City hall’s shell game on infrastructure

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Winnipeg’s mayor and city council successively promised as far back as 2013 that if taxpayers agreed to an annual two per cent increase in property tax, they would dedicate the new revenue to leverage and enhance existing base funding for local and regional street repairs. That base funding included money from provincial and federal contributions to that same program.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/12/2016 (2132 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg’s mayor and city council successively promised as far back as 2013 that if taxpayers agreed to an annual two per cent increase in property tax, they would dedicate the new revenue to leverage and enhance existing base funding for local and regional street repairs. That base funding included money from provincial and federal contributions to that same program.

They also promised as part of the new two per cent plan, to eliminate borrowing to pay for maintaining our streets — to stop loading up debt for routine street renewal. That’s like putting groceries on a credit card.

Now Mayor Brian Bowman and council are about to get caught in a huge deception if they pass the 2017 proposed budget for local and regional street renewal.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Council will vote on the budget Dec. 13.

The 2017 budget shows revenue from the two per cent surtax goes into a dedicated account in the street renewal program, all right. And council will tell you that. But over the next six years, they will spend nearly $100 million less for street renewal. That $100 million is effectively the equivalent of an annual 3.2 per cent take hike.

The 2017 proposed budget breaks the promise.

Essentially, what is happening is that the 2017 budget takes the increased revenue from the two per cent tax and from the existing base funding, and diverts those dollars to fund services other than street repair.

Bowman effectively has confirmed this: “We did make some reduction in cash to capital (operating funding) in order to protect core services, as well as to ensure we didn’t need to introduce new fees,” he told the Free Press. But that diversion wasn’t part of the deal made with the public.

Some councillors who appeared before the public works committee earlier this week to oppose the 2017 budget put it more bluntly: “It’s a lie,” Coun. Ross Eadie said; it’s “the death” of the two per cent plan, Coun. Russ Wyatt warned.

But that’s not the only betrayal in this proposed budget. The 2017 preliminary capital budget returns the street renewal program to borrowing. That adds to city debt, and worse, it will increase the city’s infrastructure deficit that now sits at nearly $7 billion. We cannot afford to do this.

Taxpayers should be furious with what’s proposed in the 2017 preliminary capital budget. They were entitled to believe that a promise made is a promise kept, a deal’s a deal. What the mayor and some on council are now supporting is a breach of that promise, a promise the public relied upon when it accepted paying the two per cent tax hike to be dedicated as part of the larger funding strategy to enhancing the street repair budget.

The plan as now proposed will see investment in our streets fall, from 2017 to 2022, almost $100 million short of what was forecast as recently as 2015.

The public has kept its end of the deal, kept its promise. It is entitled to expect mayor and council to keep their promise.

If Bowman and council do not keep their side of the bargain, they have no right to tax the public the two per cent on property and call it an enhanced investment in road repairs. To do that proves Eadie’s assessment of the 2017 proposed budget: “It’s a lie.”

It will mean our roads will fall further into decay.

Fixing our infrastructure is the No. 1 concern of Winnipeggers. Taxpayers said this during the 2014 civic election, the 2016 provincial election and again, during city council’s consultations before it wrote the 2017 preliminary budget.

Ignoring that, breaching the promise of the two per cent tax plan, fundamentally breaks faith with voters.

Council can fix this at its Dec. 13 meeting. It can and should restore the street renewal program to the forecast funding laid out as promised in previous budgets.

That is what Bowman and city councillors must do. Keep their word, keep their promise.

Chris Lorenc is the president of theManitoba Heavy Construction Association.

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