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Greater Victoria, BC News

ARTICLE

Date ArticleType
1/29/2016 Published Article
We should study budgets and offer input

We pay income taxes to federal and provincial governments and property taxes municipally. We pay the PST and GST. There is also a host of other taxes, including health and employment taxes, import duties, licence fees, taxes on the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, natural-resource fees, fuel taxes and hospital taxes.

All three levels of governments are preparing their respective budgets for 2016. Although we do not yet have a confirmed total, we do know that every year the government of Canada spends about $300 billion and the B.C. government about $45 billion. We also know that many of our municipal and local government budgets are in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The numbers are staggering. And it’s our money.

During the budget-consultation process, we taxpayers are asked for our input to ensure our interests are effectively represented. We are encouraged to participate in town halls, review proposed budgets, attend council meetings, fill out surveys. We are expected to interpret reams and reams of detail, such as the City of Victoria’s proposed budget at 958 pages. All of these represent a significant time commitment.

Given the daunting numbers, the complexity and the time commitment, what can we do? Should we bother to care?

As there is only one taxpayer and a growing number of entities that collect taxes, levies and fees, we have to care. We have to take the time. We have to make the effort. We have to understand what is happening with our money.

Our spending decisions have a tendency to focus on small numbers and individual items without the context of the broader effect. Do we want to spend $15 million on a roadway? Do we want to spend $15 million on solving homelessness? Do we want to invest $15 million on MRI scans to clear up a backlog? Do we want to spend $15 million on a new school?

As individual decisions, it appears easy to say yes. It is only too easy for some elected leaders to say: “I know it costs a bit more, but I think it’s worth it.” Unfortunately, all of these things need to be achieved in multiple communities, and are on top of the core spending that already exists to support the infrastructure and programs we have in place.

We all have a tendency to ask for the specialized funding and champion a program or cause that, in isolation, doesn’t look all that expensive. We need to consider the bigger picture. We need to support leaders who demonstrate fiscal responsibility. Leaders who say: “It might be nice, but taxpayers can’t afford any more,” “Does that really have value?” or “Is that where we want to spend your money?” In the end, there is only so much money. There is only one taxpayer.

The 2016 B.C. budget will be presented on Feb. 16, followed in short order by the federal budget, and a month or so later by municipal and Capital Regional District budgets. As taxpayers, we care when we get the tax bills.

It is our responsibility to examine the proposed budgets, ensure that we as taxpayers understand what is happening with our money and provide our input so we can affect the tax bill before it arrives in the mail. Now is the time.

Published in Times Colonist

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