Welcome to the second, less frequently-posted decade of RevMod.

Contact me at revmod AT gmail.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004


The headline refers to the province of Alberta, not to me. I still have student loans from a decade ago. I built the debt up while the Klein revolution withdrew a fifth of the government grants to post-secondary education, but allowed the institution to make it up from me, and then lent me the money to give the institution. Neat little shell game, eh?

I rant about my own circumstances because it's a good example of the various ways the Alberta government reached this exciting debt-free status. It withdrew money from the health system, but increased the premiums. Decreased funding forced increased fees to basic services like K-12 education, and passing on service provision to private industry made things more expensive for users, but the government described this all as "no tax increases".

But fine. We've reached this point now. The government is asking what they should do with all the brand new money they used to spend on debt payment. May I make a couple of suggestions?

Lose the health premium. It's a poll tax. Nothing could be more regressive. They could have done this for half the money they gave up four years ago when they made the wholesale changes to the provincial income tax system, but getting rid of the premium wouldn't have put a quarter of the tax reduction benefit in the hands of people who earn a taxable income over $250K a year, so they went for the "give the rich the money" option, instead.

Quit the P3 talk. The province has the money to build its own schools now - why invite private industry in to charge you rent until the thing falls down? Isn't that essentially accepting debt for future generations? Isn't that precisely what you've been trying to stop? Let government be government - quit trying to cut corners.

Find a project. There was all sorts of talk about the great provincially-funded daycare programme in Quebec. Alberta can spend Quebec under the table - make the program the envy of the world. Or perhaps seniors' residences. Perhaps a bullet train between Edmonton and Calgary, to help reduce our carbon emmissions by getting cars off of Highway 2.

Reinvest in the sorts of small-money projects that got cut at the beginning of the "revolution". Help small and rural communities construct or improve community centres. Let some government money help to keep Alberta's arts community vital... never let Calgary's Philharmonic come as close to death as it did last year, ever again, because it would be pathetic if Calgary couldn't sustain an orchestra.

Don't forget the poorest Albertans. A province as wealthy and debt-free as Alberta shouldn't require a single food bank. Make that the top goal for the first debt-free government term: close the door on every food bank in Alberta for lack of use.

This isn't a pipe-dream wish list. This could all be done, if the government set these priorities.

But what will happen? Royalty cuts for oil and gas exploration. More money for health, to compensate for what the fed takes away if the province goes too far afield of the CHA. Some tax cuts, probably by percentage on income tax accross the board, leaving the greatest benefit at the top end. More money for education, because they got way behind on education - thus the offer of spending nearly two billion dollars on unfunded pension liability if only the teachers would sign a long-term contract.

We'll have an election in the fall. Albertans will have the opportunity to decide between these sorts of options for themselves.

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