“They’re just finally saying ‘look, we can’t just nibble at this on the edges anymore. We’ve got to figure out how to tackle it.”
– AMM President Ron Bell
A proposed new tax that could raise millions for repairing municipal infrastructure is expected to be the key issue before Manitoba’s reeves, mayors and councillors gathering in Winnipeg for their annual convention next week.
“There’s no doubt that this is the important one,” said Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Ron Bell, after AMM announced it will debate an emergent resolution coming from members last week that calls for an additional one per cent sales tax in Manitoba, to be levied on top of the existing five per cent GST and seven per cent PST already collected on goods and services.
The $200 million it could raise would be directed back to municipalities, on a per
capita basis, solely to fund infrastructure repairs and upgrades, said Bell.
He called it a plea from municipalities desperate for cash to fix crumbling roads and streets, rinks and water
treatment facilities. Despite unprecedented spending from all three levels of government in the last decade, municipalities are still watching infrastructure deteriorate faster than they can fix it.
“We’re just not making headway on it,” Bell said. “They’re just finally saying ‘look, we can’t just nibble at this on the edges anymore. We’ve got to figure out how to tackle it.”
He said he expected the tax
proposal would be supported by the AMM.
A poll of 1,000 Manitobans conducted by Probe Research earlier this fall showed while most Manitobans do want the province to make infrastructure renewal a priority, just over half (54 per cent) supported the idea of an extra tax to pay for it.
A recent study from Statistics Canada entitled Age of Public Infrastructure: A Provincial Perspective cites Manitoba as having the oldest highways, with an average age of 17.1 years compared to a national average of 14.9, and the third-oldest waste water systems in the country. Most of the province’s other infrastructure has also aged past a significant portion of its lifespan.
Municipal leaders themselves, in a survey completed for the AMM this fall, rank infrastructure renewal and depleting resources as their top concerns.
Manitoba’s local governments’ proposal follows the recent two per cent cut in the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST) implemented by the Conservative government.
The provincial government must first approve any new tax and last week Manitoba’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Ashton indicated his government isn’t interested in raising taxes.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has given the proposal a categorical thumbs down, calling it “trying to put lipstick” on the existing PST.
The municipal lobby group, meanwhile, has a full slate of other issues to tackle during its 10th annual meeting. Other matters among a total of 72 resolutions up for debate include calls for changes to disaster financial assistance policies, enhanced police services, better funding for conservation districts, improved recycling, and a province-wide ban on use of plastic bags.