It’s all about local

There’s a growing movement in Manitoba to raise the Provincial Sales Tax (PST) by one percent and dedicate that tax revenue to infrastructure. It’s supported by groups such as the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM), the Manitoba Business Council and by rank and file NDP party members. It’s also supported by many municipal leaders.
Now the Town of Neepawa council hasn’t recently discussed this issue in the way of supporting or opposing a PST increase and a subsequent influx of money for infrastructure. I happen to be mayor of Neepawa and it certainly hasn’t been discussed in my short term on council.
The need for infrastructure improvements is discussed at nearly every meeting in one way or another. The budget always contains some infrastructure improvements but it’s never enough to catch up. There is a lot of legitimate pressure on infrastructure.
The question that needs to be answered is whether or not an increase in PST is the way to go. It would raise our PST to eight per cent which would be eight per cent higher than Alberta. In Saskatchewan, their web site says it’s five per cent and a quick note says it’s not on light vehicles if the PST has already been paid. In Manitoba, it’s seven per cent and you pay it on light vehicles every time a vehicle is sold.
So an increase to eight percent would put Manitoba at a retail disadvantage to Saskatchewan and Alberta.
There’s another couple of problems with an increase in PST. One is that the money all goes to the province and gets doled back out to the municipalities. That costs money. Every time you let a senior government get its hands on your tax dollars, some of it sticks to their fingers and you never see it again. It gets eaten up in bureaucracy, good union, well paid job bureaucracy that doesn’t do a thing for replacing infrastructure.
A bigger problem is that someone in an office somewhere decides what infrastructure is and where that infrastructure will be built. You can rest assured most of it will be built in Winnipeg, Brandon and Thompson. You can rest assured that infrastructure’s definition will magically expand to include hockey rinks, stadiums, theatres and swimming pools.
A local politician currently stands pretty much alone on this issue. Reeve David Single of the RM of Westbourne has repeatedly stated at AMM meetings that local governments should fight the increase in PST and work out ways to finance their own issues.
I think Single is correct, but that is a personal opinion. The Neepawa council hasn’t taken a stand on this issue, perhaps the RM of Westbourne council hasn’t either.
However, decades, yes decades, of experience has shown Single (and me) that local solutions are the best ones. Local governments can build roads, street, sewers, water lines, essential stuff a lot cheaper and faster than provincial or federal governments.
Long term planning is needed, 100-year planning, as a young engineer said at a recent meeting.
So, in spite of the pressure from various sources, the provincial government officially is against the PST increase. That’s a good thing.
Local governments and local groups need to take a much higher profile in terms of local infrastructure. When outside money is requested, such as federal or provincial grants, the project should be large, regional and a benefit to many municipal areas. Otherwise, local government needs to stand on its own and let the local taxes stay local. It’s just better that way.

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