Fat tax, deadbeat drivers and pension pruning: Your money-saving suggestions

We asked our audience to lay out ways the Newfoundland and Labrador government can save money. Here's what we heard.

Public weigh in on what sacrifices should be made to plump public purse

The Newfoundland and Labrador government is looking for the public's help in identifying ways to save money within government. (CBC)

Increasing taxes on certain products, cutting back on big projects and going after people who refuse to pay hefty fines are among the suggestions for ways the province can save money.

CBC Newfoundland and Labrador put a call out for ideas on how to turn around the government's finances, and you delivered. We received dozens of replies. 

The ideas below showcase the most common suggestions we received on how Premier Dwight Ball and his government can improve the deficit for the current fiscal year which is expected to reach $1.96 billion. 

1. Raise taxes — modestly

When taxes go up, so do the voices of those who feel they're already being taxed too much. But of all the wide-ranging suggestions we received on what the province can do during these tough financial times, many said they'd accept a hike in taxes on a number of items.

Many commenters suggested taxes could be increased on certain products and added to others, like unhealthy foods. (Ches's Fish & Chips)

Many felt alcohol, cigarettes and gas could be more heavily taxed — but within reason.

Currently, 16.5 cents, for instance, goes to the Newfoundland and Labrador government for every litre of gas sold.

"We are getting quite a break on fuel now so let's try this to help the province over this crisis," one person wrote.

While many decried any suggestion of a hike in the harmonized sales tax, not everyone felt it was such a bad idea, and some still feel the HST can be dropped to help lessen the fiscal burden.

In addition to the usual unhealthy habits like alcohol and cigarettes, others suggested we take extra, health-focused steps to implement a tax on products that include unhealthy fats.

Takeout food and snacks like chips, pop and chocolate bars should have a tax of their own, one person suggested.

2. Collect outstanding debts

As of November 2013, driving-related fines added up to more than $30 million.

Driving related fines in Newfoundland and Labrador as of November 2013 (CBC)

In an interview with CBC News in 2014, then Liberal justice critic Andrew Parsons questioned why some drivers are accumulating such an enormous debt.

Many who offered their suggestions to save money agreed, and said the current government (of which Parsons is now minister of Justice and Public Safety) should go after those who owe big bucks.

And in keeping with the theme of deadbeat drivers, others suggested installing red-light cameras and photo-radar to catch those who break the law under the  Highway Traffic Act.

3. Pension plans

Members of the House of Assembly who serve at least five years and in two separate assemblies are entitled to a defined pension plan.

"Make them pay their equal share and extend the years from two terms (eight years) to what the rest of the public service lives by," one reader suggested.

Many thought the plan could be reformed to better reflect the current financial situation.

4. Government downsizing

As one person put it, "It starts from the top; if you want to cut people's wages, then cut your own wages first."

Many of you thought those making the cutting decisions should also take measures to cut the salaries of ministers and the premier.

"Public health care workers, public sector workers of all kinds will be more accepting of salary freezes and perhaps a lowered salary if they see those at the top are taking the same kinds of cuts," one reader said. 

Further to that, another commenter, who self-identified as a public servant, said there appears to be bloat at the top.

"One thing that stands out daily is the preponderance of people in many departments across government who are getting manager and director salaries, but who have no, or very few, staff to manage or direct."

5. MUN cuts

Students protested against a slash to Memorial University's funding, but some say previous cuts didn't go near deep enough. The freeze on tuition fees was another target. 

"Raise MUN tuition fees to the average of eastern Canada universities. Why should people with no children subsidize those that don't?" one person wrote.

Tuition fees for grad students at MUN will increase 30 per cent in September 2016. (Zach Snow)

In a controversial move, the university decided to raise graduate student tuition fees by 30 per cent starting in September 2016, following post-secondary cutbacks in the last provincial budget.

The initial idea of hiking tuition fees for undergraduate international students was later dropped.

6. Administrative health cuts

If one thing was very clear from the responses we received, it was the need to sustain or increase funding to the health care sector — but only in certain areas.

