Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wyatt urges vote on city sales tax

Wants 1% levy to tackle Winnipeg's infrastructure deficit

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Would you be willing to pay an extra penny on a can of Coke if all the cash went toward Winnipeg's crumbling roads, bridges and buildings?

That question -- or a more legalistic version of it -- will be on Winnipeg's civic election ballot next month if Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt has his way.

The quixotic councillor wants city council to add a referendum question to the Oct. 27 ballot, asking Winnipeggers to support a one per cent municipal sales tax that would be dedicated to infrastructure renewal.

Wyatt has authored a motion to create add a non-binding referendum to the ballot. But council will only debate the motion if two-thirds of its members vote to suspend the rules and actually debate the idea at today's council meeting, the final gathering of its kind before voters go to the polls.

The motion, seconded by Daniel McIntyre Coun. Harvey Smith, calls for a referendum question that will ask voters to support a one per cent sales tax, provided the proceeds can only be used to pay for infrastructure, are matched by Manitoba and Ottawa and will not replace any other existing funding from the other two levels of government.

The motion also demands that once the municipal sales tax is in place, it cannot be increased or decreased in the future without another referendum. The tax would only be levied inside the City of Winnipeg and would generate about $130 million a year, Wyatt said in an interview.

The city needs the money right now to tackle an infrastructure deficit that stands around $3.7 billion, said Wyatt, challenging Winnipeg's mayoral candidates to support his idea.

"The time for studies are over," said Wyatt, taking a veiled shot at incumbent Sam Katz's pledge to hear from an infrastructure committee before he settles on a revenue plan for 2011.

But Wyatt also took a shot at mayoral challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis, noting her plan to raise property taxes by two per cent a year will not generate enough revenue to whittle away at the infrastructure deficit, either.

Only Winnipeg voters can convince Ottawa and Broadway to allow more money to flow toward fixing roads and bridges, Wyatt said.

"If Winnipeggers are willing, there's no reason the province and the federal government would not follow suit," he said.

Neither mayoral candidate endorsed his plan.

Wasylycia-Leis said she'd prefer to work with other levels of government on new funding sources. Instead of addressing the sales-tax idea, she accused Katz of being wishy-washy on property taxes.

"After six years, Sam Katz still hasn't made up his mind and told Winnipeggers what he intends to do about taxes, so it's no surprise to see councillors like Russ Wyatt come up with ideas of their own," she said.

Katz said Wyatt's idea is hardly new, as the Association of Manitoba Municipalities has backed a similar idea. The mayor declined to say whether he'd support Wyatt's motion, but it's unlikely he would, as Katz has expressed a disdain for referenda since he took office in 2004.

"Councillors are elected to make decisions," the mayor said.

Wyatt said council has not made any hard decisions about infrastructure in recent years. "If they're here to lead, why haven't they done it before?" he asked.

Council has the right to place a non-binding referendum question on an election ballot. The last time a referendum took place was in 1983, assistant city clerk Marc Lemoine said. Voters were asked about nuclear disarmament and a Supreme Court case regarding French language rights.

 

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 22, 2010 A3

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Updated on Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:51 PM CDT: Fixes typo

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