Vancouver residents may want to ask the mayor one question today (December 3) when city council holds its final public consultation on next year’s budget. Why do they have to pay more taxes and receive fewer services while businesses get a tax holiday?
Gregor Robertson—then an MLA seeking the Vision Vancouver mayoral nomination—spoke in 2008 in favour of shifting taxes from owners of commercial properties to residential-property owners.
Robertson, a businessman, maintained this position throughout the election campaign, putting him on the same page as his opponent, Non-Partisan Association councillor and mayoral candidate Peter Ladner.
His stand was in direct contrast to the consistent opposition by four Vision councillors to such a measure in the last council under NPA mayor Sam Sullivan. These were Raymond Louie, Heather Deal, Tim Stevenson, and George Chow.
In fact, when Louie ran for the party’s nomination, the councillor pointed out that he was the only candidate who was against the shift. However, after Robertson won the contest, Louie and company changed their view and went on to win new terms.
For Neil Monckton, there’s a need to take a long, hard look at Robertson’s commitment to the tax shift.
The chair of municipal public-policy group Think City explained in a phone interview that not only are residents likely to see services get the axe—including the children’s petting zoo in Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park’s Bloedel Conservatory—they will also take a hit in their pockets while businesses go free.
“The mayor committed to it during his nomination, [and] again before the recession started, and he honoured it for the first budget cycle,” Monckton told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “But now we’ve come to this point where we’re seeing closures, and these are false choices.”
Following direction from council, staff have proposed city service reductions totalling $20.2 million.
At the same time, council has set a property-tax-increase target of two percent, equivalent to $11.1 million. In addition to this, residential-property owners will have to pay an additional two percent due to the shift, for a total of four percent.
However, Monckton said that if residents are being asked to shoulder a four-percent tax raise, businesses should also be able to absorb the same rate. He noted that if the shift were stopped, and both residential- and business-property owners paid a uniform four-percent tax increase, the city could raise a total of about $22 million, and there would be no need to slash services.
“That’s really the problem here: we’re undermining the ability for residents to be willing to pay for the services they say they want because when they pay more, all they’re doing is giving businesses a tax cut,” Monckton said.
The Straight asked Coun. David Cadman of the Coalition of Progressive Electors whether it’s Robertson alone who’s driving the policy within the Vision caucus.
“Given the record, you can say that those people, namely Deal, Stevenson, Chow, and Louie, consistently voted against the tax shift, and last year for the first time voted in favour of the tax shift,” Cadman, who wants the redistribution stopped, said by phone. “It was certainly a commitment that the mayor has made.”
Louie acknowledged that although he and the three Vision councillors voted against the shift during the Sullivan years, their party adopted the policy in the platform that Robertson ran on.
“That opposition was tested at the nomination for mayor and it was tested on the general public at election, and the mayor’s position was confirmed by the electorate,” Louie told the Straight. “The mayor is firm on that, and we are proceeding with that.”
Louie declined to restate the reasons why he previously opposed the shift. But like Deal, whom the Straight interviewed about the subject on November 22, Louie said that the tax redistribution is intended to keep small businesses viable and competitive.
Council votes on the budget on December 18.
Proposed cuts in city services in 2010
> Community services: $3 million
> Engineering: $5.3 million
> Fire and rescue: $2.7 million
> Vancouver public libraries: $1.4 million
> Parks and recreation: $2.8 million
> Police department: $2.6 million
> Corporate support services: $2.5 million
> Total service cuts: $20.3 million
Source: Staff report submitted for December 1, 2009, council meeting