Administrative health costs were pinpointed by several people as a way to save money. 

"There aren't enough frontline workers but multiple levels of management with higher cost, duplicate positions [that] drive up the money required to deliver services."

In addition to cutting costs in some areas of health care, others suggested that the health boards amalgamate into one, akin to the move made to melt all the English school boards.

7. Spending freeze

One way to save money? Stop spending.

An immediate freeze on all government spending including wages, salaries, operational and capital expenditures was suggested.

"All staffing levels with [the] province, including appointed positions, [should] be frozen for the immediate future with override only by a committee of the house," one commenter said, adding all Crown corporations should be made to follow suit.

8. Government-owned property

Many people suggest that selling Crown land would help solve the fiscal crisis, without damaging services or cutting jobs.

Unused land that once had schools and government buildings could be put up for sale, some suggested.

"Just ask some realtors for offers: you may be surprised at what lands would be valuable," one person wrote.

In addition to selling off unused property, others suggested putting multiple government departments in one larger building rather than being in separate locations.

9. Relocate communities

The words relocation or resettlement may leave a bad taste in people's mouths, but more than a few contributors suggested more aggressively seeking a way to relocate small communities.

"Many communities suck as Black Tickle and Fogo Island are a major strain on the province and we need to force these communities to leave to help save," one respondent wrote.

Little Bay Islands on New Year's Day after snowfall. (Submitted by Krystle Roberts)

"The fishery isn't there for these communities to survive like they once did."

Communities such as Little Bay Islands have been divided over relocation, and just this week the province turned down the community's request because it narrowly fell short of the government's requirement. 

Currently, the province offers a lum sum payment for residents of communities who vote to resettle.

10. Cancel public consultations

Here's a suggestion for the province-wide public consultations: stop holding them, at least in public spaces that needed to be rented.

"Save on the travel expenses. Most people have internet access so let them email any suggestions," according to one suggestion we received. 

The first public session to discuss the economy was held in Rocky Harbour last Monday.

​11. Unincorporated towns

A CBC Investigation in 2013 found that there are more than 50,000 residents across the province who do not pay property tax.

Unincorporated towns can pay a fee get services from neighbouring municipalities, and the government forks out money for road maintenance.

Of the dozens who offered their suggestions, a few said it's time that everyone pays their fair municipal share.

12. Muskrat Falls

"Bite the bullet and cancel the Muskrat Falls project," one person bluntly said.

Construction crews clear a right of way for transmission lines from Muskrat Falls. (Nalcor)

The hydroelectric megaproject in Labrador is already underway, and is behind schedule and well over-budget. The construction costs for the project are now forecast at $7.65 billion.

Premier Dwight Ball announced an independent review of the Muskrat Falls project in late December.

13. Diversify

Yes. We've heard the word over and over again from politicians looking for support in the fall provincial election.

While it may sound cliché, many of you thought the best way to turn the ship around would to be diversify and take a look at what else the province has to offer.

"Embrace the recreational side of the province, and implement an annual registration on ATVs, side-by-sides, Sea-Doos, boats, dirt bikes and snowmobiles," one person wrote.

One person suggested capitalizing on the province's love of the great outdoors. (CBC)

"Take the full amount of revenue for the first year, then enter into multiple agreements for the second and subsequent years, with the local community to improve trails."

In direct opposition of number six on the list, one person suggested more attention to paid to institutions like Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic.

Advertise the strengths and invest in innovative projects, one person said.

"Become a North American version of Denmark, and export know-how and hardware all over the continent! Just, for the love of God, stop flogging those dead horses, oil, fishing, and lumber!" we were told. 

"All of these industries had their time, but they are being phased out around the world. We cannot forever be hewers of wood and drawers of water."

14. Tenders and requests for proposals

When contractors fail to complete work on time, there should be repercussions, many said.

Holding contractors responsible for the work they agreed to do and the time limit in which they've been given would ensure the projects are completed without as many cost overruns.

"Hold these companies accountable in writing and enforce it," one person suggested.

About the Author

Ariana Kelland


Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's.


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