A Taxing Problem

May 3, 2013

What if we took the most recent Fraser Institute tax attack report, taxmanThe Canadian Consumer Tax Index, and its claim of a 1787% tax increase since 1961 at face value and simply shrugged? Not for the reasons Matt Elliott did yesterday when he challenged the robustness of the report’s methodology but from an angle of nonchalance. Yeah, so? Big deal. I’m with Oliver Wendell Holmes. I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Or in other words, would I rather be living now in 2013 than back in 1961?

Infant mortality rate in 1961 was 27.1/1000. In 2011? 4.9/1000. Canadians lived 10 years less on average in 1961 than they do now. GDP per capita… well this.

chartupupup

Of course taxes aren’t the sole reason for those positive changes but neither did taxation roll us back to the dark ages. We are hardly taxed to death, as some like to say. In fact, the stats point to just the opposite.

So let’s stop operating from the premise that taxation is inherently bad. Politicians like Councillor Doug Ford should be derided and dismissed outright when they state something as glaringly asinine as “All taxes are evil as far as I’m concerned.” taxesareevilThe subtext of such a sentiment is that the person expressing it is not to be taken at all seriously. It is a mind-numbingly idiotic thing to say that only a certified crank would believe.

The negative economic effects of taxation have long been exaggerated while the benefits have been methodically downplayed. Every time you go to see your doctor and don’t have to open your cheque book is your tax dollars at work. You drive to work today? Your tax dollars paved the road you used. Whatever you kid learned in school comes from a portion of your property taxes.

Without taxes, there is no public sphere or common wealth. Everything’s for sale and anything deemed of worth usually goes to the highest bidder. Taxation is one way we seek to mitigate the damages inflicted by the laissez-faire, everybody-for-themselves workings of our free market system.

And now comes the great debate about paying for a long overdue public transit expansion throughout the GTHA region. How to fund The Big Move. No taxes, no way, no how says our mayor and his ardent supporters. Government’s already got its boots on the neck of the taxpayers and emptied our pockets. That well’s been tapped dry. emptypockets2Read the Fraser Institute report if you don’t believe Mayor Ford.

OK. So, well. How do you propose to build and run the transit network we really needed about a decade ago, oh haters of taxes and respecters of taxpayers? You got $50 billion or so kicking around, easily accessible?

*crickets, crickets*

With no credible plan to pay for any new transit (and with three years to come up with one), the mayor and his allies have switched tacks and now seek to undermine the trustworthiness of the governing Liberals, citing scandal after scandal as proof that they shouldn’t be allowed further access to the taxpayer money tree. ORNGE! EHEALTH!! GAS PLANTS!!! GAS PLANTS, FOLKS!!!!

Now I don’t want to sound as if I could care less about accountability. The mismanagement and dedication to evading responsibility for it is deplorable. I’d be more than happy to turf this government from power and start with a clean slate if I saw I viable alternative, at least on this particular issue of transit.

So far, I don’t. It’s all populist pandering from both left and right with nothing much more on offer than change for change’s sake. distractionThe Liberals are tired and fresh out of ideas. Vote for us, for a different kind of tired and lack of new ideas.

And in terms of transit building, I’ll go even one step further. Add these scandals up, right up, generously to the top. Call it $3 billion of ill-spent money and let’s pretend it was a single year outlay. What was the total spending in yesterday’s provincial budget? $127.6 billion? That represents a little over 2% of the total 2013 expenditure. Statistically, a rounding error.

Before you go all off and start labelling me a Liberal apologist, my point is, all that money, the entire $3 billion would make but a dent in the Big Move. It would pay for just over a year of the proposed 25 year timeline. Where’s the rest going to come from?

We can bitch and moan, mumble and grumble, huff and puff and threaten to blow the shaky credibility house down but we’ve still got a shitload of transit to build. Until someone comes up with a better plan* to pay for it, our taxes are going to have to do the trick. Just like they have always done when it comes to paying for the public good.

well

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr

 

* There won’t be a better plan. If there was a better plan, we would’ve heard about it by now.


Citizens As Monetary Units (Hee, Hee. Hee, Hee. He Said ‘Unit’)

March 4, 2011

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke… and by ‘we’, I mean ‘me’, still all alone in this office for months now… I’ve been pondering upon this taxpayer vs. citizen notion. Probably much of that having to do with our Walmart manager mayor, Rob Ford, and all his talk of ‘value for money’ and Respect For The Taxpayer and “Good morning, sir. Can I help you? Linen and nachos? Aisle 37.”

