Are you planning to vote in the coming municipal election? If history is any indication, the answer is “no.” Only about one in three eligible voters has shown up to vote in recent municipal elections in B.C.
I get it. We are all busy. Just keeping up with email can feel like a full time job. Then there are bills to pay, homework to help with, and a house or apartment to keep (reasonably) tidy. All before dealing with the most tiring question of each day: What’s for dinner?
Who has time to vote? Municipal councils across the province now count on being unaccountable and have been on a big spending spree. Our apathy, understandable as it is, is hitting us in the pocketbook.
For the past three years, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has been tracking municipal spending in annual reports to see if it is increasing at a reasonable rate. We started this after I got tired of sitting across the table from mayors who claimed that keeping business property taxes reasonable was impossible without raising taxes on residents – not a solution we recommend.
I asked about spending restraint and was told on countless occasions there was no room to control spending because “spending had already been cut to the bone.”
It was a line repeated often enough everyone seemed to believe it. But the numbers clearly show municipalities have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.
We consider a reasonable spending increase to be in the neighbourhood of population and inflation growth. Population and inflation grew by about 29 per cent across B.C. from 2000 to 2008.
Operating spending over that same period soared by 58 per cent, or double what a reasonable benchmark suggests that it should be.
Much of this is due to inflated wages and benefits at the municipal level where compensation is about 35 per cent higher than equivalent private-sector jobs.
CFIB’s fourth annual report is due soon. An early look at the results suggests they are even worse. The latest data available, for 2009, show the biggest year-over-year spending increase of the decade. How much more can your wallet take?
It’s a problem that needs to be curtailed before it does more damage to our communities.
This year, we have asked candidates to take the CFIB Taxpayer Pledge. So far, 24 candidates have signed, agreeing to keep spending reasonable, keep taxes for small businesses reasonable and support the appointment of a municipal auditor-general to hold municipalities accountable for providing value for taxpayer dollars. That’s 24 brave candidates willing to stand up for you out of thousands. It’s a start.
On election night, it might be worth ordering takeout. Too many municipal politicians have lost respect for your pocketbook. The only way to change that is to go to the polls.
To see which candidates in your community signed the CFIB Taxpayer Pledge go to www.cfib.ca/bccivicelections.
Laura Jones, Sr. Vice-President Research, Economics & Western Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business may be reached for comment at 604 684-5325 or email@example.com