Manitoba

Do mayoral candidates need an infrastructure reality check?

Michael Benarroch, the dean of the Asper School of Business, says none of Winnipeg’s mayoral candidates are proposing realistic solutions to the city's growing infrastructure deficit.

Asper School of Business dean says candidates' tax pledges won't address $7.4B deficit

The dean of the Asper School of Business says none of Winnipeg's mayoral candidates are proposing realistic solutions to the city's growing infrastructure deficit.

There has to be a trust in government that, in fact, the money [raised] is going to go to [the most important] projects.- Michael Benarroch

During the next decade, Winnipeg needs to raise $7.4 billion in order to maintain the infrastructure the city has right now.

Mayoral candidates Judy Wasylycia-Leis, David Sanders and Robert-Falcon Ouellette have not ruled out raising property taxes, but they have said they would work to keep them affordable.

According to Michael Benarroch, dean of the Asper School of Business, unless the candidates pledged to take drastic action on property taxes, they couldn't hope to tackle the growing infrastructure deficit and would struggle to keep pace with inflation.

"If you doubled property taxes tomorrow it would still take 15 years to overcome [the $7-billion] deficit," said Benarroch

None of the candidates have proposed doubling property taxes. 

Another tax freeze

Gord Steeves and Paula Havixbeck have both pledged a property tax freeze — saying they would find money elsewhere — but Benarroch cautions that the current situation "is a result of freezing taxes for such a long time."

Benarroch also said Steeves's plan to raise money by selling city assets, such as golf courses and the new police headquarters, and lease them back would generate cash now, but he warns that the city would still have to generate new sources of income down the road to pay for the lease.

Another sales tax

Only Brian Bowman's plan of a municipal sales tax, coupled with property taxes rising with inflation, could tackle the growing deficit, said Benarroch.

"[With] a one per cent tax that went fully to infrastructure … we'll slowly start to see things improve," he said.

Benarroch likes a municipal tax because everyone in Winnipeg, not just homeowners, would contribute to fixing infrastructure, but he said a municipal sales tax comes with other challenges.

"They'll need to get the province on board," he said.

"That's probably a little less likely," he added, citing that it would be an unpopular move, given the province raised the provincial sales tax by one per cent in the last budget. 

No matter the plan, Benarroch had one message for the next mayor of Winnipeg: "There has to be a trust in government that, in fact, the money [raised] is going to go to [the most important] projects."

He said Winnipeggers would quickly pull their support if the money went to things like increasing the size of administration.