Tax Hikes For You, Wage Hikes For Them
Tax Hikes For You,
Wage Hikes For Them
By Kerry Diotte
They coulda. They shoulda. But they didn’t.
Edmonton Council members could have and should have set a good example for beleaguered taxpayers by refusing a pay hike this year. But, no dice. They gladly took it.
Last week, our City Council members quietly accepted a 2.4% wage hike for 2023.
What? No big news release from City Hall on this? Wonder why?
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi’s base salary will now be a healthy $211,488, up from $206,551 - an increase of $4,977. That’s more than the base pay he made as a Liberal MP.
City Councillors get a $2,812 bump, with a new base salary of $119,484, up from $116,672.
But wait, there’s more …
Council members also have generous benefits on top of their base pay. Those include a health care spending account of $3,600 annually and monthly vehicle allowances of $1,204.78 for the Mayor and $601.35 for Councillors.
Edmonton's elected officials are now the second-best-paid in the country, only slightly behind the much larger and much more expensive Toronto, where the Mayor earns $216,160, and Councillors get $128,346.
It's important to note that the Edmonton Council's salaries are set by what’s called an Independent Council Compensation Committee, and in general, we support the idea of an independent body determining Council's pay.
But, the members of the Committee aren't truly independent - they're appointed by the City Manager, and every single one of them has spent their career working either for the government or for government-funded NGOs.
The Committee isn't exactly representative of regular Edmontonian taxpayers who are reeling from sky-high costs for food, fuel, heating, rent, and - yes - property taxes.
It’s true that politicians are easy targets whenever they get a pay raise.
To be fair, the total amount we pay elected officials is just a fraction of a percent of the total City budget - you'd be stretching even to call it a drop in the bucket.
But I’m betting Edmontonians would be a lot less upset by Council pay raises if they thought City Council members were acting fiscally responsibly when spending the rest of that bucket of money.
There’s been no serious (or even unserious) attempt to pare back civic spending in any way, and that’s galling to taxpayers.
One of the most egregious examples is the plan to spend a whopping $100 million dollars on bicycle lanes over the next four years. Is this really the best use of $100 million of the tax money they extract from our wallets?
And there’s no end to Council members’ pet projects and ideologically driven spending schemes such as scads of cash for green initiatives - costly electric buses, decking out buildings in solar panels, and the like.
Don't even get us started on the Talus Dome - the $600,000 artwork - created by California artists - installed as part of a "mandatory" 1%-for-public-art policy. That policy makes it "essential" to spend 1% of every single construction project’s cost on art.
City Councillors and the Mayor cannot possibly be listening to the general public. If they were, they’d heed the majority of Edmontonians who want them to hold the line on taxes, to stop spending on non-essential projects, and to remember that the money they spend isn’t theirs.
They’re OUR tax dollars, and we want them spent wisely.
If City Council did all of those things, I’m betting the majority of Edmontonians wouldn’t begrudge them a modest wage hike every so often.
Until they do, City Council should continue to vote to refuse the Independent Committee's recommendation for a pay hike, just like they did for the last couple of years.
Kerry Diotte is a spokesperson for Common Sense Edmonton, a long-time journalist, former City Councillor, and former Member of Parliament for Edmonton Griesbach.