Reality MYTH: PROPERTY TAXES ARE GOOD ENOUGH. Is the Property Tax Adequate?

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1 MYTH: PROPERTY TAXES ARE GOOD ENOUGH About AUMA AUMA represents 272 urban municipalities including cities, towns, villages, and summer villages. We work on a broad range of issues that impact our members and strive to support economic, social, cultural, and environmental vitality. AUMA s Vision Municipal governments are a fully engaged order of government and have the capacity to build thriving communities. AUMA Mission The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association empowers municipalities by providing visionary leadership, solutionsbased advocacy, and service excellence. Reality Municipalities provide the core infrastructure (roads, bridges, water and wastewater facilities, waste management, emergency response) necessary to sustain Alberta s rapidly growing economy. In fact Alberta s municipalities provide almost 60% of the public sector infrastructure in Alberta, yet only directly collect 10% of the taxes. The result has been the creation of an approximate $26 billion urban municipal infrastructure backlog. Addressing this backlog through property taxation alone will result in an over 50% increase in municipal property taxes. This is not acceptable. Simply raising property taxes presents other challenges: About 30% of the current property tax collected is handed over to the province. This creates significant issues with transparency. Property taxation often hits low income families and seniors disproportionately. Statistics Canada (July 2003 Perspectives) estimates families with income in excess of $100,000 paid 28.6% in income taxes but only 1.8% in property taxes. Property taxes alone are insufficient to meet the infrastructure backlog. Is the Property Tax Adequate? Alberta continues to be an economic engine for Canada. Alberta s economy grew briskly for the third straight year in Real GDP expanded by an estimated 3.8%, propelled by a jump in consumer spending and residential investment, along with continued gains in business investment. Alberta led all provinces with 2.7% job growth, and had the nation s lowest unemployment rate. To learn more about AUMA please visit our website! While it is often assumed that our growth is centered on the oil sands region, our growth is actually occurring throughout the entire province. 10 of the 15 fastest growing census agglomeration regions occur in Alberta. For example, Calgary s population is up 12.6% and Edmonton s 12.1%, which represent the highest growth for major cities in Canada. By comparison, the greater Toronto area grew by only 5.1%. Growth is not limited to our major cities - Okotoks grew by 42.9%, Wood Buffalo 27.1%, High River 20.6%, Strathmore 19.7%, Sylvan Lake 19.2%, Grande Prairie 16.8%, Cold Lake 15.4%, Lloydminster 14%, Lethbridge 11.3%, and Camrose 10.6%. With this unprecedented growth comes the need for infrastructure and community services. Our local governments are prepared to step up to this challenge but need to know that they have the resources available. 73 of 134

2 Municipalities are responsible for providing core critical infrastructure that enables Alberta s business activities as well as provides quality of life services to attract and retain the necessary workforce to support our economy. Examples of this critical infrastructure include transportation and transit systems, water and wastewater management systems, fire and police facilities, waste management, and culture and recreational centers. Alberta s municipalities have had to address significant infrastructure pressures resulting from rapid energy driven growth. Our challenges include aging water and wastewater management systems; insufficient transportation systems to connect Alberta s natural resource products to markets; and a lack of community infrastructure to keep pace with our population growth. Unlike the federal and provincial governments, municipalities have only one tax source and very few other funding options and directly retain only 10% of the tax revenue in Alberta. Our municipalities are therefore forced to rely on the generosity of other levels of government to benefit from the resource wealth generated in Alberta. Consequently, municipalities have been either taking on debt to address the shortfall or allowing the infrastructure backlog to grow both of which are short-term solutions. What s Wrong with This Picture? Alberta municipalities have almost 60% of the public sector infrastructure But collect only 10% of the tax revenue! The reality is that Alberta s urban municipalities have a large and growing infrastructure deficit. Edmonton and Calgary project an infrastructure funding gap of about $10.9 billion and $7 billion respectively by It is possible that the provincial deficit could be in the range of $26 billion which annually equates to $2.6 billion. Deferring maintenance (or not performing repairs at all) leads to much higher rates of deterioration and repair bills that can equal the cost of the original asset. 74 of 134

