Insulting Tax Word Games Must Stop When Math is Clear

By Jason Menard

Technically speaking, we’re not morons. So why, in trying to repackage tax increases in cute euphemisms and technicalities, are our politicians treating us as such?

This morning, the City of London’s finance and administration committee voted on what they called a “tax shift,” which would have transferred some of the tax-paying burden from industries (to the tune of a 23.5% decrease) to the residential tax payers (an increase of 1.3 per cent). (The committee voted against the increase).

Because the numbers would basically wash, technically it’s wasn’t a hike, true. But for tax paying citizens already struggling under the weight of sizeable property tax bills (not to mention various charges collected by City-run utilities such as London Hydro), it’s insulting.

And most insulting are the word games being played to justify increases of this type in light of Mayor Joe Fontana’s ill-advised campaign promise of no tax increases over his first term.

It seems our politicians have trouble with vocabulary, so let’s break this down into simple math: if a person will pay more after you implement your tax program than they did before, it’s a tax hike. Plain and simple.

It doesn’t matter if you choose to call it a tax shift, a levy, an assessment, a duty, tariff, or rate change, the math simply doesn’t lie. More than yesterday = tax hike.

We know it, the politicians know it, and all the euphemisms in the world won’t change it. If it walks like a tax hike, talks like a tax hike, and reaches its fingers into your wallet like a tax hike, then it’s a tax hike.

I’m not against a tax hike, per se. I understand there’s a cost to running a city. But I’d rather not pay more, to be honest, and London’s citizens already pay an exorbitant tax bill, when you add everything up. In 2008, London was sixth of all Canadian cities in terms of average property taxes paid – and Ontario cities dominated this dubious list with Toronto, Brampton, Ottawa, and Hamilton joining the Forest City on the list.

Now, let’s add the fact that London’s unemployment rate in October 2011 was a whopping 9.0 per cent (the national average was 7.1 per cent) and you can see another factor to be added into the equation.

Lowering business taxes MAY encourage more industry to come to the Forest City. But raising an individual’s property taxes WILL make it more difficult for many families already barely making ends meet.

There’s been a recent kerfuffle regarding hydro rates, but a close look at your bill will show that it’s the ancillary fees that cause the most problems: debt forgiveness charges, levies, and taxes make up the vast majority of the cost. Actual electricity and water is a comparatively minor part of the bottom line.

Levies, taxes, rate hikes, assessments, fees – in the end, there’s only one person footing the bill. No matter what you call it, it’s a challenge for many taxpayers, and there are no magic words that are going to make the tax grab any more palatable.

Instead of playing with words, why not try focusing on something that actually matters. Be honest with the tax-paying electorate and commit to doing better with their money. I know I’ll have a lot more respect for someone who says, “Yes, it’s going to cost you more in taxes, but we’re committed to making sure each and every one of your dollars are stretched to the maximum and used in the best way possible.”

So here’s some free advice from a guy who usually charges for finding the right words: be honest, treat me with respect, and don’t talk to me like a moron. Those concepts shouldn’t be too taxing for City Council to embrace.

After all, you may be playing with words, but the financial challenges your constituents are facing are no game.

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