If ever there were an object example for legislative restrictions on the taxation and spending authorities of government, the government of Alberta would be a great candidate.
Over the course of the last decade and then some, this province has managed to post accumulated surpluses amounting to better than $50 billion. It’s an amount in excess of what the legislature has confiscated from the citizenry in the form of direct income taxes over that same time period.
In the face of calls for tax and spending reform, the legislative cabal has consistently responded with the same old line that we can’t make these kinds of rash decisions based upon short-term energy prices.
What is arguably the most socialist government in the land has also used the specious argument that the government can ill-afford to give up billions of dollars of valuable tax revenue if it is to be expected to help diversify the Alberta economy in order for us to better weather the inevitable end of our resource-based economy.
Both of these arguments are laughably moronic, and those who make them should be considered profoundly addle minded.
Let’s demolish that first argument by simply looking at the actions of the very group that claims we can’t make long-term taxation decisions based upon short-term wealth.
Just since 1996, if the province had held spending increases to merely match population growth and inflation, our provincial budget would be about half what it is now. That would amount to leaving close to $5,000 in the pockets of every single person in the province, just this year alone.
Had spending controls been put in place, the province could have foregone corporate and personal income taxes and still posted a surplus this year.
Instead, our useless legislators, in the face of rapid economic growth, chose to increase spending as fast as was legislatively possible.
It boils down to a simple question: If we can’t trim taxation based on short-term prosperity, why can we make long-term spending commitments based on short-term prosperity?
You tell me which scenario might have the most beneficial outcome: one in which a few dozen people cloistered within the intellectual vacuum of government, gaze into their navels and magically find a way to transform the provincial economy away from resources and agriculture, or one where a few million people working outside of the narrow confines of government are freed of the burden of onerous taxation and find imaginative ways to invest in their own lives and futures?
This is simple stuff here, kids. Better yet, it’s a proven deal.
In the United States, those states that have the lowest tax burdens are those with the lowest unemployment rates, the most diverse economies, and are the ones leading the U.S. out of recession.
Maybe we should ask ourselves if eliminating personal and corporate taxes might not be a powerful way to attract new businesses, along with financial and intellectual capital to the province.
If families and small businesses were allowed to keep even a few thousand extra dollars per year out of the money that they, not the government, earn for themselves, wouldn’t they make the best choices for themselves as to how to use that money?
Of course they would.
Better yet, what would be the long-term impact of such a profound shift in the way governments think?
If we really want Alberta to have a future beyond the oil and gas years, we need a fundamental shift in the way government looks at the citizenry’s wallets.
Bill Greenwood is a local freelance columnist.