3 The reality is that addressing this infrastructure challenge through property taxes alone would require an increase of over 50% to the property taxes currently charged in Alberta. This would render Alberta s property tax system noncompetitive with other jurisdictions in North America, make home ownership unaffordable for many and drive businesses from the province. Consequently, it is doubtful that property taxes in their current format are adequate to address the municipal infrastructure challenge. Why Can t Municipalities Just Raise Property Taxes? While municipalities acknowledge the potential for raising property taxes to cover services, this possibility raises other issues: Accountability Municipalities do not keep all of the property tax that they collect. A significant portion of this tax is turned over to the province in the form of a tax requisition. The province requisitioned about $2 billion from Alberta s municipalities during the 2013 tax year to assist with the funding for basic education, seniors lodges, etc. Consequently approximately 30% of the total property tax paid by Albertans goes to the province. Municipalities must deliver core services to citizens and be accountable to citizens for those expenses. The link to value for services provided by municipalities becomes a challenge when a significant share of the tax base goes to the province. Fairness Municipalities believe that ability-to-pay is a key principle in a taxation system. However, increasing property taxes can impact seniors and other lower income families disproportionately when compared to their income. So while it can be argued that property taxation as a percentage of income is decreasing, it is important to remember that not everyone is sharing equally in these gains. As shown in the graph to the right the growth in personal income has been much more rapid than the growth in median personal income. While it is fine to argue that people will make their choice of living accommodation based on their expectation of life-time income, the effects of a rapid shift in income is far more visible in the property taxation system, where people are forced to move, because their income does not keep pace with the rising values of property. Other revenue generating opportunities available to other orders of government allow for targeting tax changes at ability-to-pay. Local governments do have taxing authority through property and business taxes they can raise tax at any time through these mechanisms but is this really the fairest way to tax our citizens? Competitiveness According to Edmonton s 2012 Residential Property Taxes and Utility Charges Survey, currently Alberta municipal residential property taxes on a average home are in the middle of the pack. However, an increase of as little as $50 per month could put our municipalities near the top in Canada. 75 of 134

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5 MYTH: MUNICIPALITIES ARE BIG SPENDERS About AUMA AUMA represents 272 urban municipalities including cities, towns, villages, and summer villages. We work on a broad range of issues that impact our members and strive to support economic, social, cultural, and environmental vitality. AUMA s Vision Municipal governments are a fully engaged order of government and have the capacity to build thriving communities. AUMA Mission The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association empowers municipalities by providing visionary leadership, solutionsbased advocacy, and service excellence. To learn more about AUMA please visit our website! Reality Alberta s Municipalities provide services critical to the health and safety of our citizens and the productivity and vibrancy of our businesses. About 78% of our budgets are dedicated to protective services, transportation, water and wastewater and parks and recreation. There are significant issues with analysis of municipal expenses based on inflation and/or population: The standard CPI consumers face is not a good measure for municipalities. For example from 2000 to 2007 the CPI rose only 22% while the cost of many elements of road construction increased by over 100%. These measures do not reflect added health and safety standards or provincial downloading, which add to municipal costs. In fact, many of the most rapidly growing cost areas presented in the reports are often provided by the private sector. What is being done to address those issues? Despite having to respond to rapid economic growth and an infrastructure back-log caused by the Klein era cuts, municipalities are operating efficiently: As a percentage of GDP Alberta local government expense is lower today than at many points in the past and is one of the lowest in Canada. Should population and inflation be used as the basis for assessing municipal expenditures? Simply put, the use of population growth and an index of consumer prices to benchmark -- and indeed limit -- municipal expenditures growth does not adequately recognize the many factors that drive spending at the local level: New environmental and safety standards affect many aspects of municipal spending. The escalation in the costs of the labour, materials and services required by municipalities can depart significantly from rates of inflation in the costs of the basket of goods and services purchased by consumers. This reality has been particularly evident in recent years in areas such as roadworks, public transit, utilities, and building construction and maintenance where costs have escalated sharply in response to a buoyant provincial economy, labour shortages, and rising global prices for essential materials and other inputs. 77 of 134