It’s a monetization of citizenship.

The issue reared its head again recently, with the questions of spending over at the TCHC and the mayor’s own words a week or so ago when he was sputtering out blather in an attempt to cover yet another homophobic gaffe. He’d been the lone voice at council to vote against taking provincial funds to provide STI awareness and screening. His publicly stated reason? “Everyone says it’s provincial money. No. It’s taxpayers’ money. So, you know what? In the big picture, they say it doesn’t cost the city a dime. Well, it costs people money…”

That’s when it hit me. No, Mayor Ford, it isn’t the taxpayers’ money. Taxes are the rent we pay to live in a civilized society. (h/t Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr..) We pay so that we can walk/drive/bike on safe, clean streets. We pay to have potable water come directly into our homes and to have the sewage taken away. To have our garbage collected. The snow plowed. To educate our children. Etc., etc. etc. Taxes are what we owe in order that we can inhabit a hospitable environment and more easily get on with living our lives.

Take a look at this and see the breadth of services this city offers in return for the taxes we submit. I’d call that pretty good value for money. And if you still aren’t convinced and resent handing over your money, let me paraphrase a Tweet I saw awhile back. Go live in the fucking woods.

Yes, there are always hiccups. Misuse of funds. Sometimes even illegalities. That tends to happen in organizations that deal with billions of dollars a year. So far, though, even in gravy laden Toronto, it is a very small fraction of the overall money spent and, as the Auditor-General report shows, mechanisms are in place to root out and curb excesses.

How taxes are allocated and who pays how much is all part of the negotiation of living in a liberal democracy. Parties form around that particular issue. Some elections hinge on it. (See, Toronto municipal election, October 25th, 2010.)

I attended a transit seminar earlier this week at the Institute on Municipal Governance and Finance where one of the speakers was Barry Watson, President and Chief Executive Officer, of Environics Research Group. In his presentation, he stated over 2/3 of people expressed a preference for better services to tax cuts. In fact, in a survey done last December entitled Focus GTA, just as the Ford Nation was forming, more than 3 times the people asked cited transportation concerns over the issue of taxes. According to Dr. Watson, for most Canadians (both inside and outside Ford Nation presumably) the issue of taxation is not a major fixation. 70% of us see taxes as mostly a force for good, and that’s down noticeably over the past 5 years. I wonder why that could be.

Cue the anti-tax crusaders.

For, it seems, taxes do become a dominant issue when we start to believe that they are being squandered by our government, when all we hear about is wasteful spending, disrespect for the taxpayer and, yes, Teh Gravy Train. It’s almost as if our one note mayor and his crack team of messengers researched this and realized they could put together a winning formula by just harping on, over and over and over and over, about waste, excess and disrespect, using big numbers and de-contextualized anecdotal evidence, to blow the situation out of all proportion and beyond the actual reality on the ground. If one tended to cynically believe in that sort of crass politics, that is.

That is in no way to diminish the problems that arise like we’ve seen this week with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. But we need to step back and take a more measured response, to try and understand its actual scope and the true degree of malfeasance at work here. Over-reacting and baying like bib-and-tuckered bloodhounds (for all you Christopher Fry fans out there) is counterproductive. It only plays into the mayor’s hands and his anti-tax/government spending histrionics. Without our indignation and outrage, he’s got nothing.

To survive, Mayor Ford needs to de-couple the notion of citizenry and taxation. He needs to reduce our relationship with government to nothing more than a straightforward financial transaction. He needs us to accept his view that taxes are extortion. Money unjustly and, quite possibly, criminally ripped from our wallets and fed into the gaping maw of an overweening and insatiable alien life force that serves no other purpose than to suck us dry.

We know better than that. Let’s stop falling prey to this nasty appeal to our worst instincts. It benefits no one in the long run except exploitive politicians bent on delivering us whole hog to the vagaries and indifference of pure, unfettered free marketry.

citizenly submitted by Cityslikr


Citizens V Taxpayers

February 11, 2011

Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! Are We Not Citizens? We Are Taxpayers!

People who think of themselves as ‘taxpayers’ or ‘stakeholders’ rarely act like citizens.

What’s the difference, you ask?

Citizens engage. Taxpayers and stakeholders are units in a monetary transaction. They pay. They demand goods and/or services in return. Civic commitment ends there.

