Karen Turner feels taxed out, and feels the political system does not offer many choices when addressing her complaints. (Jason Payne/PNG)
By Cassidy Olivier, The Province
It wasn’t too long ago that Karen Turner was working for a Fortune 500 company and pulling in a fat paycheque. Now, the 60-year-old New Westminster resident who lost her job three years ago during a restructuring, counts every penny that leaves her wallet.
Ever mindful of the high cost of living, Turner, a married mother of a grown daughter, now shops at Wal-Mart and fills her car up south of the border, where the gas is cheaper and her money goes farther.
Given the chance, she also likes to drop her two cents on a topic just about every British Columbian likes to weigh in on now and then: Taxes.
And not just the ones with the big names. But also the little niggling ones that get passed on in the form of user fees.
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Taxed out? You bet, she says. The carbon tax? Get rid of it, she adds. What about property taxes? Someone needs to drop the hammer on municipal governments, she opines. Transit hikes? I will vote for the party that promises to rein in TransLink, she pledges.
“All we want them to do is keep the taxes low and fix the potholes,” she says of government.
“But there is a disconnect between what we elect them for, and then their legacies — what they think they are being elected for.”
As one of life’s only certainties, taxes will always be a source of public scorn. Exacerbating the situation, however, is the fact that they keep going up.
As Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation recently wrote, taxes, fees and levies at all levels of government are set to go up in 2013. Some already have. And in Budget 2013, British Columbians got a taste of some the new ones to come.
While personal income-tax rates in B.C. remain some of the lowest in the country, Bateman notes this has been offset by an increase in other taxes and levies, such as increases to medical services premiums, the carbon tax, hydro rates, bridge tolls and ferry rates.
Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says that while B.C. has some of the lowest personal income tax rates in the country, this has been offset by an increase in other taxes and levies, such as increases to medical services premiums, the carbon tax, hydro rates, bridge tolls and ferry rates. (Nick Procaylo/PNG)
As the chunk of change being taken out of taxpayers’ pockets gets even larger — in 2012, said Bateman, a two-income family in B.C. earning $94,000 paid more than 44 per cent in taxes and levies — so does the level of resentment and concern.
Underscoring a lot of that concern is the current provincial government’s questionable use of taxpayer money for a range of head-shaking projects, from domino ads to a foreign awards show that will cost British Columbians $11 million.
“I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with how inefficient government is,” said Bateman. “And I think that is why, for example, the job ads have been such a flashpoint. [People] look at that and say, ‘This is not what I should be taxed to pay for.’ And they are right.”
Indeed. In response to a call out to readers for their thoughts on taxes and the rising cost of living in the run-up to the provincial election, The Province was flooded with replies. The short and sweet of it was: We pay too much and don’t get enough back.
“With the cost of the carbon tax and tolls and everything else that seems to be going up and up, I can barely afford food on the table,” wrote one reader from North Vancouver.
“We pay far too many taxes to support special interest groups, leaving us little to spend on ourselves,” wrote another reader, a senior living on a fixed income. “Sometimes we feel that there are 11 groups each asking for 10 per cent of our income.”
“We’re taxed on our income, then we pay tax on just about everything else we purchase,” wrote another reader. “With Metro Vancouver being one of the most expensive places to live, we’re not getting very far and it doesn’t look good.”
B.C.’s political parties, meantime, have used this discontent to score points: the Liberals by warning that the NDP will raise taxes, and the NDP and B.C. Conservatives by consistently underscoring the government’s continued waste of taxpayers’ hard-earned cash.
Largely lost in the mud throwing are the main tax policies that each party is proposing.
After ringing the alarm bells on the NDP’s proposed tax hikes, the Liberals — determined to table a “balanced” budget in the months before the election — introduced their own hikes in Budget 2013 that mirrored some of the NDP’s intended moves.
To the chagrin of the business community, the 10 per cent corporate tax rate will increase under both administrations (Liberals will raise it to 11 per cent, the NDP to 12 per cent) as will the personal tax rate of people earning more than $150,000.
The Liberals have also proposed a temporary, two-year increase of the personal income-tax rate of high-income earners (more than $150,000) from 14.7 per cent to 16.8 per cent, effective Jan. 1, 2014., which the government said will generate an estimated $400 million.
In terms of tax relief, Premier Christy Clark announced as part of her election platform a slight reduction of the small business tax to from 2.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent by the 2017-18 fiscal year.
The NDP has said it will reintroduce a capital tax on financial institutions to fund its needs-based student grant program. The party is also proposing to expand the base of the carbon tax to cover “venting” emissions from the oil and gas sector, excluding chemical process emissions (cement, aluminum, lime) agriculture emissions and fugitive emissions.
And the personal income-tax rate of high-income earners will also go up under an NDP government, from 16.8 per cent to 19 per cent on taxable income over $150,000 effective Jan. 1, 2014.
The B.C. Conservatives, meantime, have promised to repeal the carbon tax and introduce tax credits to help offset the costs of bridge tolls and ferry rides. The Greens have proposed an increase of the carbon tax to $50 per tonne.
While the pros and cons of these proposals will ultimately play a part in the decision-making process of British Columbians on May 14, at the end of the day, not a whole lot will change for the average taxpayer who will still face rising costs.
“If you want a government to do a lot, if you want a lot of publicly funded services, then the flip side of that is that the tax burden has to be higher in the long run to pay for it,” notes Jock Finlayson of the Business Council of B.C. “Unless you want to become like a Greece or a Japan and run deficit finance.”
But that doesn’t mean voters are powerless, said Bateman. He adds that governments should focus more on reining in their spending as opposed to burdening the taxpayer with tax hikes.
“The thing to do is get out and talk to the candidates in your riding,” he said. “There is that old saying, ‘If you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.’ Let them know that money is tight in your family …[that] it is difficult to make ends meet right now and that the tax burden is one major reason why.”