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MHCA President Chris Lorenc on CJOB

MHCA President Chris Lorenc joined Richard Cloutier on CJOB to discuss his thoughts on Manitoba Budget 2012.

Below is a transcript of the interview:

Cloutier: Chris Lorenc joins us on CJOB 68 from the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association

Cloutier: Chris Lorenc, You’ve been lobbying heavily for a new deal from Ottawa, a new deal from the province, what’s your reaction to the raising of gas taxes and that $35 infrastructure fee?

Lorenc: Well I think that if you take a look at reports right across the country, the notion of dedicating revenue streams to specific purposes and holding those who raise and spend the money accountable, is a positive. I don’t think there’s any appetite in the general public opinion to simply increase taxes and assume that we can trust government to spend the money wisely. There is a definite connection between fuel taxes and the use of the system and the registration of motor vehicles and the use of the system.  So we don’t have a problem philosophically on that front.

Cloutier: But you’d just like to see more dollars poured into it to deal with that deficit.

Lorenc:  You know it’s not even a question of more dollars: what’s the plan, what’s the vision what are we transitioning to?  What is going to be the new arrangement as between Manitoba and the municipalities?  Because what we heard in the budget statement was deafening in the roar of its silence and the public really should really restrain itself in calling this  disappointing. There is absolutely nothing in the budget that suggests that the provincial government is recognizing that we have an infrastructure crisis; that it’s recognizing that municipalities do not have and need revenue streams with which to address our crumbling infrastructure and nothing in the budget document that speaks to recognizing that without a well  funded infrastructure our trade dependent economy is at risk, and that’s key.

Cloutier: Now, Selinger would say in response to that: Why don’t the municipalities go out and collect their own taxes, the city could get their own tax on that, municipalities could also get their own tax;  they’re asking for dedicated taxes from the province he’s also suggesting you know, Katz, why don’t you raise the money yourself?

Lorenc: Well, Premier Selinger won’t say that, he’s too smart a politician. He will know that the City of Winnipeg Act and the other legislation that governs municipalities do not give municipalities that opportunity, that’s Number One. Number  Two municipalities are already at the point where their borrowing authority is about to be maxed and Number 3 the Realty Tax Base is simply insufficient to address the problem. We have a $13 billion, 10 year projected deficit in this province that Realty Taxes simply cannot address. Municipalities need to, I agree, focus on growing the economy, municipalities need access to growth taxes.  The only person in this province who can make that happen is the premier and if he’s not prepared to change legislation to increase or to provide a municipal infrastructure levy to the municipalities he should do the democratic thing and  ask the public for its opinion and be bound by that decision.

Cloutier: Now are we looking at, either way, more taxes… because my read on this  politically is,  they can get away with 2 ½ cents a litre  on gasoline, people will grumble for a few days but we’re going to pay it anyway. The $35 fee we’ll grumble about it but we need our license.  This is about politics as well as economics and on the political side they can get away with this.  You start talking about raising the provincial sales tax, dedicated fees, that’s when people organize and that’s when people start marching on the legislature.  I would suggest to you Chris Lorenc, the politicians, yes they need to be bold but they’re politicians!

Lorenc: Well, the budget unfortunately demonstrates an abject failure of provincial leadership on the municipal infrastructure front. I would have been at least happier, and the public should have been happier and our mayors and reeves would have been happier had the province at least said in a statement in the budget that we’re going to establish a task force that will have representation from industry, from the provincial  government,  from the municipalities in order to identify what the solution for Manitoba is and then take that solution to Manitobans, transition it into reality. Instead we have the kind of band aid approach that is simply going to permit the hemorrhaging to continue and the legacy, the legacy of a crumbled infrastructure left on the shoulders of our kids and grandkids and that is not an overstatement, it’s not alarmist, it’s here now.

Cloutier: Chris Lorenc I thank you so very much for joining us this morning.


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