Careful spending is an essential part of any viable progressive vision for the City.
Public spending can only be justified if it provides value for money. In addition, municipal spending is generally paid for with property taxes, which fall disproportionately on the poorest residents. High property taxes should be a concern for anyone who is concerned about poverty or inequality. [See Poverty Reduction.]
Another reason for careful spending is that St. John’s is competing for residents and for business with thirteen other municipalities in the Northeast Avalon [see Business Community]. Many of them offer higher services for lower taxes. To some extent this is an unavoidable consequence of unfair provincial arrangements [see Taxes on Provincial Property, Amalgamation and City Boundaries], but the reality is that high municipal taxes can drive away people and business and increase the burden on the rest of us.
The 18% salary raises that came out of the 2014 contract negotiations brought these issues into particular focus. Public employees deserve to make competitive, living wages, and the right to collective bargaining is important and must be respected. At the same time, the raises were not publicly justified.
In the short run, the salary raises led to tax increases. The ensuing public outcry has led to a program review and spending cuts. Some of the spending cuts may be pure efficiencies, but service levels have been affected, and some measures like increased transit fees have placed an unfair burden on vulnerable community members. [See Poverty Reduction, Public Transit.]
Budgeting means hard choices, and I can’t promise to please everyone. Here’s what I can say: