Thursday, August 31, 2006

The gift that keeps on grabbing

According to the London Free Press, the annual "surplus" at city hall is being anticipated again in official circles as an inducement to the electorate to adopt a complacent assent to the idea that its incumbents and staff are managing the economy well, just as if revenue from taxes and monopolistic services were a direct function of planned economic well-being. Given the range of taxes and fees which the city charges Londoners for being Londoners, it cannot be expected that administration could predict with certainty all of its revenues for the upcoming fiscal year, but four straight years of multi-million dollar "surplus" revenue suggests that the "good news" is becoming an annual ritual of under-reporting as a cynical political ploy adopted from the pratice of their former federal Liberal counterparts… especially since the city was entertaining requests for its projected surplus in April of this year, only two months after its last budget. Not to mention the opportunity to idly reiterate the word "surplus" in news stories also helps serve to settle the scales of public awareness against the genuinely under-reported $371.1 million in total corporate debt, which amounts to over $1,000 per resident of London.

This may strike the reader as an egregiously cynical suggestion, but why is administration releasing — and the Free Press reporting — an estimate of the surplus now, more than half a year before it can be accounted but before an election? Moreover, city council has already demonstrated its contempt for Londoners by expropriating surplus revenues for itself and treating it as though it were a legitimate municipal asset instead of being, as Jim Chapman put it last time around,

tax money that we paid to the city beyond what it had to spend to meet its obligations. It may look like a bonus on the city's books, but every dollar of it represents money plucked from the pockets of hard-working Londoners.
Budget chief and deputy mayor Tom Gosnell is calling staff's estimate of a $5.4 million surplus for this year a "very conservative estimate" and, most tellingly, "the gift we weren't left with when we took office in 2003." Expect the word "windfall" to circulate freely in the Free Press next spring when the final "surplus" is calculated. Of last year's $8.7 million surplus, council returned only $650,000 to taxpayers via a reduction of the property tax increase — and only one councillor, Paul Van Meerbergen, supported returning it all.

Now there's a useful and revealing question to ask of a candidate: what would you do with surplus revenue from Londoners?

Much more on municipal "surpluses" here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.