Make rich pay more for parking tickets, building permits and garbage removal

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

18 comments

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Should rich drivers pay more for their parking fines than poor ones?

In less than a week the Occupy Vancouver group has shrunk from a mass of about 4000 to a few hundred campers. Fortunately for those living in the squat, Mother Nature has been kind providing ample sunshine and warm temperatures. With a forecast of rain this weekend, it will be interesting to see how many remain on site.

The Occupy Vancovuer protest got me thinking. Surely there must be a civic policy angle in all of this beyond the fact they are breaking numerous by-laws?

That’s when I heard about an initiative being debated in Winnipeg aimed at making the rich pay more for garbage pickup. Finally I found something to write about that the Occupy Vancouver protestors and their political supporters would endorse!

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the make-the-rich-pay-more for garbage pickup scheme is being proposed by ward councillor Ross Eadie:

Mr. Eadie wants to tie the fee roughly to property value, arguing that those of less means (cheaper houses) can less afford it. He would charge $25 to those whose houses are valued up to $200,000, rising to $75 for those whose houses are valued above $400,000.

Now if COPE or Vision were truly supportive of Occupy Vancouver, they’d also be looking at introducing similar policy initiatives. Heck, wouldn't the best time to do that be smack dab in the middle of a civic election campaign?

What if COPE/Vision were to introduce a make-the-rich-pay scheme for the various fees and services charged by the City of Vancouver? Let me explain.

First they could introduce a new Occupy Vancouver Fee Fairness By-law. Essentially the legislation would permit City Hall to charge rich people more for every fee, fine and service (rich people defined as anyone making over $150K).

For example, under the Fee Fairness By-law if you want to build a new house valued at over $1.5M your building permit fees would be $1000. If you are building more “affordable” housing under $1.5M your fees would be cut in half.

Alternatively, the by-law could simply add a $500 "affordable housing fee" to every new or used home sold in the city. The funds raised from this fee would go directly toward building "affordable housing" units for those who need it.

The Fee Fairness By-Law would also apply to parking tickets. Owners of late model BMWs, Lexus & Mercedes Benz would get $100 parking tickets. Meanwhile the owner of an older model Camry or Focus would only have to pay $50 bucks. I think you are starting to get the picture.

If you don't think there is precedent for this type of legislation, think again. As it stands now the City of Vancouver currently charges wealthier land owners higher property taxes even if they use the same amount of services as a lower cost home. So why shouldn’t they extend that same policy to building permits, garbage fees and traffic violations?

Needless to say, there isn’t a single Vancouver politician (perhaps with the exception of COPE’s Tim Louis) who would introduce the Occupy Vancouver Fee Fairness By-Law. Why? Because it would be political suicide. It's much easier for politicians to say they support Occupy Vancouver than for them to actually do anything about it.

Furthermore, in the case of the garbage pickup it doesn’t actually help the city go green. The Free Press states:

This [proposal] simply would compound the biggest weakness in the plan that does not tie the fee to usage, which is the better justification for a user fee. Mr. Katz's approach will raise money for the garbage service, but it won't hold people responsible for what they throw away, so it won't necessarily encourage them to cut cost by cutting back on what they toss in the trash.

Make the rich pay, an old cant of activists, is returning to favour as a call for redistribution of wealth. But it fails as an enticement to individual responsibility. It doesn't hold people responsible for the pressure they put on the earth's resources. It echoes the woolly logic of poverty activists who want to charge those of lower income less for hydro power.

The best way to redistribute wealth, or ease the strain on lower-income households, is through progressive income taxation. Making it easier for people to trash recyclables or leave windows open a crack in winter is bad economics, period.

Do you think any of our civic politicians are brave enough to come up with real policy ideas to help re-distribute the wealth in Vancouver? If so, is what I’ve discussed regarding a two-tier fee system workable? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

- Post by Daniel. You can follow us on on Twitter @CityCaucus or you can "like" us on Facebook at facebook.com/citycaucus.

18 Comments

An interesting idea, but I don't foresee it coming out as a platform plank, and not just because of the politics of it. COPE develops it's platform through a grassroots-driven committee system and is approved/rejected at the same time as the candidates are selected. Almost every party has their platform developed in advance since it allows for tighter messaging control, but also prevents a politician from looking opportunistic.

I'm all for taxing wealthy individuals at a higher proportional rate, but this is silly.

There can be a fairly logical argument made when taxing wealthy individuals through income tax and property tax. Based on the values of Canadian society (part capitalism / part socialism), we believe in a degree of wealth redistribution. This can be fairly accomplished with income and property tax.

But to begin to increase fines or user fees based on limited information would be unfair. Specifically the parking violations. Choice of automobile is hardly a determining factor of your actual net worth. Many middle class individuals indulge in fancy cars while many wealthy individuals are perfectly happy with a more basic car.

And if we're actually looking to change people fairly for garbage collection, it should be based on weight/volume and not the house from which it comes. This would create the proper incentives to reduce waste, which is a more appropriate goal to link with trash.

An even better idea is to have traffic fines increase as personal wealth increases. This could actually save lives. While a $200 ticket is a big deal for most people and can be be a deterrent to dangerous driving, it is not for someone who has a high net worth. This is common in Europe with Switzerland Germany, France, Austria and the Nordic countries issue punishment based on personal wealth. In Germany, the maximum fine can be as high as $16 million!

