Current tax and revenue regime needed

The B.C. Liberal government should expand the current Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) debate into a comprehensive assessment of British Columbia’s current tax and revenue regime.

The HST is a $1.9-billion tax shift from business to consumers at a time when consumers are facing increased cost pressures from other government policies, property tax increases, and the erosion of public services.

At the same time, consumers are also facing significant downward pressures on their wages and benefits, as the government’s own zero per cent bargaining position illustrates.

I believe the provincial government has an opportunity to broaden the scope of the HST “engagement” process and gain greater insight into broader issues of tax fairness, affordability and the erosion of public service.

Since 2001, the provincial government has dramatically reduced corporate taxes, personal taxes and natural resource prices resulting in dramatic increases in public debt and deficit financing.

The provincial government claimed that corporate tax reductions would create jobs, but recent studies have shown that this promised job growth has not been realized.

Job losses in the banking sector are a particularly stark example of failed tax policy, and I’m certain a similar analysis of 2008’s 50 per cent reduction in the industrial school tax would show that this corporate tax reduction did not create one additional job in B.C.

In discussions with local businesses and individuals, I have found people don’t mind paying taxes, but what they do mind is how those dollars are spent.

People have no problem paying their fair share of taxes, but they want to see those tax dollars being spent wisely and in ways that benefit them and their local economy.

People are wondering why hundreds of millions of their taxes are being spent on a new roof for a Vancouver stadium, and to service the debt it has created.

I am concerned that all levels of government have undermined their ability to address societal needs through successive tax cuts, both personal and business.

We cannot address poverty, care for our growing seniors’ population, invest in infrastructure and our public forests, and all of the other really important things we need to take action on without increasing the government’s revenues, either through taxation or more appropriate pricing of our natural resources, or both.

I also believe the B.C. Liberal government will not meet the deadline of  2013/14 to achieve a balanced budget without either raising more revenue or dramatically cutting public services.

I am calling on the provincial government to follow up the HST engagement process by giving the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services the mandate to conduct a comprehensive assessment of B.C.’s current tax and revenue regime.

I would also like to see the committee examine the B.C. Liberal government’s ability to deliver quality public services within a balanced budget by the 2013/14 fiscal year.

Premier Christy Clark has indicated she wants to improve the role of legislative committees, legitimizing the finance committee by charging it to conduct this inquiry so MLAs and the public can participate in meaningful engagement and discussion on tax policy.

It is the best way to form public policy and make the legislature work for all British Columbians.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.