Careful spending is an essential part of any viable progressive vision for the City.
Public spending can only be justified if it provides value for money. In addition, municipal spending is generally paid for with property taxes, which fall disproportionately on the poorest residents. High property taxes should be a concern for anyone who is concerned about poverty or inequality. [See Poverty Reduction.]
Another reason for careful spending is that St. John’s is competing for residents and for business with thirteen other municipalities in the Northeast Avalon [see Business Community]. Many of them offer higher services for lower taxes. To some extent this is an unavoidable consequence of unfair provincial arrangements [see Taxes on Provincial Property, Amalgamation and City Boundaries], but the reality is that high municipal taxes can drive away people and business and increase the burden on the rest of us.
The 18% salary raises that came out of the 2014 contract negotiations brought these issues into particular focus. Public employees deserve to make competitive, living wages, and the right to collective bargaining is important and must be respected. At the same time, the raises were not publicly justified.
In the short run, the salary raises led to tax increases. The ensuing public outcry has led to a program review and spending cuts. Some of the spending cuts may be pure efficiencies, but service levels have been affected, and some measures like increased transit fees have placed an unfair burden on vulnerable community members. [See Poverty Reduction, Public Transit.]
Budgeting means hard choices, and I can’t promise to please everyone. Here’s what I can say:
- I support continuing the program review: painful as it is, we need to look constantly for more efficient ways to deliver public services.
- I will push for an independent City auditor, both to look for efficiencies and to increase public confidence in Council’s spending.
- I will resist expensive pet projects and the impulse to hire expensive external consultants to do work City staff are able to do. We need to trust our in-house experts.
- When the City invests in valuable work or faces unavoidable costs, I will work to explain the problems. It’s easier to accept taxes when the reason for them is apparent. [See Transparency.]
- I will fight for a fair distribution of the tax burden: costs should not fall disproportionately on either our poorest residents or on small businesses.
- I will push for regional fairness: see Taxes on Provincial Property, Amalgamation and City Boundaries.
- I will push to protect taxpayers from the expropriation costs associated with our water supply [see Water Supply].