Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

CAA opposes PST hike

Says prioritize roads, use existing cash

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The head of CAA Manitoba has a message for anyone touting a hike in the PST to pay for crumbling infrastructure -- don't go down that road.

Mike Mager, the organization's chief executive officer, is the first to admit streets, highways and bridges are in bad need of repair. The CAA has been calling for greater investments in infrastructure for years.

"Our roads are terrible," he said Wednesday.

But he's not convinced -- unlike organized labour and the heads of many of Manitoba's leading companies -- the problem is governments lacking revenue.

He'd prefer politicians choose the road less travelled: make infrastructure a priority and use the billions of tax revenue that's already streaming each year to make Manitobans' ride a little less bumpy.

On Tuesday, the Free Press learned the Manitoba Federation of Labour is planning a motion at this weekend's NDP convention to hike the provincial sales tax a percentage point to tackle a municipal infrastructure deficit pegged at $11 billion. A little over a year ago, the Business Council of Manitoba made a similar pitch to the NDP government.

Premier Greg Selinger reiterated Tuesday his government is not prepared to entertain a PST hike -- although it did subject more services to the provincial sales tax in this spring's budget. He also said Manitoba's contribution to municipal infrastructure is only rivalled by Saskatchewan among provinces.

Mager, whose organization has more than 200,000 members, maintained government revenue is not the issue. "They need to sharpen their pencils and to become more efficient at working through the expenses side," he said. "They already collect billions of dollars in taxes, and we really think that they need to refocus their spending on priorities that matter the most."

Also on Wednesday, Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Doug Dobrowolski -- who has long pleaded for increased infrastructure spending -- appeared before Winnipeg's city council to support Mayor Sam Katz's motion to ask the province to hand municipalities the cash from increased gas taxes this year.

Council voted unanimously in favour of the motion, which is purely symbolic because it does not compel the province to act.

Katz, however, said a unanimous vote is still important because it shows the city is serious about its infrastructure plight. The city raised property taxes this year for the first time since the 1990s and is running out of funding options, he said.

"Every member of council knows the crisis we're facing in infrastructure, knows that municipalities don't get their fair share of taxes, knows we don't have the opportunities to implement these types of taxes and knows we need to get a share of some of this," said Katz.

Council also voted 13-3 on Wednesday to endorse a separate motion authored by St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, calling for the province to hand over revenues from increases to motor-vehicle registration to the city to pay for the second phase of the Southwest Transitway. Couns. Ross Eadie (Mynarski), Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) and Brian Mayes (St. Vital) voted in opposition.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2012 A7

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