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Vote-tax rethink costly

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Almost four-and-a-half years ago, I was walking down the halls of the legislature having just read the contents of Bill 37 which first introduced the idea of a vote tax here in Manitoba. The NDP was planning on introducing a vote tax, thus diverting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars annually from funding health, highways and higher education into the pockets of political parties too lazy to raise the funds themselves.

But I distinctly remember my righteous anger was focused more on a seemingly innocuous line in the original legislation that would increase the annual allowance/vote tax paid every year equal to the rate of inflation.

You see, Manitoba remains one of the very last jurisdictions in Canada that does not index its personal income tax system to inflation to protect us from bracket creep. Bracket creep happens when people are pushed into higher tax brackets because of inflationary increases in income. This is just one reason Manitoba's top bracket threshold, the point the government considers you among the wealthiest of its citizens and subject to the highest tax rate, remains stagnant at $67,000 while next door in "we've indexed since 2004" Saskatchewan, the top bracket threshold is $120,185.

So back to my walk in the Manitoba legislature. I coincidentally ran into then-premier Gary Doer, and during our conversation, I challenged him on the hypocrisy of protecting his party from the effects of inflation, but not Manitobans. Doer, to his credit, acknowledged the optics and subsequently withdrew the automatic indexing of the vote tax contained in his original bill through an amendment.

The NDP is a lot of things, but one thing you can never accuse it of is a lack of legislative imagination. And now, with internal bickering bubbling over into the public eye when it comes to taking/not taking the vote tax, they have deftly washed their hands of the process by turning it over to an "independent" allowance commissioner to help them out of their political jam.

Now we have "son of vote tax," announced by the NDP late on a Friday afternoon, which, among other things, resurrects the idea that while you, as a taxpayer of Manitoba, may not deserve to be protected from bracket creep through indexation, our political masters do.

The vote tax denies individuals choice, a fundamental component in any healthy democracy, by forcing taxpayers to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars year over year to political parties, all because they decided to participate in the democratic process and cast a ballot in the provincial election. This is objectionable, to put it mildly.

It is also worth noting that just this past spring in Budget 2012 -- which, by the way, posted a half-billion-dollar deficit, so I guess what's a few more hundred thousand tacked on and the accompanying interest payments -- we were told unequivocally: "Our government is also doing its part to reduce spending while ensuring the needs of Manitobans are met."

I, for one, am unclear as to how funnelling even more tax dollars, on top of the very generous rebates and tax deductions that currently exist, from the public treasury to political parties achieves the commitment of reducing spending while at the same time ensuring my children are receiving a quality education.

So as "Today's NDP" once again trots out the recycled lines from 2008 that the re-imposition of a vote tax will "enhance democracy," it is equally important that we, as taxpayers, remind them that when it comes to indexation, what's good for the political goose is good for the public gander.

Shannon Martin is a Winnipeg political commentator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2012 A11

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