We need fair and sensible taxes

In ‘CitySpeak’ in the Feb. 22nd Express, Chris Stephan states, “It seems as though Premier Redford is prepared to completely squander the province’s Sustainability Fund on her unsustainable government.” He also states, “Like most Albertans, I have been proud of the fact that our province has historically been a financially responsible jurisdiction that has found a way to tax less than other provinces (flat tax, and no PST) and still put money away for the future, and/or returned surpluses back to Albertans.” Having spent most of my adult life in Manitoba and Ontario where provincial tax rates are higher than in Alberta, there is more than one tax rate and there is a PST, I know that higher taxes are not the worst thing that can happen to someone who is fortunate enough to have a reasonable income. A much worse thing is not to have good essential services like education and health care. I hope that in the next election a majority of Albertans will see the foolishness of their obsession with low taxes and will elect MLAs who support fair and sensible taxes. The flat tax should be done away with, both to increase provincial revenue and also to foster an attitude of fairness regarding the distribution of wealth.

I strongly disagree with Chris’ implication that Premier Redford is running an unsustainable government. Considering the wealth that Alberta has, and the fact that the Premier has increased spending in important areas such as schools, health care and AISH, she has not been squandering money. Where she has failed is that the money has come from the Sustainability Fund rather than from increasing taxes. Every family with an income of over $100,000 should be willing to accept having a little less discretionary money to help support Alberta’s young, ill and disabled.

The theory behind giving tax breaks is that it provides incentives for investments that benefit everyone. It is a great theory for those who receive the breaks, but not so great for those who have to depend on the trickledown effect. Sometimes tax breaks help stimulate the economy and sometimes they do not. Tax breaks never seem to be given with any conditions attached, such as if they do not produce the desired effect, there will be higher taxes to pay next year.

When governments fail to use good sense in setting how much they will collect in taxes, they may go into debt or they may not provide as good services as they could or should. When a government accumulates more debt than is healthy for its citizens, the underlying cause is more often under taxation rather than overspending on frivolous items. Sometimes, governments tell us they can no longer afford to provide good services, such as schools with low student-teacher ratios, and jobs must be cut. Unfortunately, when these jobs are cut, the people involved often end up unemployed or doing work of less value to society. The ‘afford’ argument often has more to do with a rigid philosophy of keeping taxes low than with actual lack of resources or the need to purchase the resources with scarce foreign exchange dollars. The ‘afford’ argument can also reflect the values and philosophies of citizens who have an irrational fear of the government becoming too powerful or who are unwilling to make some sacrifices for the common good.

Sometimes we try to make up for shortfalls in government spending by doing things that seem irrational. An example is lotteries to raise funds for hospitals. Thousands of volunteer hours are spent selling tickets that, for every dollar sold, return about 50 cents to the hospital. Another example is public private partnerships, where money that could have been collected in taxes is invested to make a profit at the public’s expense.

There is certainly some validity to a fear of government becoming too powerful, but we also have to fear too much power being concentrated in the hands of a wealthy few who are unaccountable to the electorate. In the upcoming election, Albertans will have to decide what they consider to be fair and sensible taxes, and cast their votes accordingly.

Jim Saltvold

Red Deer