Mayor Nenshi’s budget woes haunt Calgary
Disclosure : Wyatt Claypool is a third-year Policy Studies and History student at Mount Royal University, where he serves as the President for its Campus Conservatives. He is also a Conservative board member for Signal Hill.
Calgary’s budget is not holy, and I have no clue why the city council keeps acting like it is. Mayor Nenshi’s attempts along with other council members to rejigger the property tax balance between business and homeowners was a move I can only describe as tone-deaf to the needs of Calgarians in this current economic slump.
Regardless of how much the average Calgarian has in their pockets somehow it was still a top priority to maintain the slightly over 17 billion dollars 2019-2022 budget. It makes sense to me that the budget should reflect the ability of Calgarians as a whole to pay for the services that tax dollars fund. Despite the ever lowering of household income around the city as well as the rising unemployment rate and downtown office vacancies, up until a week ago, there was no question that Calgary taxpayers were going to still be on the hook for that 17 billion over three years.
Maybe I am too much of an idealist, but I’d imagine when we first pass a budget we assume that in our economic state we can pay for 100% of what was agreed upon by the city council. But if one year into the three-year budget, we find an income contraction throughout Calgary of 15%, then why shouldn’t the budget be adjusted to reflect that loss in ability to pay comfortably. This is especially true of property taxes as they are not adjusted based on one’s employment or income status. Nenshi on this issue positions himself as tragically loyal to the budget he initially passed which would be commendable if the economy had not further deteriorated.
Nenshi believed that the city’s actual ability to fund the budget was just another one of those fussy technicalities and can be worked around to preserve current spending. In his view, services outweigh household economic health. City services, especially those most likely to be cut, add little benefit to the lives of Calgarians when bills need paying. A new library ($245 million) seems like an insult to those business owners who are operating on ever-shrinking margins and possibly facing closure. No struggling homeowner is visiting the library or touring new art installations when family budgets need to be further tightened.
Nenshi recently complained about having been pushed to cut the city’s 2019 budget by $60 million this year saying, “the plan goes too hard, too fast for marginal improvements”going on to say one month to find areas of the city budget to cut was too short notice. Nenshi? You can’t find 1.4% of your next year’s budget to cut, as a former business professor? I, like most Calgarians, don’t buy it. Nenshi is simply obstinate. It’s only a problem when he has to feel the effects of the economic downturn, which is why he also fiercely defended his diamond-studded pensions from Jeromy Farkas, who along with Magliocca, Chu, and Sutherland see that Calgary has a whole needs to be far more frugal with its spending.
As the Mayor of Calgary, Nenshi and his cliche of city councillors should not be leading from behind as they have. If Calgarians have already been cutting back for years, then elected city officials should certainly not be the last aware of the need to reduce spending on luxuries. I would not mind the current expenditure on the arts and new city infrastructure as much if we had the economic strength back when Nenshi was first elected mayor in 2010, that sort of goes without saying, yet it has still not caught up to him that it is 2019 and Calgary is not in the same economic shape. King Nenshi brings the attitude that if Calgarians cannot afford bread, then they should stop their complaining and eat cake instead. I’m not sure whether to laugh of tear my hair out at all this stupidity.
If Mayor Nenshi can only see the city budget as a measure of whether we are in a recession or not, then he will continue to squeeze every last dollar out of property owners blindly. His placation of protesting business owners by simply shifting the tax burden to homeowners is proof enough of this. I have a strong doubt that if the success of the July 22nd deadline where up to Nenshi if the job would ever get done. He has yet to take the lead on the budget cuts and would rather complain over small technicalities to make this procedure a slog through the mud.
Nenshi is still of the mind that the city budget is to be guarded and is dissuading council members from getting involved in the cuts as if unelected bureaucrats can represent the interests of Calgarians better when finding areas of the budget in which to save money. Coming from the same man who did not think a month was enough time to make cuts, I believe Mayor Nenshi fears the speed of council members and would prefer the unaccountable bureaucrats drag the process out. Too bad for him that won’t be happening. The world will spin on if we let the grass grow a little taller on public land, or lose out on some modern art bike racks. A little bird named Nenshi has also informed us that the Mayor’s salary is too high, so I have a good idea of where to start at the very least.
At least we can look to the silver lining at this time that Calgary does have some good councillors who have shown leadership through this tough economic times. I look forward to having a Mayor Farkas, Magliocca, or anyone else who won’t take Calgary’s taxpayers for granted. As voters, we should reject good times candidates like Nenshi and elect someone who will assume management of the city seriously.
Calgary’s budget woes are just a symptom of an out of touch mayor. In the future, when selecting another mayor to lead our city, we must ask ourselves whether a budget or some other thing is more important than the economic well-being of Calgary business and households. As for Nenshi, it looks like we will have to continue to push and drag him into doing the right thing (if he ever does).