6 When Looking At Municipal Expenses, What Timeframe Should be Used? When looking at municipal expenses, both the start points and the end points for the CFIB s analysis is important. For example, comparisons that begin in the mid-to-late 1990s to the beginning of this decade reflected a period of particular fiscal restraint and reduced senior government support to municipalities they therefore represented an abnormally low period in municipal spending. On the other hand, spending by 2011 was characterized by the need to accommodate rapid growth conditions associated with a booming provincial economy, absorb the related escalation in prices for materials and labour, and at the same time make up for the earlier periods of underinvestment and underspending particularly in the area of infrastructure. Providing public infrastructure puts a significant demand on municipalities. Capital acquisitions in 2011 amounted to about $1,400 per person or about 40% of total outlays. In fact, the portion of public sector infrastructure owned by municipalities has grown from 44% in 1995 to almost 60% today. This infrastructure supports critical municipal services including water and wastewater, garbage management, policing and fire response services, and parks and recreation. The fact that the infrastructure we are building today will be used well into the future, highlights the need to take a longer term view of municipal expenditures. Alberta continues to be an economic engine for Canada. Alberta s economy grew briskly for the third straight year in Real GDP expanded by an estimated 3.8%, propelled by a jump in consumer spending and residential investment, along with continued gains in business investment. Alberta led all provinces with 2.7% job growth, and had the nation s lowest unemployment rate. While it is often assumed that our growth is centered on the oil sands region, our growth is actually occurring throughout the entire province. 10 of the 15 fastest growing census agglomeration regions occur in Alberta. For example, Calgary s population is up 12.6% and Edmonton s 12.1%, which represent the highest growth for major cities in Canada. By comparison, the greater Toronto area grew by only 5.1%. Growth is not limited to our major cities - Okotoks grew by 42.9%, Wood Buffalo 27.1%, High River 20.6%, Strathmore 19.7%, Sylvan Lake 19.2%, Grande Prairie 16.8%, Cold Lake 15.4%, Lloydminster 14%, Lethbridge 11.3%, and Camrose 10.6%. With this unprecedented growth comes the need for infrastructure and community services. 72% of municipal budgets are focused on the core services of Municipalities including protective services (fire, policing, ambulatory), transportation, water and wastewater and parks and recreation. Our local governments are prepared to step up to the infrastructure challenge but need to know that they have the resources available. 78 of 134

7 In exchange, our municipalities are committed to operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. In fact, despite the rapid growth Alberta s municipalities are experiencing and the backlog of infrastructure resulting from the Klein era cutbacks, Alberta s municipal expenditures are: As a percentage of GDP, lower today than they were in the past. Lower than in most other jurisdictions as a percentage of GDP. 79 of 134

8 What Is Behind Rising Municipal Costs? Often the blame for rising municipal costs focusses on public sector wages and salaries. Yet according to recent reports, this was the category of municipal expense that had the smallest growth rate. Larger escalations were experienced in the areas of contract services, supplies and utilities and banking fees areas often supplied by the private sector. In terms of municipal wages and salaries, it is important to remember that municipalities are often large and complex organizations. The duties and responsibilities of an administrator in a municipality is not directly comparable to a similarly named position in a small corporation. Municipalities must compete with other larger governments and large private sector corporations to attract and retain the skills necessary to operate effectively and efficiently. As demonstrated below, the number of municipal FTEs per 1,000 people is lower today than it was in the 1990s. 80 of 134

