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Tax Reform Committee mess


After heated debate over process, city council Tuesday voted to get the public’s input into the so-called “tax reform” initiative developed by the Tax Reform Committee. But it’s an open question whether the public will understand the profoundly radical shift in public policy being proposed. It will affect everyone, from apartment dwellers up to the obscenely rich.

The nut of the problem is this: Tax assessments have been skyrocketing in recent years, so people across HRM are complaining about their tax bills and believe that their unfairly high taxes are subsidizing someone else’s unfairly low taxes.

Council therefore tasked the committee to divorce tax bills from assessments and instead tie them to services provided. All decisions since have flowed logically from that initial decision---never mind the staggering real-world implications. 

If the committee gets everything it wants, 14 percent of property owners with incomes above $100,000 annually will see their taxes go down, while four percent will go up. The committee also suggests some relief for property owners making under $30,000---15 percent of them will see decreasing taxes, compared to just one percent seeing an increase. 

The effect on property owners making between $60,000 and $100,000 is mixed---17 percent will see their taxes go down, while 16 percent will see their taxes go up.

It’s the proverbial “working families,” though, who take the real hit. For those property owners making between $30,000 and $60,000, 11 percent will see their taxes go down, but fully 22 percent will receive tax increases. 

But those figures reflect only property owners. Renters will also be hit particularly hard, as taxes on apartment blocks will go up and those taxes will be passed on in the form of higher rents. 

Then there’s the committee’s desire to do away with the deed transfer tax---which brings in $31 million annually---and make up the lost revenue with an effective eight-percent increase in property taxes. Homeowners who have already paid the tax will pay it again for those who buy property in the future. Consider it a political sop to the development industry.

Still, as grievous as those particulars are, my main beef with the proposal is philosophical: It atomizes us, reducing our relationship with our government to one of consumers buying services, ignoring the shared concerns of community.

Take, for example, bus service. Under the proposal people in, say, Spryfield, will pay a certain tax because they have access to bus routes. They receive the service, they pay for it. But we all benefit from that bus service: Employees can get to their jobs, traffic congestion through the rotary lessens, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

Similarly, the costs of recreation centres will be apportioned to those who live nearby, who presumably use them. But no matter where we live, without the rec centres we’ll all pay in higher crime rates from wayward youth and higher health care costs tending to the unhealthy.

Or, to use another example, because the direct cost of garbage service to their community is the highest in HRM, residents of Preston will pay the highest garbage taxes---the historic injustices that drove those residents to that inaccessible rural area are ignored.

The tax “reform” initiative erases our collective societal responsibilities to each other, and should be rejected on that count alone.

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