Bowman elected on false pretences





Mayor Bowman won the mayor’s seat by positioning himself as not another big spending NDPer, he ran as a fiscal conservative, pledging not to increase property taxes by more than the inflation rate. As with the subsequent provincial election, the electorate sought change and rejected left-wing tax and spend politics.

Now in the captain’s seat, Bowman displays the traits the electorate voted against. His first two years in office has seen property tax revenues increased by three times inflation. Depressingly, more of the same seems to be in the cards, unless councillors get courage and vote against the easy-out of constantly boosting taxes.

Mayor Bowman has been disrobed as a stark-naked spend and tax politician. His aggressive effort, now deferred, to ram through a new development levy on new residential and commercial builds is a simple tax grab for $34 million, to add $18,000 to the cost of typical new housing. The new levy would give all residential housing sales a similar bump up, punishing young people, new immigrants and other first-house families.

Bowman didn’t like the first consulting report on his proposed new levy. Its verdict was new developments are already paying their own way: a new tax wasn’t justified. That report was supported by calculations, in short with appropriate data. What did Bowman do? In what could ultimately be a career-ending move he bought another report from a different consultancy. It provided Bowman what he wanted — a green light for his latest new levy.

Mayor Bowman presides over a city that has had two successive half-a-million payouts to former chief administrative officers, uncontrolled overtime management allowing a police constable to pocket $250,000 for a year’s pay, and a continuation of a questionable practice allowing overtime earnings to significantly boost retirement pensions.

Bowman, in classic NDP mode, is again scouring for new revenues instead of managing costs. He needs to focus on controlling spiralling labour costs in upcoming union negotiations. Compensation represents the largest component of budget costs by far. And, an example, the police budget exploded 36.4% between 2010 and 2014.

The mayor also continues an accounting game city hall has perpetuated on taxpayers for years — “robbing” from water and sewer revenues to falsely hold down the rate of increase in property taxes. Bowman and his councillor mates should get real: throw out the new development tax idea, stop playing games with water and sewer revenues, and get busy bringing down expectations for collective bargaining and next year’s property tax increase.

Tackling the spending problem ultimately will require changes to the City of Winnipeg Act. There lies opportunities to save big by junking the city’s classic, highly-layered low-performance operating model with its overstaffing, keystone cop overtime management and incredibly expensive pension plan — all need a long-overdue overhaul. Council, led by an inexperienced and ill-advised mayor should start figuring ways to bring city costs down.

Ultimately, basic reforms will require the involvement of the Pallister government. It controls the City of Winnipeg Act and can bring in needed performance reform. Meanwhile, Premier Pallister should ensure Bowman’s new tax doesn’t see the light of day. Bowman’s last minute deferral of his highly questionable proposal was wise.

— Graham Lane leads Manitoba Forward,