I just recently came across an article by Tom MacDonald, the Executive Director of the Local Government Management Association (LGMA) of British Columbia and 2011 Silver Medal Lieutenant Governor Award of British Columbia. The article fully reflects my sentiments about the subject topic of local government taxation and relationship with the business community and so I asked Tom if I could publish his article in my blog. He agreed and here it is:
“I can’t think of even a single time over the past eight years where anything even remotely political in nature has been the subject of this report. After all, normally we leave the politics to the folks at UBCM (Union of British Columbia Municipalities). However, a few weeks ago I was out walking with a local government colleague and we got onto the topic of the various “Occupy” movements that were manifesting themselves across North America including Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. While the “Occupy” groups seem to be at best incoherent collectives of people with beefs against “the system,” the prevailing theme of the movement is that corporate greed has led to a situation where a very small percentage of the population controls much of the wealth, and that the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow.
So what does any of this have anything to do with local government in British Columbia? Well, most of you who are our members and readers will know that local governments have been under a concerted attack this year by business lobby groups who are saying that local government spending is out of control, that business pays too much, and that business has no voice in how they are taxed. Earlier this year, an excellent response to these concerns was prepared by the UBCM in collaboration with LGMA and GFOA to address these specific points. (See http://www.lgma.ca: Resources and Publications for a copy of the report.) While not wanting to rehash the report, it did acknowledge that local government expenditures and taxes were rising, but that in virtually all cases, these costs were coming from the local taxpayers who were demanding the increased services. It also provided data showing that the business share of property taxes has actually gone down over time versus residential taxes, and that the majority of elected officials in B.C. were from a business background.
So now back to my walk with my colleague and our conversation about the “Occupy” movement sweeping North America. “How is it,” he said, “that the business community and Chamber of Commerce groups often lead the charge for pressing local governments to provide additional services – deal with homelessness/street people in business areas, deal with criminal gangs, undertake beautification projects in business areas, provide more downtown parking, install new underground infrastructure to facilitate development, etc., etc. – but in the next breath, they attack local governments for increased expenditures? Isn’t this just a bit hypocritical that the business lobby always seem to want more but that they want others to pay? Could this be a version of the same principle that the “Occupy” movement has seized upon when they complain that a very small minority control the wealth while the rest of the population bears the burden?” Of course my friend also raised the point that any business person reading this article would simply make the assertion that as local government employees, comments such as these from us are just self-serving and an attempt to protect our fat-cat jobs. In response to this, one might ask, how many local government managers make up that 1% who control the 99% of the wealth compared to those who are business people?
“Just a bit more balance on this debate please!” said my colleague.”
The article speaks for itself…thank you for listening.