Dealing with big brother

While you’re sifting through the various perspectives and platforms on the way to the April 23 provincial election, take a look at things that matter most to your daily life.

While you’re sifting through the various perspectives and platforms on the way to the April 23 provincial election, take a look at things that matter most to your daily life.

For the average Albertan, the choice could come down to provincial funding for municipalities (and all the local infrastructure that funding supports in our daily lives).

From the perspective of the Wildrose Party, the path to sustainable municipal funding, and stable infrastructure, is about eliminating “the current patchwork of grant programs” and replacing it with a simple transfer plan that delivers 10 per cent of provincial tax revenue from all sources to municipalities.

Based on projected 2012-13 Alberta tax revenue of almost $18 billion, that would mean about $1.8 billion a year delivered to municipalities, unfettered by any expectations: towns, cities and counties could spend it where they wish. Of course, any decline in provincial revenue would also cut municipal funding (say Wildrose reduced business taxes in the future, for example, as it pared both government spending and revenue).

The Wildrose’s Community Infrastructure Transfer would also include 10 per cent of all budget surpluses. Again, municipalities get to choose how to spend the money.

That surplus money, obviously, is a variable — it’s dependent on many things controlled by the government: energy royalties, overall provincial spending, the amount of money diverted into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund and government revenue through any other source.

In short, it’s just as uncertain as the current method of funding municipalities.

And provincial funding for municipalities has been fickle at best over the four decades of Progressive Conservative rule.

But Premier Alison Redford told the Advocate editorial board on Friday that the Municipal Sustainability Initiative established by former premier Ed Stelmach works and will be maintained. It too is designed to give municipalities unfettered funds.

Redford also talked about how essential it is to get ahead of the growth curve when it comes to providing new infrastructure in our communities. She wants to look two or three decades down the road. That’s a dramatic reversal from the years of Ralph Klein, during which Alberta’s communities were forced to cope with dramatic growth despite diminishing resources. The infrastructure deficit created then continues to hamstring municipalities, and diminish the quality of life for all Albertans.

Over the next three years, the Tories plan to inject $1.6 billion (2012-13), $1.8 billion (2013-14) and $1.66 billion (2014-15), according to the budget delivered last month. In the first year, at least, that’s less money than Wildrose projects.

Within those three years, Redford has also pledged to rework the relationship with municipalities, through consultation with towns, cities and counties.

The Liberals also talk about creating a new deal for municipalities, and establishing a more stable basic funding model than the current one (which is based on property taxes, which gauge the value of property, but not the available income of the land owners). The Tories say that property taxes are a viable system.

And Raj Sherman’s party wants to level the playing field when it comes to doling out lottery funds to community groups and municipalities.

The Liberals also want to make direct funding to community associations, through a Municipal Heritage Fund that provides per capita cash to both municipalities and neighbourhood associations. The community projects funded through this model would include community centres and parks.

In general, the Liberals want to project municipal funding over 15 years, to provide stable growth. There are no dollar figures attached.

The Liberals also talk about drafting city charters that help define municipal roles and powers.

The New Democrats have no discernible municipal funding platform at this point, other than they don’t want MIS funding to go to NHL arenas.

The Alberta Party platform for improving the lot of municipalities looks remarkably like the Liberal one. It sets out four priorities: a new deal with municipalities, stable funding, creating a “local government charter” and “increasing participation in local government.” Again, no dollar figures are apparent.

And in the end, it is dollars and autonomy that matter most. The more details provided for voters, the more informed our choices can be.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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