As if Saskatchewan doesn’t have enough problems to deal with right now, we have our Premier showing up at the annual SUMA convention in Regina and throwing out the idea that education taxes should be raised to pay for infrastructure. Now if the Premier had said that education taxes were going to be raised to pay for new schools or bettering our children’s curriculum or funding our technical schools and universities then that is certainly something for a good and open debate. All of these areas in our educational system are feeling the crunch and as we all know, a well-educated society is a successful one.
I don’t believe for a minute that the Sask Party government was talking about limiting an increase in taxes to only education. This government will be having a difficult time bringing forward a balanced budget. Much of their problem is self-inflicted because of the way they have managed Saskatchewan’s economy during some of the best years this province has ever seen as far as commodity prices goes. With commodities going the other way across the board, the lack of proper stewardship and investment in our economy is now coming home to roost.
As we all know, our Premier is very good at manipulating public opinion and slight of hand when it comes to major policy announcements. Remember all of the fanfare around Enterprise Saskatchewan? It could be that this musing about upping educational taxes is only a red herring so when he comes forward with some other increase or cuts to public service, people will think that “oh that’s not so bad”. Raising education taxes as a general fix to our economic problems would be the absolute wrong way to go because it is based on property values. Reassessment in Saskatchewan of property values is an on-going process which always leaves inequities in various parts of the province between communities that have been reassessed and those that haven’t. And until mill rates have been adjusted, people have a great deal of difficulty understanding where they are at. Picking on property owners has proven to be a huge disincentive for growth.
If this province is going to keep growing and maintain a strong business climate so that our increased population can remain employed, Mr. Wall should look at adopting a couple of measures which the PC Party of Saskatchewan has advocated for a long time. Harmonization of the PST with the GST, something which has been supported by all business groups for a long time, should seriously be looked at. Mr. Wall should also immediately put in place a royalty review commission which reports to the Legislative Assembly so that every four years Saskatchewan people would know what their share is of their resources. Harmonization would broaden the tax base and generate the necessary funds to support our health, education and social services while not being counter-productive to growth.
A functioning royalty review commission reporting to the Legislative Assembly would hopefully stop governments making unwise decisions to support one resource industry over another and at the same time, give the public a better understanding of what a fair return on resource revenue is. I believe that there are opportunities for the taxpayer of this province to reap larger rewards by instituting a process that is transparent to everyone – resource companies, government and the taxpayer. These decisions should not be made by a few people in the Premier’s office.
The Provincial Auditor has pointed out in the last few months that our Sask Party government has not been transparent and accountable to the taxpayers for many years now. She has pointed out that the books of Saskatchewan are not to be believed. If the Premier is going to muse about raising taxes like educational ones, he had better come forward with a budget based on summary financial statements and a budget based on one set of books so that we all can understand if we are getting value for money spent and not being simply part of Mr. Wall’s slight of hand political agenda which is supposed to make us believe that he is presenting balanced budgets and taxing us fairly.
It is the government’s responsibility to tax us fairly for the things that our society wants and needs but the optimum word is “fairly” and that certainly doesn’t apply to Mr. Wall’s musings at SUMA or to continue using two sets of books.
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These issues must be debated for “The Right Reasons”.