Bell: Calgary council wants to talk to UCP about new taxes on Calgarians

The city wants $311 million. They would prefer if Premier Danielle Smith and her government would just cough up the cash one way or another

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A caution before everyone spills their coffee.

This column is about city hall talking more taxes on Calgarians.

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It’s not happening today. It’s not happening tomorrow. It may never happen.

But you don’t wait until the very last moment before you warn people about what could happen.

Here goes.

Earlier this week, on the same day the majority of Calgary city council voted for a big fat tax hike they also put their hand up for another idea.

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City hall thinks they are hard done by. They have always thought they are hard done by. They will probably always think they are hard done by.

They are the sports car owner who feels hard done by because they don’t have a Ferrari.

They feel they are hard done by to the tune of $311 million a year.

They spend a lot of money. They have a big appetite. They have a big payroll of paper pushers to feed. They have a ton of pet projects.

A report last fall showed the city rainy-day fund swimming in billions and pleading poverty.

I know, I know. They’ve got lots of places to spend that money. They always do.

Anyway, the city wants that $311 million. They would prefer if Premier Danielle Smith and her government would just cough up the cash one way or another.

But they also have a thick report and in one 46-page chapter they talk about “new revenue tools.”

In plain English that’s taxes and fees.

Some of the taxes and fees the city has the authority to do right now.

There are other taxes and fees beyond the city’s authority.

But the trial balloons are floated.

Personal income tax, corporate income tax, occupational privilege tax, road pricing, advertising tax, telecommunications franchise fees, municipal general sales tax, accommodation tax, parking tax, fuel tax, tobacco tax, amusement tax, land transfer tax, alcohol tax, cannabis tax, vehicle registration tax, insurance premium tax and carbon tax.

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There is a shortlist the authors say “can serve the City of Calgary well.”

One of the fastest possible options is a Municipal Fuel Tax.

In Montreal, it is 3 cents a litre.

In the report the deep-thinkers say this would be an incentive to use less gas or shift to an electric vehicle and that “would be positive reinforcement for the Climate Strategy.”

Another fastest possible option for the experts is the Vehicle Registration Tax.

They say Montreal collects $45 a year on top of the fee from the Quebec government.

“A vehicle registration tax would positively reinforce efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and traffic and parking congestion,” say the deep-thinkers.

In the medium term, there are options like the Municipal Personal Income Tax.

The most inexpensive and straightforward way would be a surcharge to the existing income tax system. A stand-alone municipal income tax would involve more administration costs.

The deep-thinkers figure in 2021 this would have raised $420 million.

The Municipal General Sales Tax would be longer term since without an Alberta sales tax the cheapest way would be to piggyback the 1% city sales tax on the GST.

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In 2021 the city would have scooped $356 million.

“A municipal sales tax would be more feasible if the Alberta government explored it,” say the deep-thinkers.

There is more but you can see where this movie is headed.

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Evan Spencer, a councillor from southeast Calgary and in the Gondek majority, speaks with great passion.

Spencer, elected by people in Auburn Bay, Cranston and McKenzie Towne, speaks of stark facts and the so-called funding gap and demanding hard conversations.

“Decisive action is required to safeguard the interests of our citizens,” he says.

It is then council is asked to direct city hall brass to talk to the Smith government about the report, including the 46-page chapter on new taxes and fees, and find out what they think.

They request Mayor Jyoti Gondek send a letter to Smith’s point man on cities, Ric McIver.

All of council votes Yes, except Sean Chu.

No one else signals they aren’t interested in new taxes and fees.

Maybe they didn’t read the report. What a cruel thing to say. A council member not reading a report. That would never happen.

Smith’s people of course will say no, except their no will be in capital letters and with an exclamation mark.

NO!

Calgary city hall has pulled this stunt with the province before and failed. Headlines going up in smoke.

Still, a No now might not be a No later.

What if a person much more sympathetic to city hall’s desires were to become premier?

Someone like … oh … Naheed Nenshi.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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