Voluntary Civic Participation

May 23, 2012

As I sat staring blankly at my Twitter feed yesterday, a Don Peat tweet retweet appeared on screen. It was from last week during the Executive Committee meeting debate on the motion to rescind the 5¢ plastic bag fee. “Budget Chief Mike Del Grande says city only made $18,000 from people wanting to voluntarily pay more tax.”

Having not attended the meeting, I can’t say what exactly the budget chief was getting at. People don’t like paying extra taxes? Voluntary taxes aren’t nearly as effective at revenue generation as mandatory taxes?

I shrug. A firm grasp of the obvious.

But it did get me to thinking about this idea of a voluntary contribution payment the city has going. I first heard about it at the public deputations during last year’s budget cycle from the budget chief in fact. On a couple of occasions he asked deputants who’d come to plead their case for not cutting this service or ending that program, given the opportunity, would they pay extra into the city’s coffers in order to fund the service/program of their choice. It was sentiment that got picked up by the likes of Councillor Frances Nunziata who’d bark out the same question at a deputant she found particularly annoying.

A motion to pursue this was passed by city council last September and by a surprisingly large 39-6 vote (item 3d) including all councillors I would consider to be of my political persuasion.

So let me just say this. It is vilely inane.

What it suggests to me is that if you think some service or program the city offers is worthy, open your wallet. Everybody else? We’ll just sit back and live off others’ largesse, counting our extra money while doing so.

It undermines the concept of community, for lack of a better term I can’t come up with at the moment. We’re not in this together. Everyone for themselves.

Why not follow this to its logical conclusion? The city sets up a tax bill and we simply check off stuff we want to pay for? As a very irregular car driver, I don’t want much of my money going to road maintenance. Instead, I’m willing to pay for more cycling infrastructure. And since I don’t depend on public transit, no cash from me goes to the TTC budget. My contribution will come via the fare box.

Now, that’s respect for taxpayers.

No more meddling by meddlesome politicians in trying to strike a proper balance. Money talks and bullshit city building walks. I’m mean, why oh why should I pay to maintain a fire department if I’ve never had a fire? On the flipside of that, if I really want to get my money’s worth, maybe I should torch my garage. I need to rebuild it anyway.

You see where this kind of free-for-all thinking can lead toward a very spiky city scape.

I, for one, think we get pretty good value for the money we give to our city government. Compared to my monthly private sector outlay to Rogers for the services they provide me? Yeah, I’m a pretty satisfied with what the city delivers.

Hell, compared to the return on investment I get from the senior levels of government, City Hall is a beacon of serving up a bang for my tax buck. From my personal experience, an overwhelming majority of taxes go to the feds and province in the form of income and sales taxes. The return I see is inversely proportional.

I know the historic reasons for such an arrangement and there’s certainly a lot to be said for Ottawa and Queen’s Park ensuring a level playing field for service delivery across the spectrum of their respective responsibilities – less so with each successive downloading of that responsibility – but this arrangement is long overdue for a revisit. The hierarchy has been turned upside down with the importance of cities to the entire country’s well-being grown to the degree it has. It seems the height of inefficiency sending the biggest amount of money the furthest away from where it’s needed, waiting for it to trickle down.

That’s the discussion we really should be having not haggling over how we divvy up an unsustainable slice of the taxation pie. There is only one taxpayer, it has been said. Yeah well, 80% of them live in municipalities that are increasingly coming up short of money needed to function properly. The only voluntary contributions that can change that fact need to come from our senior levels of government.

donatedly submitted by Cityslikr