It's an interesting idea.
I live in a housing co-op. There are minimum fees, which benefits the co-op; there are maximum fees with benefits the better off members; and then there are housing charges as percentage of income which helps everyone.

That's why I'm a great advocate for using percentages. Everyone is billed at an agreed-upon equal percentage, no "rich" or "poor", just pay according to your means.

I do wonder, Daniel, why you wouldn't propose this to the NPA? Could be a popular policy to a large group of voters...!

And where does the business tax payer (read job creator) fit into this equation at the civic, property tax level? They pay for garbage and water separately, then, they pay parking tax, and beyond that... they pay $2.00 for every $1.00 of services they consume.

@Julia. Businesses may pay 2-1 compared to residents, but they can write off their property taxes as a business expense. How many impoverished homeowners on the eastside can do that? It's a good deal and they should be paying more to help grow the economy.

RK, adjust for the marginal tax rate (assuming the business made a profit) and the numbers are still way out of whack.

If you want to stimulate the economy you need to leave enough money in a business to pay someone a salary. Which would you rather have, lower property taxes or a job.

I think that everyone should pay their fair share. I am actually surprised that when I walk by a parking meter downtown that most of the time it is not paid. The City needs money, why not ticket the vilolators??? or where are the parking ticketers?

"impoverished homeowners on the east side".... Good one!!!!! Did you know how funny that would sound when you wrote it?

Your "make the rich pay more.." has a rather unsavory tone of class envy, but it doesn't have to.

Why not rework the idea to make it more of an environmentally-correct "demand side management" strategy?

So rich (or anybody else) pays more when they consume more. DSM is a key tool of natural resources conservation, but also the idea behind user fees to dissuade over-consumption of expensive social goods.

BC Hydro's 2-tier electricity rates are good DSM example, but also could include many of your examples if slightly re-worked. Like, rather than just doing something that would be thrown out of court like fining expensive speeders more than clunker car speeders, make the second speeding ticket more expensive than it is now.

The price must reflect the social or environmental goods consumed, or else there will be distortions that lead to a failure of the strategy.

(Writing from Winnipeg)

Councillor Eadie is earnest but not terribly experienced. So he doesn't quite get it. His idea is legally impractical.

1. The City of Winnipeg Act prevents the City from charging most taxes, but leaves it free to charge user fees for services.

2. Any fee that's not levied in at least rough proportion to the actual per-user cost of the service must be treated as a tax under the SCC's Eurig decision. And the City wouldn't have the power to levy it if it was a tax (in fact, the $50 fee might not even pass this smell test, but that's another issue).

The solution to this is to either pay for garbage collection through general revenue - which is already tied to assessed property values - or charge a true user fee that discourages higher garbage use. Instead, Council ended up debating two middle ground alternatives and adopting one, even though neither makes much sense.

Good to see that satire is still alive. Of course it is most powerful when directed at ones own ingroup (say Portlandia).

If you are serious about this, I guess one should look at why their are such gaps in wealth in Vancouver. I was at an investment event Monday where one person commented that Vancouver is a city where there is a lot more wealth than income. So where is all this wealth coming from? A dangerous question. Maybe better ask how much of it is being generated in Vancouver by legitimate means and how we can increase this. And how we can get more high-paying jobs into the city.

Then we could look at why some people would be able to get the high paying jobs and others would not. Part of the answer is education. But maybe another answer is that we just don't make enough stuff locally. Some will say that Vancouver has never been and will never be a manufacturing centre. Why though? There is a whole new generation of local manufacturing technologies emerging, Vancouver could lead this.

So -

Have individuals invest more locally.
Grow large locally owned companies.
Invest in life long education, training and apprenticeship.
Reinvent local manufacturing.

Are there tax issues? Probably. Are they municipal? I doubt that they are that critical, though Julia always has good points to make here.

Just here to point out that a $1000 building permit value, meant to be the "higher" fee for the bourgeoisie, is actually extremely low. It's likely that most BP fees start at $4-5k and go up from there (based on construction value).

Part of the answer to your questions can be found in an op ed piece in the Sun a few days ago pointing out that development of our resources provides a source of high paying jobs yet Progressives fight resource development at every opportunity.

Of course we want to diversify away from commodities and the cyclical nature of demand and pricing. But what's wrong with taking advantage of the economic benefits of our resources and use those benefits to support diversifying our economy?

Nothing at all. But let's (i) try to develop an economy that captures as much of the value of the resourse as possible and (ii) make sure that the real costs are captured in the price and that we are not subsidizing the resource extraction.

The former is a result of a failure of imagination and will by the business elites in Vancouver. The latter is a failure of our governments. Both are within our power to change.

For Vancouver, or BC anyway, many of the best green jobs are going to be found in a new vision for forestry and wood products and in new technologies and management practices for mining.

It is a pity that Scandinavia has cruched us on the latter in the past. Let's change that.

Good to hear you are for resource development. Can I put you down as pro Enbridge and Keystone pipelines?

As long as the environmental and social costs are fully captured - which as far as I can tell, and I have only invested a few hours in researching this, they are not.

I would also respect the rights of the land owners. I am not a big fan emminent domain, which I think is much abused.

Are you opposed to the Provincial Government contributing $40 million in order to support the Seaspan bid to obtain $8 billion in economic activity? After all, this too is a subsidy.

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