Winnipeg’s new mayor, council will face hurdles paying for election promises: professor

Winnipeggers have heard numerous promises from mayor candidates during the municipal election, but whoever wins the city’s top job is likely to face significant hurdles when it comes to paying for big-ticket pledges, a political science professor from the University of Winnipeg warns.

That’s because even in the best of times when it comes to cash to spend, municipal governments just don’t have a lot of options, says Aaron Moore, chair and associate professor with the department of political science at the U of W.

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“The federal and provincial government … and particularly the federal government, have all the revenue in the country,” Moore told 680 CJOB Monday, explaining the big money — income tax and sales tax — go to the two higher levels of government.

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“I think the city, particularly when it talks about new capital investment, like building new bridges or overpasses or that sort of thing, needs to talk with the senior levels of government, but it can’t be dependent on it.

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“A lot of that money comes with strings, and it’s difficult to rely on that.”

Moore says when it comes to tax revenues, generally speaking the federal government takes the lion’s share, usually between 60 and 70 per cent.

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The provincial government’s take in between 30 and 40 per cent, he added, which leaves somewhere around 10 per cent for municipalities like Winnipeg.

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That municipal money comes in the form of property and business taxes, street front levies, and user fees, Moore said.

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While Winnipeg also has some extra money trickle in through a hotel tax and an unusual rule that allows the city to use water fees to pay for general revenue, for the most part, Moore says Winnipeg’s next mayor and council will be relatively tied down when it comes to spending.

Other than convincing provincial and federal governments to pitch in, the only way a mayor and council can generate more income for major projects is by raising things like property taxes and user fees, Moore says.

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But that can be a tough sale during an election campaign.

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“I think actually coming up with viable ways to address some of the fiscal shortfalls is going to be a big problem for a lot of the candidates and not many of them have come up with concrete ways to address it,” he said, noting years of tax freezes mean the city is already in a tight spot.

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Moore says that’s why voters should listen to how candidates say they’ll pay for the promises they’re making during the campaign.

“I think this is a very important (election) because as much as it’s very difficult to distinguish all the different candidates that are running right now, there are some that are clearly indicating a focus on the fiscal reality of the city, and there are others that are really not,” he said.

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“And depending on who you get in power or who wins … I think that could have a significant influence on the capacity of the city to move forward with and address a lot of the problems it is facing in the next decade.”

Winnipeggers head to the polls to pick their next mayor and council Wednesday.

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