Please, please let’s not let MLA pay packages become the leading issue in this election. This is an issue than can be fixed in days, by whomever wins this race, so what’s a government to do with rest of their term?
If you want to punish a party you believe has become too arrogant to be trusted, by all means let that influence your vote. But there are so many more important things to be done, and a number of much more important promises to be made, before you hand in your ballot.
Here’s my shopping list of items I want from whomever governs after April 23. I don’t care which party decides to fill the bill, this is what I want:
• Kill the education property tax. Public education is a basic provincial service, it should be fully paid out of the regular budget. Short of a major change in legislation, property taxes represent the only tax power municipalities have, and it’s a horse the province simply shouldn’t be riding. There is only one other tax as unfair and loaded against the working poor as property taxes — that’s the provincial flat income tax.
• So, add a one per cent tax on taxable incomes over $60,000. That’s an arbitrary number, just to start the discussion. But it makes sense that for someone earning six figures, after the basic exemption, CPP and EI deductions, deductions on investments, and RSP contributions, one would pay the same flat tax as everyone else on the first $60,000 of taxable income, and 11 per cent on everything above that. A side benefit would be a slightly larger tax benefit for RSP contributions, plus the payback on charitable donations. It would not be a huge burden on the very wealthy, but it would recover some lost revenue from not taxing their mansions for education.
• And speaking of lost revenue, here’s something else: I want a plain-English point-by-point comparison of Alberta’s energy royalty program, viewed side-by-side with those of other nations. Some people are saying Alberta is “giving it away” with royalty holidays on multibillion-dollar investments in infrastructure. Others say demanding full royalties right away would kill investment. Frankly, I don’t know who to believe, and when there’s confusion, suspecting the government of hiding the truth is a pretty good place for a cynical observer to start.
• More on energy wealth: Legislate fixed annual payments into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund. The biggest mistake Ralph Klein made as premier was to plunder this fund in order to pay a debt we already had well under control. We’re still in a deficit position with the provincial budget, but that’s no excuse for not being prudent now and into the future. Who knows? Had a billion or so been invested into the fund each year since Don Getty stopped investments, the fund could be paying our debts for us now, with money left over for advanced education.
• Legislate that student tuitions will not exceed 40 per cent of the annual per-student cost of higher education. Again, an arbitrary number; make me an offer. Students will know they’re getting a huge gift from the taxpayer on something that’s going to benefit them financially for life. Federal and provincial grants ought to cover the rest, while colleges and universities need to engage their alumni with something better than costly glossy-paper mailouts begging for money.
• Finally (for now, anyway), keep the Alberta Spirit program going. It’s the best thing this government has ever done for the groups building stronger communities. Without it, our emergency wards would quickly get a lot more crowded.
What’s on your list? Let us know with a letter, email or comment on bprda.wpengine.com. Try to be specific; saying governments should live within their means is as easy as outrage over MLAs being paid not to attend meetings, and just as self-defeating.
Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.