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Viewpoints: Alberta Could ... invest in education and public services

October 7, 2014 Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director, Public Interest Alberta

New campaign calls for fair progressive income and corporate taxes

Alberta’s teachers are clearly focused on and committed to developing the full potential of all of their students. There is probably no greater frustration for teachers than when they are unable to do so because of a lack of resources. And there is no doubt that it is the lack of adequate and sustainable funding that’s getting in the way of teachers being able to do their best work in classrooms.

It shouldn’t be this way in Canada’s wealthiest province and, of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.

This unacceptable situation is entirely due to choices made by our government, which has chosen to collect inadequate revenues by using a regressive flat tax and Canada’s lowest corporate taxes. Quite simply, the province needs more revenue, and we need to demand that this revenue come from changes that make our tax system more fair.

To that end, Public Interest Alberta has designed, with support from the Alberta Teachers’ Association, its Alberta Could campaign to engage Albertans in advocating for what we could achieve as a province if we re-established a progressive income tax system and fair corporate taxes.

The campaign, outlined in the four-page insert in this issue of the ATA News, calls upon Albertans to challenge the provincial government to fund important public services and infrastructure by reforming our unbalanced revenue structure. The insert compares Alberta’s tax structure to every other province and explains that our single rate or flat tax system really benefits only wealthy Albertans, while low- and middle-income earners end up paying more.

The campaign proposal to establish a progressive income tax of 13 per cent on taxable income over $100,000 and 15 per cent on taxable income over $150,000 would generate an additional $1 billion annually for public programs, without increasing taxes on more than 90 per cent of Albertans.

The campaign also shows that establishing the same 12 per cent corporate tax rate as Saskatchewan (Alberta has the lowest rate at 10 per cent, while the national average rate is 12.6 per cent) would bring in an additional $1 billion annually.

This combined total of $2 billion in increased tax revenue may sound like a lot, but it would still leave Alberta as by far the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada. In fact, if we had the same tax structure as B.C., the second-lowest tax jurisdiction, we would bring in an additional $11.6 billion.

So let’s think about what we could invest in if we had an additional and sustainable $2 billion.

Alberta could actually reach the class-size targets that were identified by the Alberta Commission on Learning. Another important investment that the campaign will be advocating for is $100 million to establish full-day kindergarten in half of Alberta’s schools. The PC party actually promised during the 2012 election an additional $200 million to establish full-day kindergarten in all schools, but has not spoken of this promise since.

There are also many other initiatives that could be implemented that directly affect children, families and teachers’ work. For instance, the Progressive Conservatives promised during the election to eliminate child poverty by 2017, but have instead cut many programs that support people in their struggle to get out of poverty.

The government should be investing more in a quality, affordable early-learning and care system, instead of cutting the $7.1 million quality enhancement grant last year. It could be supporting rural, aboriginal and low-income students to attend post-secondary education, instead of cutting $149 million (7.2 per cent) out of the post-secondary education budget.

We can and must do better in this province. With Alberta’s population increasing by more than 100,000 people each year, our public services should not depend on volatile energy markets. We will not be able to do better unless we can convince politicians to address the unbalanced revenue issues facing this province.

Public Interest Alberta is asking teachers to read the Alberta Could insert and then to take action. You can go to the website to sign up for updates and provide your input. You can order more copies of the insert to share with others, and/or share the information through your social media networks. You can work together in your community in other creative ways.

Your Association has been very supportive of these efforts, and we hope that you will choose to stand up and stand together to bring about the kind of public education and public services that Albertans need and deserve.  ❚



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