This thought struck me as I booted a half-filled bottle of juice that had rolled out from under a seat as I made my way down the aisle of a streetcar a couple nights back. Sitting down, I looked around. Cue my inner Bette Davis: What a dump! (Although it always comes out sounding more like Katherine Hepburn circa On Golden Pond.) It looked as if some sort of evil gust of wind had blown through and deposited a couple blocks worth of litter around the place. Newspapers. Paper bags and dirty napkins. Bottles and cans.

Citizens take their garbage with them. Taxpayers leave it behind on buses, streetcars and subways, reasoning that they pay the lazy union’s outrageous wages, so they can clean it up. Citizens pick up their dog’s poo. Stakeholders pretend that it’s not their dog. Citizens park illegally, get a ticket and pay it. Taxpayers and stakeholders park illegally, bitch about the ticket being a money grab and clog up the legal system trying to fight it in the hopes the issuing officer doesn’t appear in court.

Taxpayers and stakeholders see every government action as an intrusion and imposition into their lives, every tax a reach into their wallets. Citizens see government as an extension of themselves, duly elected to perform the task of keeping society functioning in an equitable and constructive manner. Citizens pay taxes (sing it along with me as it’s become a familiar refrain) in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., to… buy civilization.

Taxpayers and stakeholders instead quote their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, and pronounce: Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem. They call for smaller government. Citizens do not see small government as a panacea to our problems. In fact, citizens regard the call for smaller government with suspicion, a coded phrase for deregulation and lack of oversight. Smaller government leads to increased Walkertons, Gulf oil spills, near economic collapse.

Taxpayers and stakeholders represent the screaming id of civics discourse. What’s in it for me? I pay too much in taxes. I get too little in return. Me, me, me. I, I, I.

Citizens engage. With their neighbours. With their politicians. With the wider world. Citizenry self-interest extends beyond personal bank accounts and cheap parking. Citizens realize that their well-being is best served when everyone’s welfare is tended to not just their own.

And as we witnessed over the past month or so, with events transpiring as they have in Tunisia and Egypt, it is citizens not taxpayers or stakeholders who overthrow the forces of repression, fear and brutality.

happily submitted by Cityslikr


Anti-Tax Is Anti-Citizen

January 14, 2011

Since government, or social organization, is among the wants of man, as truly as food or clothing, we must recognize it in the science of political economy, and provide for it. Government implies functionaries and expenditures. How shall these be maintained? Evidently by the contributions of all, for all are interested in its existence. It may, therefore, rightfully claim a share of all that labor and capital have created.

— “The Science Of Wealth” (1866), by Amasa Walker

When Mayor Rob Ford succeeded in having the Vehicle Registration Tax repealed last month, he crowed, “It’s a great day for the taxpayers of Toronto. We just put $64-million back in their pockets. They can do what they want. They can go out and spend it, create jobs and stimulate the economy or they can save it.”

I don’t know if the mayor really believes all that neoconservative nonsense about tax cuts stimulating the economy and, in turn, increasing government revenues. There’s no reason why he wouldn’t since it’s an empty trope that’s been all the rage for the past 30 years or so despite having little real world evidence to back it up. And I also wonder if the mayor understands that even if tax cuts were shown to increase government revenue, municipal governments in this province would not see their coffers filled much as the kind of tax revenues they have access to aren’t the sales or consumption taxes that, theoretically, increase in a stimulated economy. It’s a subtle distinction Mayor Ford hasn’t shown much of a propensity in understanding.

In cutting the VRT, city council has essentially amputated one of the hard earned revenue tools it was granted through the City of Toronto Act. As it will if the mayor eventually carries through on his pledge to do away with the land transfer tax. His proposal to freeze property taxes on this year’s budget (which is actually a cut – see Spacing’s Dylan Reid explain in his post) slices mightily into the city’s biggest generator of revenue.

Despite what politicos on the right and their media promoters insist on telling us, taxation is not a dirty word. It’s what buys us civilization and all that. Striking the right balance on which taxes to implement and at what levels in order to not stifle healthy economic growth is the key to successful governance. Any idiot can simply appeal to our basest instincts of greed and self-interest in a call for slashing taxes. It’s proven to be a winning strategy for decades now.

The loss of the VRT revenue and the mayor’s proposed property tax freeze will cost the city in excess of $100 million. How will that money be offset? Service cuts that Mayor Ford guaranteed on the campaign trail wouldn’t happen and some $23 million in user fee increases. What’s that about Torontonians tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death? His Respect For Taxpayers seems to be very, very selective.