9 MYTH: BUSINESSES PAY TOO MUCH TAX About AUMA AUMA represents 272 urban municipalities including cities, towns, villages, and summer villages. We work on a broad range of issues that impact our members and strive to support economic, social, cultural, and environmental vitality. AUMA s Vision Municipal governments are a fully engaged order of government and have the capacity to build thriving communities. AUMA Mission The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association empowers municipalities by providing visionary leadership, solutionsbased advocacy, and service excellence. To learn more about AUMA please visit our website! Reality Simply comparing property tax rates charged to businesses versus individuals is a gross over simplification of the property tax system. It says nothing about the portion of the actual tax burden paid, the ability to pay of businesses versus individuals or the overall tax competitiveness of the entire tax system. Individuals pay almost 50% of the property tax burden, linear property (mainly pipelines) pay about 10% leaving less than 40% to businesses. Calls to narrow the difference in rates between business and residential property tax rates, could mean an almost 40% tax increase for seniors, farmers and other home owners. When you factor in other provincial and local taxes, individuals pay about 60% of the tax burden in Alberta. Alberta has a very competitive tax system. In fact, Albertans and their businesses pay almost $10 billion per year less than if we had our closest Canadian competitor s tax system. The tax system should be looked at in its entirety not cherry picked one tax at a time. How Does Simply Comparing Property Tax Rates Over- Simplify The Discussion? Comparing the local property tax rate charged on residential properties to the property tax rate charged on businesses is a gross over simplification of the property tax system. It says nothing about the portion of the actual tax burden paid, the ability to pay of businesses versus individuals or the overall tax competitiveness of the entire tax system. The reality is that many municipalities set their non-residential versus residential rates to ensure that the relative tax burden remains the same between persons and businesses. As a result, the so called tax gap can increase or decrease due to changes in assessment (i.e., if residential assessment rises faster than nonresidential assessment the tax gap would increase even though the relative property tax burden remained the same. 81 of 134

10 The following table illustrates this. Suppose we have a small municipality with one home and one business in it. The only thing that changes from year one to year two is that the value of the home rises (the household income and corporate profits do not change). The result is that the tax gap doubles even though the property tax paid by the business and the homeowner have not changed nor has the services provided to either changed. Consequently, it is pretty clear that a comparison based solely on rates does not show the full picture. Year 1 Year 2 Assessment $1,000 $1,000 $2,000 $1,000 Tax Rate 10% 10% 5% 10% Tax Paid $100 $100 $100 $100 Income/Profit $10,000 $10,000 $10,000 $10,000 Tax Gap = None Tax Gap = 2 Should Property Taxes Reflect Who Pays for the Services? While municipalities agree that those who benefit from municipal services should pay for those services, this is more difficult to implement in practice. Arguably, corporations benefit from all the services municipalities provide as a result of having increased access to resources and customers or to a productive workforce or a safe and secure environment. As a result, the property tax system can at best approximate the benefit received by individuals and corporations. Unfortunately, while industry argues that the property tax system should be based on those who benefit from the services they have also argued against more effective tools that would accomplish exactly that goal (i.e., offsite levies). At best, all municipalities can do is indicate how much tax individuals and businesses pay and leave it to the electorate to determine if the mix is an accurate indication of the benefits received. Focusing on the tax paid rather than the tax rates as was done by CFIB shows that residential and farm properties pay approximately 48% of the total property tax burden. Linear property often associated with large scale oil and gas corporations makes up 13% 82 of 134

11 of the tax burden, while businesses make up the remaining 39%. In evaluating the benefit versus payment situation, it is also important to remember that property tax is relatively a small component of the taxes paid by individuals and corporations. When looking at all the various taxes paid by businesses and persons locally and provincially, AUMA estimates that individuals pay over 60% of the total burden. Should Ability to Pay Be Taken Into Consideration? It is also important to remember that who pays for what service is not the only measure that should be considered when evaluating tax fairness. There are also issues of ability to pay. From 1990 to 2008 corporate profits grew by over 900%, rapidly outpacing the growth in municipal tax and expense. Median family incomes on the other hand have shown relatively little growth since Do Businesses Pay Too Much Tax in Alberta? Irrespective of your opinion about the fairness of property taxes, Alberta municipalities believe that it is the overall tax competitiveness that is important to businesses in making their decision on whether to locate and operate in Alberta or not. There have been numerous studies including a recent one by the CFIB, that indicate that Alberta does very well in this respect. 83 of 134

12 As shown on the graphs on the previous page KPMG s Competitive Alternatives report shows that Canada is among the most business tax competitive jurisdictions examined. And Alberta is a stand out in Canada. According to Alberta Treasury Board and Finance, Albertans and their businesses would pay over an additional $10 billion per year, if we had our closest competitors tax system within Canada. After reviewing this issue in October 2013, CFIB concluded that Alberta has maintained its first place ranking in the Small Business Provincial Tax Index. The report examined how the provinces stack up against one another by examining 53 indicators in five major areas of tax policy: premiums and payroll taxes; sales and excise taxes; corporate income taxes; personal income taxes; and property taxes. 84 of 134

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