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.