Tax breaks for banks, cuts to libraries and community centres. Many of Vision Vancouver's supporters are bewildered regarding their budget priorities
Now that the dust is settling from what felt like months of budget debate, Vision Vancouver has now passed their 4.26% tax increase. As a result, homeowners will have experienced a 12% tax increase over two years under this administration, while business taxes remain frozen.
Let me first say that I applaud a number of media outlets who actually got the 4.26% tax increase number correct in their coverage of the budget. Unfortunately, a number of folks were still inaccurately reporting the increase was only 2.26%. The fact remains when you add 2% from the taxes that businesses should have paid, residents end up footing the total 4.26% bill in 2010.
Despite opposition from COPE and the NPA, it now appears the days are numbered for cherished icons such as the Bloedel Conservatory and the Stanley Park petting zoo. Community centres, libraries, graffiti removal and garbage pickup are also being negatively impacted. This is all being done in order that left-leaning Vision can help brand itself as "fiscal conservatives" to broaden their appeal to the likes of the Vancouver Fair Tax Coalition and other right-of-centre organizations. The Mayor's senior advisors (and pollsters) have likely told him this will help Robertson in his quest to become Premier of BC one day.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of their union and non-unionized supporters must be sitting at home bewildered with what has become of their Vision Vancouver under Robertson's leadership. That's because while the Mayor and his caucus cut funding for libraries, parks and community centres, they are willingly taking on responsibility for files that were once the sole jurisdiction of senior levels of government. Last week alone Robertson spent $1 million dollars to help combat homelessness - an issue that has normally been funded by senior levels of government with much deeper pockets. They also introduced a new $1000 subsidy program to help defray the cost of homeowners wanting to install solar panels.
When Mayor Robertson is not traveling the world at taxpayers expense (Copenhagen trip just cost $11,000 + unknown carbon emissions) to help save the global environment, he's making Obama-like pronouncements on issues such as homelessness and mental health. Meanwhile, on the home front, bread and butter municipal issues such as securing funding to replace the aging Bloedel conservatory roof don't capture his imagination. If you don't believe me, just re-read a post from where Robertson didn't even mention the Bloedel in his wishlist of infrastructure needs to the Feds. In fact, we revealed he didn't even have a list.
Civic budgets are where partisan politics are stripped away and you get to see what the real priorities are for any government. In the case of Vision, those priorities include property tax breaks for the big banks, cuts to libraries and community centres and the layoff of over 150 unionized employees. Clearly not something their supporters had anticipated.
While other cities such as Coquitlam and Edmonton were able to convince their voters that a modest 5% tax increase during this recession was necessary, Vancouver went in a different direction. Other jurisdictions have been able to get unanimous support for their budgets, while in Vancouver both COPE and the NPA vehemently voted against this one.
In the end, the big winner in all of this is City Manager Penny Ballem. She took a gamble that she would have the political support necessary to begin cutting back services at City Hall - and won. Now that she has been empowered, you can expect there will be more cuts. Ballem's Core Services Review will likely continue to cause much angst in the public service and its unions for months to come.
While Ballem's efforts to "cut the fat" is being applauded in certain sectors of the business community, it's only a matter of time before her employees and the citizens of Vancouver wake up to the reality of what is happening at 12th and Cambie.
Slowly and systematically the organization is being stripped apart and re-organized to meet Ballem's vision for a modern and efficient civic government. As we all know, Ballem was instrumental in the controversial reorganization with BC's health authorities when she was Deputy Minister of Health.
Vancouver is rated as one of the best cities in the world in part due to its professional and committed public service. That shouldn't be overlooked as Ballem prepares to dig the surgical knife even deeper to find further efficiencies.
It's hard to believe that Vision Vancouver only has one budget left before they go back to the polls. It will be interesting to see if they continue with their cost cutting mantra straight through to 2011. Early indicators are that the finances at City Hall will leave them with little wriggle room for the foreseeable future.
- Post by Daniel