Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis is reaching out to small businesses in Winnipeg by pledging to freeze their taxes and reduce red tape at city hall.
The ex-NDP MP and MLA vowed to freeze the city's business tax rate at 5.7 per cent -- the existing rate -- in the first four years of her term as mayor.
She also pledged to continue to refund business taxes to the smallest 41 per cent of city businesses, a practice put in place by current Mayor Sam Katz.
"We need affordable, sustainable, predictable tax rates," Wasylycia-Leis said Wednesday at Chocolatier Constance Popp, a small business in St. Boniface.
Two weeks ago, Wasylycia-Leis pledged to limit property-tax increases to the aggregate of the city's annual population growth and annual inflation. That would have worked out to a 3.5 per cent tax hike this year and the collection of $16.9 million in additional revenue.
By promising to freeze the business-tax rate, Wasylycia-Leis did not pledge to freeze the total amount of business-tax revenue the city collects. The city plans to take in $59.7 million in business taxes this year, which is a rise of $1.3 million even through the rate fell by 0.2 per cent from 2013.
Wasylycia-Leis said she hasn't calculated how much more money the city will take in as a result of a rate freeze, as opposed to a total tax freeze. The growth would be modest, she surmised.
"We'll have to plan wisely, in terms of the growing needs of the city and my promise to address the infrastructure deficit," she said.
Wasylycia-Leis also promised to create a business liaison to further improve the city's approval of licences and permits -- and pledged to create a business roundtable that would meet twice a year.
Her business-tax pledge was met with both praise and concern on the political right.
"This is good public policy that makes sense," tweeted St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding, a fiscal conservative who mulled a mayoral run this year.
Eliot Sims, the Manitoba director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said his members would rather see the business tax phased out than frozen.
Winnipeg is among the last Canadian cities to levy a business tax, he noted, and lamented the proceeds from this tax do not pay for services for businesses.
Katz, who pledged to eliminate the business tax in 2004 but was only able to slash the rate by four percentage points, said some cities have gotten rid of the levy by folding it into other taxes.
Sims said business owners would prefer to see the tax eliminated, not disguised.