Anti-tax politicians are never looking out for ‘the little guy’ despite their claims to the contrary. The last thing they want to do is to give a voice to the voiceless. Their primary intent, first and foremost, is to diminish the power of government to properly look after all of its citizens regardless of where they are on the economic spectrum. If they can get in a little reverse Robin Hood wealth redistribution while they’re at it, so much the better. Anti-tax politicians are not grassroots heroes.

They are abrogators of responsibility. They don’t govern. They vandalize and plunder. They never leave anything better than they found it. They only make things worse. And time and time again, we have to chase them from office and start to clean everything up.

You’d think we’dve learned all that by now.

get it through our thick skullsly submitted by Cityslikr


We Can Get Angry Too

August 30, 2010

This is composed as a dare.

After yesterday’s post there was an exchange of heated words tossed around the office here. While my colleague, Cityslikr, was quite content with his evisceration of the Rob Ford/reactionary phenomena now running amok on the campaign trail, I suggested it wasn’t nearly as belligerent or uncompromising as he might think. In fact, I may’ve called it a ‘cop out’ if memory serves. A mere reactive piece cast in the terms of the debate that they’ve established.

“I’m the angry one here,” I was informed, haughtily. “All Fired Up’s John Lennon.” Refusing to bestow the McCartney label upon me, Cityslikr reluctantly granted me George Harrison status, saying it was impossible that I could match him, taunt for taunt, mockery for mockery, in putting together a cogent argument against the rising tide of Fordism. So here I am doing just that.

Since the very beginning of this campaign, an inchoate anger has driven the political discourse. While sometimes veering of onto bike lanes and the nebulous ‘War on Car’, its focus has been largely on numbers. Big, absolute numbers devoid of much context and certainly no explanation. $9.2 billion. $3 billion. Wow! That’s a lot of money. Clearly something’s wrong at City Hall.

With Rob Ford’s cannonball entry into the race, words were put to numbers but with no additional clarity. We don’t have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. The gravy train ends now. Nice, easy-to-remember T-shirt slogans, full of emotive power with negligible substance. The campaign became awash in indignant, empty rhetoric.

Of which, much of the mainstream press has lapped up. Witness last Wednesday’s piece from the Globe’s Christie Blatchford who is clearly vying to become Election 2010’s Queen of the Dumb-Down. Nothing more than a litany of councillor salaries and expenses, it reads like a Team Rob Ford press release. Did you know that a Toronto city councillor makes more than 3 times the median income of Joe Average Torontonian, and has a hefty expense account to boot? (Where’s the wage comparison between a councillor and, say, a columnist for the Globe and Mail, we wonder. Know the newspaper industry has taken a hit lately but surely someone like Christie Blatchford still has an expense account.) The insinuation in all this is that those working at City Hall are not worth the money we spend on them.

No, no, no, you’re saying. That’s not the point at all. Comparing the public and private sectors is apples and oranges. What happens in the private sector is none of our business and beyond our control. The public sector spends our money.

Alright, let’s disabuse you of that notion. It is not our money. It’s tax money. The agreed upon amount that each of us contributes to various levels of government in order that our society functions properly. I know this quote’s been bandied about almost to the point of irrelevancy through repetition but I think it worth another go-round so that it might begin to penetrate the thick skulls of the Christie Blatchfords of the world.

“I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” So said Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Now we can argue about if our tax money is being spent wisely and what to do if it’s not. Or, we can debate about how much tax money is too much or too little. That’s a matter of ideology and can be hashed out over reasoned, rational discussion.

The thing is, there’s none of that happening. When confronted with opposing views that call into question some of their claims, the Anger-stons have taken to turtling, and wrapping themselves in a cloak of Just Ol’ Down Home Plain Folks. (Witness Blatchford’s recent offerings.) Well, I may not be much of what you city types call a ‘Big Thinker’ with all yer university edu-macations and $19 coffees and uncooked fish but I do claim to knows what I knows and I knows we taxpayers are bein’ fleeced.

No. You know what? Fuck you.

Grow up and stop trying to mask your obstinate ignorance as some kind of homespun wisdom. It isn’t. It’s just obstinate ignorance.

We’re tired of having to talk down to your level. Being uninformed cannot be proudly called ‘populist’. It isn’t. It’s just being uninformed.

