on why a base tax is the wrong approach

Despite charges to the contrary, the civic administration’s report on the impact of imposing a flat tax to fix Saskatoon’s roads was neither convoluted nor biased nor difficult to comprehend.

Yet it seemed to have some council members unduly flummoxed, particularly Mayor Don Atchison whose convoluted argument in support of the base tax included insisting that it’s not up to the city to redistribute wealth and claiming that increasing the property tax threatens to throw widows out on the street.

The first part of that argument is clear: The city is responsible for providing services such as maintaining the streets. If charging a ratepayer whose property is assessed to be worth $50,000 the same $170 that is charged to someone whose property is assessed at $1.8 million, well, that’s just fair.

But the second argument appeared to be a non sequitur that contradicts the first. It strayed into wondering why more lowincome seniors haven’t taken advantage of a city program that would allow them to defer payment of tax increases and allow that money to eat into the value of their homes.

The mayor’s argument was so convoluted that it devolved into a painful-towatch war of words with Coun. Darren Hill, who insisted that his rejection of the proposed base tax wasn’t meant to deprive widows of their homes.

“That’s not what I said and I demand an apology,” Atchison replied.

Well, I apologize because, like Hill, that’s what I heard.

Attaching a flat tax that would require 85 per cent of civic ratepayers to pay more in relation to the value of their homes so the remaining 15 per cent – including commercial properties valued in the millions – won’t have to face increases clearly would have a detrimental impact not only on hardpressed seniors on fixed incomes but also on the vast majority of citizens.

But if Atchison’s argument was contradictory, Coun. Tiffany Paulsen’s rationale was downright reactionary. The idea of having a flat tax to pay for civic services arises every couple of years or so, she insisted, and one day Saskatoon will have to bite that bullet.

After she accused civic staff of preparing a report that was biased against the base tax, Paulsen went on to defend the notion of a user-pay system. This is more or less the same argument used by Britain’s former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher when she campaigned on, and then introduced the Community Charge in the late 1980s.

The levy was meant to make local governments more efficient by forcing everyone to pay an equal share, ensuring that councils would face the consequences of their decisions. Instead it was Thatcher who faced the consequences, leaving skid marks along Downing Street after her caucus gave her the bum’s rush out of No. 10.

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