B.C. mayors failed to tackle their spending problem
By Philip Hochstein, Vancouver Sun October 1, 2012
British Columbia’s municipal political and bureaucratic elite gathered in Victoria last week for their annual convention. They’re networking. They’re taking stands. And they’re looking for solutions to issues they consider to be of grave importance to local governments across the province.
They’ve already grabbed head-lines by calling for the decriminalization of marijuana. They spent half an hour debating whether to change the name of the Union of B.C. Municipalities to the Union of B.C. Local Governments. While they shot down the motion, beleaguered taxpayers might be wondering if the new acronym should be UB.C.BS – Union of B.C. Big Spenders.
That’s because municipal spending is out of control in B.C. It’s getting higher than the average pro-marijuana pro-tester on the lawn of the Vancouver Art Gallery – and there’s no end in sight. Since 2000, spending has risen 46 per cent – while population has gone up 12 per cent. Spending has risen almost four times faster than the population growth.
The only growth problem B.C.’s cities, towns, and villages face is their own big-spending ways.
If a private company faced these kinds of challenges, the entire convention would be organized around topics like cost-savings, making do with less, and tips on how to economize. They would have no choice because a private company that had spending far out-stripping market growth would be out of business. Municipalities think they have a limitless supply of money – the pockets of hard-pressed taxpayers.
Yet the mayors and municipal administrators don’t have a single session on the topic of taxes and spending.
What’s to blame for the rapid rise in spending? Politicians’ lack of political will to tackle the platinum pay and perks packages going to their municipal staffs – workers and management alike. Right now they are getting compensation worth 30 to 40 per cent more than people doing the same jobs in the private sector.
When municipal workers demand more – and politicians deliver more – what they are saying is that everyone else needs to take a pay cut so municipal staffs can get richer pension, bigger pay packets, and much more generous perks. It’s wrong and it has to stop.
That’s why municipal leaders should be discussing how to save. They should at least debate the idea of a Public-Private Compensation Equity Act. Such legislation would bring public sector compensation in line with the private sector.
And it’s why the provincial government needs to appoint a Municipal Auditor General sooner rather than later. Getting that office up and running It would give citizens a tool to dig into their municipal leader’s spenda-holic ways.
The compensation and spending savings would free up money for tax cuts, for investments in infrastructure, and for crucial operating spending.
There are also great economic reasons to start talking about these issues. A municipality that can reduce spending and slash taxes would gain a huge advantage over its neighbours.
And municipal politicians with the courage to act should reap the political benefits. A recent survey by the Coalition of B.C. Businesses found 90 per cent of small business owners want equality in pay and benefits for public and private sector employees.
As municipal leaders digest the tax-payer funded meals from Victoria’s best restaurants, they should remember who paid for those dinners. And they should start talking about ways to give those taxpayers a real break. That’s an issue worth debating – and solving.
Philip Hochstein is president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association of B.C. which represents 1,100 construction companies across the province.
While this topic is a common one, this is a particularly good article . The siren call is being continually sounded on this matter, again best summarized as the taxpayers being treated as the “Golden Goose”. IMHO, one of the main disasters is Translink, which was effectively given to the Local Gov’ts to run(a disaster by design). In addition, we have Metro Vancouver, which is, in essence, a FOURTH level of Gov’t ( in addition to Local Gov’ts, Provincial and Federal ).
I keep mentioning a tightening noose on Metro Van citizens, and I am not trying to be facetious. IMHO, the ultimate goal is to turn Metro Vancouver into ONE LARGE MEGA-CITY, so that, in essence, the various cities will be absorbed, and we will be ruled by a more centralized body. That is the equivalent of Communism, if one researches History.
In this exercise, they impose more rules and regulations on the citizens, and literally wipe out the middle class…and create an “aparatchik”, …well – paid bureaucrats loyal to their bosses and traitors to the public.
The system has become one big incestuous drunken orgy of egos, spending and monuments to their ambitions. They tell us what we need , they don’t ask us what we need or want. We here in BC have so-called benefitted from an influx of off -shore investment, which was probably the worst thing that ever happened. This was a Golden Goose even many of the citizens believed in and worshipped as a perpetual save- all/cure -all. Now it is in collapse….and what do we have to fill the void ?