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Elected on false pretenses

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23Sep

By: Graham Lane
Published: Winnipeg Sun, September 23, 2016

Mayor Bowman won the mayor’s seat by positioning himself as not another big spending
NDPer, He ran as a fiscal conservative, pledging not to increase property taxes by more than
the inflation rate. As with the subsequent provincial election, the electorate sought change and
rejected left-wing tax and spend politics.

Now in the captain’s seat, Bowman displays the traits the electorate voted against. His first two
years in office has seen property tax revenues increased by three times inflation. Depressingly,
more of the same seems to be in the cards, unless councilors get courage and vote against the
easy-out of constantly boosting taxes.

Mayor Bowman has been disrobed as a stark-naked spend and tax politician. His aggressive
effort, now deferred, to ram through a new development levy on new residential and
commercial builds is a simple tax grab for $34 million, to add $18,000 to the cost of typical new
housing. The new levy would give all residential housing sales a similar bump up, punishing
young people, new immigrants and other first-house families.

Bowman didn’t like the first consulting report on his proposed new levy. Its verdict was new
developments are already paying their own way: a new tax wasn’t justified. That report was
supported by calculations, in short with appropriate data. What did Bowman do? In what could
ultimately be a career-ending move he bought another report from a different consultancy. It
provided Bowman what he wanted. – – a green light for his latest new levy.

Mayor Bowman presides over a City that has had two successive half-a-million payouts to
former chief administrative officers, uncontrolled overtime management allowing a police
constable to pocket $250,000 for a year’s pay, and a continuation of a questionable practice
allowing overtime earnings to significantly boost retirement pensions.

Bowman, in classic NDP mode, is again scouring for new revenues instead of managing costs.
He needs to focus on controlling spiraling labor costs in upcoming union negotiations.
Compensation represents the largest component of budget costs by far. And, an example, the
police budget exploded 36.4% between 2010 and 2014.

The mayor also continues an accounting game City hall has perpetuated on taxpayers for years
– ‘robbing’ from water and sewer revenues to falsely hold down the rate of increase in property
taxes. Bowman and his councilor mates should get real: throw out the new development tax
idea, stop playing games with water and sewer revenues, and get busy bringing down
expectations for collective bargaining and next year’s property tax increase.

Tackling the spending problem ultimately will require changes to the City of Winnipeg Act. There
lies opportunities to save big by junking the City’s classic, highly-layered low-performance
operating model with its overstaffing, keystone cop overtime management, and incredibly
expensive pension plan – all need a long-overdue over-haul. Council, led by an inexperienced
and ill-advised mayor should start figuring ways to bring City costs down.

Ultimately, basic reforms will require the involvement of the Pallister Government. It controls the
City of Winnipeg Act and can bring in needed performance reform. Meanwhile, Premier Pallister
should ensure Bowman’s new tax doesn’t see the light of day. Bowman’s last minute deferral of
his highly questionable proposal was wise.

Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward (manitobaforward.ca).

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