A Taxpayer Protection Law
December 21, 1998
More than 70,000 Saskatchewan citizens share the same Christmas wish. They have signed a petition calling on Santa (the Saskatchewan government, actually) to implement a no-nonsense taxpayer protection law.
Christmas came early for the people of Ontario. Thanks to the efforts of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and other concerned citizens, the government of Mike Harris introduced Bill 99 - The Balanced Budget and Taxpayer Protection Act.
The legislation requires balanced budgets, voter approval for tax hikes, and, if the government runs an illegal deficit, Cabinet ministers will have their salary cut by 25-50%. That's enough of a penalty to make even the thickest politician take notice!
Missing from the Ontario law is a mandatory debt repayment schedule. But Premier Harris has hinted that may be on the way before an election expected in the spring of 1999.
Ontario is following the example of our common neighbour, Manitoba, which passed taxpayer protection legislation in 1995. That landmark law provides for balanced budgets, debt repayment, and voter approval for tax increases. Like Ontario's Bill 99, salary cuts punish Manitoba cabinet ministers who break the law.
But what of Saskatchewan The Canadian Taxpayers Federation drafted and circulated model Taxpayer Protection Legislation back in 1991. In a province-wide referendum 82% of voters cast their ballots in support of the legislation.
The balanced budget legislation introduced by the NDP government in 1995 was a step in the right direction, but it is inadequate. It does not provide taxpayer protection from tax increases, and includes no enforcement provisions to hold elected officials responsible for illegal deficits. And what good is any law if there are no penalties for breaking it
The Taxpayers Protection Act that the CTF is proposing for Saskatchewan would eliminate annual deficits, provide for debt repayment, and illegal deficits will result in a 20% pay cut for Cabinet Ministers. It also would require voter approval for any tax increases. If the government needs or wants a tax increase, they will have to make their case directly to the people of Saskatchewan.
Our Saskatchewan taxpayer protection legislation also requires provisions to protect taxpayers from the activities of our government's extended bureaucratic "empire."
I am referring to the 100-plus Crown corporations, agencies, boards, commissions, and funds that operate outside of the "General Revenue Fund" that is overseen in the legislature. These government bodies are responsible for about 40% of the government's financial activities, a larger proportion than any other province.
The current Balanced Budget Act only requires a balanced budget in the General Revenue Fund. Our Taxpayer Protection Act would require the government to balance its total annual operations, including the 40% represented by the Crowns and other bodies.
The principle of accountability should be the same for all parts of our government. Or to put it another way, taxpayers deserve protection from all parts of our government.