Community Development Tax Return-- A Proposal for debate


Decentralizing decisions and building a community-based economy;


A Green Economics Proposal

A discussion paper

The NDP (New Democratic Party) and other "left" parties have long ago been tarred with the idea that all they stand for is big government controlling everything and putting the socialist bureaucrat / politician's nose into everyone's affairs and everyone's business. The spectre of huge government depriving the citizen of freedom has been the big boogeyman used against all leftist parties. Perhaps this has been done with some level of justification, and even when not justified, it has been the thing in public conception that has been a millstone around leftist movements.

The NGA has not got that image, and since we are against that very same centralized domination of people's lives and stand for true democracy and citizen power, how would an NGA government restore decision-making and control to smaller community bodies?

The NGA (New Green Alliance) principles declare in favour of decision making at the lowest / smallest appropriate level. We also advocate the democratization of our society to give meaningful input to decisions back to the citizen.

If we listen to provinces and municipalities and health boards, etc, we hear the same tune; that all have local service responsibility with little or no local money raising capacity, and so no real power to carry out their mandates.

Currently we fund local services in various ways, but locally raised taxes are not up to the task so we collect taxes provincially and redistribute them to local authorities such as health districts, school boards, municipalities, and other groups. the "Provincial " money comes from income taxes, corporate taxes, and PST and other fees and license fees. Frequently this means that it is also a provincial department or bureaucrat that determines the local need and then doles out the money or even administers it directly. With that kind of central control of collecting and spending public money, the local community has very little control of how it collects or spends monies or how it fits local priorities.

We should be taking a percentage of the PST and gasoline tax (and others) generated within local jurisdictions and returning it to those jurisdictions as revenue so they can fund local decisions. Thus, along with the new revenue source would go new local decision-making and local service responsibilities.

Centralized collection, planning, allocation and provision of services to a local level is not all bad. To have equity of service and even efficiency, central roles are desirable and essential... but not always and not in as many things as is currently the case. What is bad about this centralization is that local communities lose any sense of being in control of their own futures, and lack the power to make local decisions about that future. With the loss of any sense of control also goes a sense of responsibility for local improvement. What also happens is a resentment and "blame the big guy" response for things that are wrong.

If municipal amalgamation were encouraged to follow logical community regions, we would have a more rational system of local government organization. If an urban commercial centre also had responsibility for providing services to its rural support base, there would be much greater incentive for citizens thinking about each other as partners and members of the same civil society.

We want to see rural revitalization, and support for the family farm. That needs local communities with local economies. Just as the NGA supports a revised system that recycles locally generated wealth back to the local community on a provincial and national level, we also should be encouraging that to be happening on a smaller scale within the province and within regions. For example, if the local community got a percentage of the gasoline tax back as direct rebates to the municipality for road maintenance and repair, there would also be an incentive for local residents and municipalities to support the local town gas station instead of filling up in the city for one cent per litre less. Gasoline taxes are generated from driving on off-highway roads too!

If this were part of a “Quality Saskatchewan Program” , communities, that have gotten on board the Quality Saskatchewan Program to make theirs more effective communities, could receive incentives by getting an extra percentage rebate on the PST.

The idea of using the PST rather than income or property tax for this "return of revenue plan", is that it is a commerce-based taxation revenue, and something that people determine to some degree by deciding where they spend money. We advocate community-based economics, this could be one way of encouraging it to happen. If local communities have access to a portion of funds they generate themselves, there is an incentive to try to generate more funds locally. This is where citizens and community organizations would be encouraged to build a local economy instead of supporting the further centralization of commerce and services that is destroying rural life in Saskatchewan

The redirection of a greater percentage of PST to local control and decision-making, gives the community the tools to realize their own goals. For example, if one of the goals of the community under a Quality Saskatchewan plan was to upgrade water and sewer infrastructure and to upgrade the recreation resources for the community's young and older citizens, the allocation of an additional percentage of PST generated in that area to carry out those plans would make sense. That way, they would not have to wait for a Regina bureaucrat or a provincial budget to determine when and if they would get money for these projects and how they would be done. Instead of waiting for the central authority to decide things for them, they could make their own economically feasible plans. If they needed more money, they could generate more by having a greater generation of PST within their community (a greater level of local commerce). Citizens would see that shopping for their groceries or clothing or hardware in the local town rather than in the city would help them build their senior's centre or to upgrade the skating rink or to get safe drinking water faster. Right now the only options local groups have to fund local decisions for local services is to do volunteer fund raising and HOPE for some central government matching grants. Again, that removes the decisions from the local community and makes it "political"... who is your MLA or how can a government buy the next election, etc.

I will add a short story that illustrates my point of retuning control to the local community.

Back in my days of living in the west end of Prince Albert and my role as a Community School principal and one of the people helping the West Flat Citizens' Group to get off the ground, I attended a provincial conference for deputy ministers and regional directors and supervisors of the Health, Social Services and Education departments. They had been called together to get the "word' about the government's plan to create the "child-first" "integrated services' model for Saskatchewan. That was a long time ago, and there has been a great deal of talk and so little real action since then.

Anyway, at the end of the session someone ( whose name I don't recall) got up and announced to those civil servants: "When you get back to your departments and to your communities, your role is to assist the local community to bring about improvements. It is not your role to determine for them what those improvements are to be. If you ask your community what they think would make it a better place for them to live, and they tell you that they think it would be good to get dog shit off the sidewalks, it is NOT you job to tell them that there are better and more important things for them to be doing. Your job is to ask them how they think you can help them get the dog shit off the sidewalk. When that goal has been realized, the community will come up with a new idea of what to do next, and again, your job is to help them realize that goal. That way they will develop the kind of community they want to be and they will also develop strategies to keep the dog shit off the sidewalk and to do other things that will really make it a better community."

I appreciated that speech, and then over the years that followed found that the people who were charged to carry the message out in action, ignored those wise directive and just kept on having discussions and turf protecting strategy sessions.

The speech that was so thoroughly ignored is the kind of philosophy, which if followed by a central government, will help our communities to grow, and which will have NGA principles come about in public policy.

Inviting comment and feedback,

Gerald Regnitter