Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PST hike serves wrong priorities

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The anger and bitterness were palpable at city hall Wednesday as Mayor Sam Katz stood before a microphone and blasted the province for peddling the fiction that an increase in the sales tax will mean more money for critical infrastructure, while sidestepping the uncomfortable truth that municipalities got next to nothing.

At the same time, Premier Greg Selinger was reinforcing the myth by announcing a new elementary school in Sage Creek, which he said was a direct result of the new Manitoba Building Fund established in last week's budget.

In fact, the school was approved for construction last year, which means capital funds would already have been earmarked or anticipated.

Governments frequently re-announce old announcements, but this one was deceptive because it was made to appear the new school was a direct benefit of the increase in the PST.

As Mayor Katz noted, schools, hospital additions, health centres and flood protection, which the NDP now defines as "critical infrastructure," are actually part of the government's core mandate and responsibility.

It means the government's promise of transparency on how the PST funds are spent is also a charade, since it will include spending on health care, education and recreation, making it difficult to determine how much is being spent on old-fashioned infrastructure.

Strategic infrastructure has usually been defined as investments in roads, bridges and sewer and water because they facilitate trade and commerce, and get the biggest bang for the buck in terms of boosting productivity and the economy.

In the last two years, the province has raised taxes by $462 million, including the increase in the PST, to meet NDP priorities, as opposed to the real needs of the province's 200 communities.

The city will receive just $7 million in new funds this year from the province for roads, enough to fix a few more kilometres of crumbling residential streets. The net increase is even less, since the city is now on the hook for an extra $1.4 million in PST.

Municipalities will also be challenged to find the matching funds needed to capitalize on Ottawa's new federal infrastructure program.

Mayor Katz is singing an old song -- the city has been demanding fair treatment for decades -- but it's one voters may start whistling as they navigate the city's donkey tracks.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 A14

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