Manitoba farmers, business leaders, cottage owners and realtors gathered at a farm north of Winnipeg early this week to send a clear message to the current provincial government and candidates in the fall election; no more school taxes on property.
Members of the Manitoba Education Financing Coalition (MEFC) handed out lawn signs reading “I want school tax off my property,” at the farm of Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers as part of the letspayfair.com 2011 campaign launch.
“This is a long-standing policy of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) to have school tax removed from farmland and production buildings; all producers are united in this and want to see a more fair taxation system,” said Chorney. “We’re not against funding an education system, but we think we shouldn’t be carrying such a disproportionate burden.”
Chorney noted there is an 80 per cent rebate on school tax for farmland in place, but it doesn’t affect production buildings like those used by the beef, pork and chicken producers.
He added funding for the current rebate also comes from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives, not from the Manitoba Finance or general revenues, meaning less funding for other programs that support Manitoba farmers.
MEFC suggests the current tax-funded education system be replaced with one funded by general revenue or profits from Manitoba Hydro.
“We believe that education is a core provincial function, and that it has to be treated the same way as health and welfare, and the justice system is treated. It creates a quality of life for all Manitobans and as such it has to have the same priority in funding,” said Lorne Weiss, president of Manitoba Real Estate Association and chairman of the MEFC. “Manitoba is the only province that treats a Crown corporation, like Hydro, differently and does not take its revenue into the general revenue.”
Weiss said the coalition wants to see 80 per cent of education funding come from general revenues or Manitoba Hydro profits in the short term with a gradual move to 100 per cent coverage by the province in the long term. The MEFC chairman noted a small increase in income taxes would be acceptable if it meant education taxes were removed from property.
MEFC has said the Manitoba Government’s FRAME (Financial Reporting and Accounting in Manitoba Education) Report 2010-11 shows the operating expenses for Manitoba’s education system budgeted at $1.88 billion and the direct provincial contribution currently at $1.23 billion or 65.4 per cent.
However, Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk points to the same report as indicating the province covered 75.7 per cent of education costs in 2010-11, adding that amount has grown to 76.5 per cent in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The minister also noted the Farmland School Tax Rebate has saved farmers more than $35 million annually.
However, as minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, Wowchuk was clear that Manitoba Hydro won’t be used to fund education.
“Manitoba Hydro is a Crown corporation, and there is no avenue to use Hydro funds for other government investments, or to make Hydro ratepayers subsidize government operations,” she said.
“We’renotagainst fundinganeducation system,butwethink weshouldn’tbecarrying suchadisproportionate burden.”
– doug chorney