Does that make me an elitist? Only if it means that I feel a sense of entitlement to a thoughtful, cogent and logical debate about the future of this city and not some boiling brew of unharnessed and misplaced ire that spouts speculative, spurious nonsense with the demand of being taken seriously. Blind rage is not a reputable campaign platform. Thinking it is, is just your own sense of misplaced entitlement.

So all your Rob Ford types out there (and the Smithermans and Rossis trying hard to tap into that bitterness and bile base), you’re not the only ones capable of being angry. There is a growing contingent of us out here who feel that you are misrepresenting the wider swath of Toronto voters and are threatening much that has been accomplished in this city over the last 7 years. The difference is that ours is a positive outrage at your increasingly outlandish claims and childish behaviour. Ours is the anger that builds not destroys things.

And calling that patronizing and condescending doesn’t make it any less true.

— angrily (even lividly) submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Budget? More Like A Fudge-it. (Yeah! Nailed It!)

February 18, 2010

Taxes, after all, are dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society. — Franklin D. Roosevelt

*  *  *

With the proposed city budget now open for public viewing, I think it’s worth quoting some contrasting, old school pro-taxation observations to counter the prevailing hue and cry of outrage and indignation making the rounds from the trained anti-tax seals. Like it or not, Toronto delivered a balanced budget without any of the usual help from the province, using an up tick in property taxes (its main revenue source), a healthy dose of user fees and some hocus pocus pulling of hitherto unknown surpluses and savings from a magic hat.

Deceitful? Yeah probably, but by now we should be used to grave government pre-budget prognostications that help cushion the actual blow with some surprisingly good news once the official announcement is made. Illusory? Only time will tell.

But the point here is that there is a balanced budget in place which – and it bares repeating – is legally mandated for all municipalities in this province by a government that is presently staring at its own $24.7 billion deficit owing to the tough economic times we are living through. Yeah, yeah. The irony of the situation is thicker than the cast of The Bachelor. Yet somehow provincial officials manage to keep a straight face when dictating fiscal prudence to the cities.

With a month or two to digest the budgetary nuts and bolts as it winds its way toward a full council debate and vote in April, let’s focus now on the user fees and property tax increases. “Nickeled and dimed”, so says Pete Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post. “Oink! Another trip to the trough”, according to the Toronto Sun which, really, can’t be considered a source of information but more of a stream of consciousness vomiting directly up from the reactionary slice of society’s id. “The mayor says you can’t have a great city for free,” said candidate Rocco Rossi. “But neither can you take a free ride on the backs of taxpayers year after year.”

Free ride?!

People like Rocco Rossi, the writers at the Toronto Sun and National Post apparently think that our tax dollars travel straight from us plain folkses wallets into some off-shore slush fund for greasy politicians and union members. In the same article that featured Rossi’s inane babblings, it’s stated that it now costs Toronto homeowners $6.39 a day for the services we receive from the city; services that include (and I’m quoting directly): police, fire, ambulance, TTC, libraries, parks and rec and much more [bolding mine].

All that for the low, low price of $6.39?! As a homeowner, it seems mighty reasonable to me. You can’t get 3 square meals a day from McDonald’s for that price. And them’s empty calories, my friends.

Nobody likes to pay taxes. The mayor’s claim that homeowners in Toronto still pay less property tax than anywhere in the GTA only goes so far. That’s as it should be as in most Toronto neighbourhoods, houses make a smaller footprint than those in the outer suburbs and the economy of scale kicks in delivering city services to more people/area. It’s disconcerting, our growing reliance on user fees which inevitably come down on the poorest amongst us although budget chief Shelley Carroll talked about subsidies for those that need them.

Wouldn’t it be grand to live where everything was free and the only money we ever had to spend went to filling our bellies and providing us with digital cable? When you find such a place, let me know. I might come and crash on your couch for a little bit, suss it out.

Until then, how be we suck it up. This budget is going to spring leaks. They always do. It is a stopgap measure to get us through an ugly economic period. More than a decade after amalgamation and downloading of services, the expected savings never materialized and the revenue neutral nature of the process wasn’t neutral at all. We’re still bearing the costs of the ill-advised property tax freeze by the Mel Lastman regime (peopled by many of the same stiffs now surrounding the Rocco Rossi and George Smitherman campaigns) that waited for the savings and the revenue neutrality to appear. It never did. Now we’re paying the piper, hoping for saner heads to arrive.

*  *  *

I like to pay taxes.  With them I buy civilization. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

submitted by Cityslikr