Editorial: Never-ending city hall spending

New year, old problem: municipal spending accountability.

Were there an increase in that accountability rather than just an increase in government spending, there would be far less of an old problem plaguing a new year.

According to BC Municipal Spending Watch 2016, B.C. municipalities racked up $8.6 billion in excess spending between 2004 and 2014.

The 48% jump in operating budgets, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report noted, is four times B.C.’s population growth over the same period. Municipal governments therefore failed to keep their operating spending in line with the CFIB’s fiscal sustainability benchmark of inflation plus population growth. The resulting cost, on average, to a B.C. family of four during that 10-year period, according to the CFIB: $7,445.

Costs to the business community would be far higher; costs to the cultivation of vigorous local business enterprise would also be significant. But municipal governments, like their provincial and federal counterparts, are not using their own money when they spend more than they can afford. So the City of Vancouver’s 2017 $1.32 billion operating budget with its proposed 3.9% property tax rise can maintain that the increase is needed “to address the challenges of a growing city,” but coming up with the revenue to cover that increase is not city hall’s problem. Vancouver’s goal of becoming a living wage employer might be great for the municipality’s employees and suppliers, but it’s far less great for the residential and business taxpayers who will bankroll such job market largesse.

The City of Vancouver is not the province’s worst budget accountability offender, but it remains one of the worst in B.C. when it comes to burdening business with a higher percentage of municipal tax than is borne by city residents. That inequity, along with chronic operating budget increases, continues to erode the city’s appeal as a place to do business.

In the long run, that will be a bill that even taxpayers won’t be able to afford.