It might not be a tea-party scale tax revolt, but something is definitely brewing in the provincial capital.
For the last few weeks, a local coalition of business leaders and associations have been quietly organizing to take on, what they will argue come fall, is an unfair tax burden levied on Edmonton business owners and entrepreneurs.
On the surface, an alliance of C-suiters and other corporate executive types may not elicit the most sympathetic reaction from the public at large. But if you scratch the surface, even only a little, their case becomes a lot more compelling.
At the heart of the coalition’s concerns are two astonishing facts. Number one, operational spending at the City of Edmonton has more than doubled in the last 10 years. Number two, so have commercial property tax rates. In other words, the city has a serious spending problem and they’ve stuck Edmonton’s innovators and job creators with the bill.
That successive Edmonton administrations have failed to get a grip on public spending is obvious. Between 2006 and 2016, inflation and population together went up over 50 per cent while spending shot up 103 per cent. In real dollars, that means the city spent $650 million more than was needed to accommodate its growth.
The numbers strongly suggest that Edmonton businesses have largely financed this spending explosion. In 2017, the non-residential tax base in Edmonton accounted for about 25 per cent of the city’s overall tax assessment. However, non-residential tax revenues represented nearly half of all taxes collected.
While other major Canadian cities have actually lowered their commercial tax rates by an average of 4.3 per cent nationwide, Edmonton continues to squeeze more and more out of businesses every year. The year-over-year increase in Edmonton in 2017 alone was 8.54 per cent.
The results have been predictable. Edmonton’s non-residential tax base continues to shrink, as businesses either shut down or pack up and leave town, leaving a smaller pool of companies to shoulder an increasingly heavier tax burden, while laying off staff and cutting back hours to stay afloat.
This is, quite simply, unsustainable. At a time when businesses are already slammed with new carbon taxes, minimum wage hikes, costly labour reforms, and increased regulatory costs, sticking them with the tab for spend-happy municipalities might be the final straw. The coalition’s objective will be to get the public and, by extension, Edmonton city council, to understand this as it prepares for its upcoming four-year budget plan.
The coalition’s challenge will be getting everyday Edmontonians to care about the plight of business owners, but the people these outsized tax hikes most affected don’t fit the stereotypical executive who works in a glass tower downtown. They’re the owners of the neighbourhood pub and health food store. They’re the landscapers and hairstylists and plumbers and massage therapists who innovate, create jobs, and, of course, pay taxes. An attack on these people is, in reality, an attack on virtually everybody.