News | by Stephen Whitworth
On Monday Feb. 6, Premier Brad Wall told attendees at the annual Saskatchewan Urban Municipality Association conference that the province is prepared to face its staggering $1.2 billion budget shortfall. According to press reports, Wall received a standing ovation for his speech. It’s the usual double standard you see in this place: conservatives escape consequences for being in charge during fiscal calamity, while politicians of other stripes get crucified for small-potato missteps (yes, that was a Spudco reference). Will the cheering finally stop when Wall brings down either an austerity budget or, less likely, a budget that borrows incomprehensible amounts of money? Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, the boom is over, but for now, the love affair continues with a charismatic premier who seems impervious to scandals and bad policy decisions.
INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF HANDSHAKES
Donald Trump makes headlines for a lot of reasons. Among the more benign are his weird, clingy handshakes with foreign leaders. Last week, for instance, Trump gave Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a 19-second wag that ended with weird pats. Japan’s leader visibly rolled his eyes after retrieving his hand from Trump’s clutches. This Monday, as Trump extended his orange paw to a bemused-looking Justin Trudeau, the PM seemed to give it the kind of scrutiny usually saved for suspicious potato salads. Credit Reuters photographer Kevin Lamarque for capturing a perfect moment. When they did finally clasp, Trudeau remained in control — ultimately escaping Trump’s clutch with grace and dignity.
IN OTHER TRUMP NEWS
After U.S. courts suspended his anti-Muslim travel ban, U.S. president continued to seemingly assert that he’s above the law. Also, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned after admitting he’d misled U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence by saying he hadn’t spoken to Russian officials about lifting sanctions when, yeah, actually he totally did.
On Feb. 3, retirement-aged bald Caucasian creep/Governor of Arkansas Asa Hutchinson signed an anti-abortion law that could let men sue women to stop them from ending an undesired pregnancy. The law, tastefully titled the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, essentially outlaws second trimester abortions and worse, empowers the husband or legal guardian of a pregnant woman to sue to stop her from choosing to end a pregnancy. So if you’re a horrible man who always wanted to impregnate your daughter, Arkansas is the place for you — at least, if the law comes into effect before it has the snot sued out of it.
City Hall: New Budget, Same As The Old Budget
Council met Feb. 13 for a special, marathon meeting on the 2017 city budget, but since you’ve probably got better stuff to do with your day, I’ll skip the play-by-play and get straight to the highlights: council reduced the proposed 4.18% property tax increase to 3.99%. And they dropped the proposed utility rate increase from five per cent to four per cent.
That lead sentence is basically the same one I used last year in my Dog Blog wrap-up of the 2016 budget. Only the numbers needed changing.* After covering eight (EIGHT?!) city budgets, I want my loyal readers to experience the same sense of eerie déjà-vu I had sitting in Henry Baker Hall until 11:30 p.m.
Like clockwork, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Regina REALTORS Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce made their annual pilgrimage to city hall to insist council bring down the proposed mill rate hike by finding efficiencies and reducing the size of city staff, only to be once again raked over the coals by councillors wanting to know exactly which essential city service the pillars of local business would like to see scrapped. And as usual, a cast of local activists and community organizations came out to ask for greater supports, only to be sent packing. This time around it was the Circle Project, Bike Regina and a representative of the YWCA looking for the city to follow through on its commitment to alleviate the homelessness crisis.
I guess you could say the Chamber, CFIB and REALTORS carried the day because they got their reduced tax increase while housing advocates, cyclists and an aboriginal support group walked away disappointed.
To be fair, city administration did announce that they ended 2016 with an estimated $9.8 million surplus and bringing the property tax hike down to 3.99% only sheared $400,000 off that. The rest will be added to the General Operating Reserve. And with the provincial government signalling that everything is on the table in their March budget — even, perhaps, changing its revenue sharing formula with cities — hanging on to reserves like a life preserver might be Regina’s best course of action.
* For the 2016 budget, council reduced the proposed property tax increase from 3.9% to 3.3% and the utility rate increase from six per cent to five per cent. On the utility side, this year council requested administration conduct a utility rate review to determine if the current rates and increases are fair and necessary. Council made the same request last year but that review was not completed. /Paul Dechene