Tories promise to gradually phase education tax out of property bills
Pallister says he'll pay for roughly $800-million pledge by finding savings within government
The Progressive Conservatives are promising to eliminate a tax that municipalities have long had to collect on behalf of school boards.
A re-elected Tory government would gradually phase out education property taxes over the course of a decade, leader Brian Pallister announced Tuesday morning.
Pallister said the government would start eliminating the levy in 2023, after his party balances the budget in 2022, another promise he's made.
The Tories would make up the estimated $830 million the education tax would take in over that decade from general revenues.
"What it means is that Manitoba homeowners can count on growing tax relief each and every year as we move forward together to strengthen this province," Pallister said at a restaurant in Kildonan Park, in front of many of his party's candidates for the Sept. 10 election.
"Manitoba is the province in Canada that has the highest dependency on rising property taxes to fund education and it's a system that is unfair and it's a system that is less accountable than many."
Pallister said the tax burden on each homeowner would be reduced by a minimum of 10 per cent a year until it is eliminated. The average homeowner in Winnipeg would save around $2,000 a year without education taxes, he claimed.
School boards, teachers' union express fears
The move to eliminate education taxes would take away a major responsibility of school boards, who set the levy as part of their budgeting process.
The future existence of school boards is in question while the province reviews the kindergarten to Grade 12 education system.
Manitoba school boards are the last in Canada with the power to collect their own taxes. The association representing them is concerned the PCs will strip them of that power.
Alan Campbell, president of the Manitoba School Boards Association, said he's unclear where the PCs will make up $830 million in annual revenue.
"If it doesn't come from local property taxes or local education taxes, then where is it going to come from? And if it's going to come form general revenues, it's got to get into general revenues from somewhere," Campbell said in a telephone interview.
The Manitoba Teachers' Society also expressed concern.
"Without further details, this plan appears to be a massive tax shift with no provision to sustainably meet the complex and evolving needs of today's public school students," union president James Bedford said in statement.
Opposition parties pan plan
NDP Leader Wab Kinew slammed the promise as proof the Progressive Conservatives plan to cut education funding.
"We know that what Mr. Pallister has announced today amounts to a commitment to cutting education. That will mean cutting the quality of education for kids in the classroom," Kinew said at a campaign announcement, adding he also plans to cancel the provincial education review.
Pallister said his party would actually expand funding to the sector.
"Education is a top priority for me, and a top priority for our team needs to be funded from other revenues, which means more stability, not less," Pallister said.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said he's not certain the change would help most ordinary people.
"It looks to me like Brian Pallister might be giving himself a colossal tax cut," Lamont said.
Municipal governments must add the education levy to the tax bills they give out, despite having no role in its implementation.
Many of these governments, including the City of Winnipeg, have demanded the province remove education taxes from property tax bills for decades.
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman called the proposed change "positive" but he wants school boards to begin sending out their own bills sooner rather than later.
"I'd like to see it completely removed, sooner than later. I guess the devil would be in the details about how this would be administered, but at a high level it is still a positive," Bowman said.
Bowman is urging fellow members of Winnipeg's city council to say no when a yearly vote occurs authorizing the mail–out of property tax bills that includes education taxes.
The Keystone Agricultural Producers is excited about the promise, but cautious.
"We're encouraged to see that the PC Party of Manitoba has committed to begin a process to remove the education tax on property, which is a policy for which farmers and producers have advocated for quite some time," KAP president Bill Campbell said in a news release.
"However, KAP also believes that the next provincial government needs to take steps to ensure that rural and urban students continue to have equitable access to educational opportunities, and that this move doesn't represent a long-term cut to the education system."
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation also praised the proposed change.
PCs cost out platform
The Progressive Conservatives also released a costed platform on Monday, which vaguely explains how the party, if returned to power, would pay for the promise.
Pallister said his government would save $325 million by asking civil servants, nurses and teachers for their ideas to save money, $200 million by modernizing the procurement process and an extra $200 million from selling "unusable land and properties."
The platform outlines $100 million in savings through an "internal value for money" review, and $31 million by cutting 15 per cent of senior management positions across summary government organizations.
A Progressive Conservative official wouldn't say whether Crown organizations that already reduced senior management as ordered by the government under its previous mandate would have to dig deeper.
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With files from Bartley Kives and Sean Kavanagh