Last week it was revealed that Calgary Council ended the 2020 calendar year with a $98 million budget surplus.
Then, just one day later, City staff corrected themselves and announced they'd actually run a $219 million surplus!
Putting aside how a major City can manage to mis-announce their budget surplus, why on earth is the City running a massive budget surplus in the middle of the largest financial crisis our City and Province have seen in multiple generations?
Now, let's be clear, a large chunk of the surplus ($187.5 million) is emergency COVID payments from provincial and federal governments, but that still means the City over-taxed Calgarians even without those transfers!
That's right, in the middle of a global pandemic, with revenue and economic activity cratering from an already reduced position, the City of Calgary still managed to take more from you than they needed.
We'd actually be impressed if we weren't so horrified for taxpayers!
Also, let's not forget that Calgarians pay provincial and federal tax too, so that entire $219 million was taken from Calgarians unnecessarily.
This isn't some small amount of money like some Councillors seem to think either, $200 million is about $400 for every Calgary household - can you imagine how much that would help many Calgary families who are struggling right now?
Alternatively, some of that surplus could be allocated to help keep the City's massive business tax hikes under control, or perhaps some mix of the two.
So, City staff are ready to give you, the taxpayer, your money back, right?
Haha, no of course not - in fact, they're already planning how to spend it!
Yesterday, Council voted to spend another $200 million on pet projects in downtown Calgary.
Don't get us wrong, we have nothing against downtown Calgary, and we desperately want to see the downtown area revitalized to what it once was, and more.
But, what are the chances of this current City Council fixing downtown, when this current City Council is a major part of the cause of the downtown's problems in the first place?
Constant tax hikes, anti-business rules and regulations, picking and choosing winners and losers, out-of-control spending, and an ever-present denigration of the oil and gas industry - the largest employer, and office space-filler in our City.
Is it any wonder so many of these businesses packed up and moved out of downtown, out of Calgary, or went out of business entirely?
The truth is, based on their track record in recent years, if Council really wanted to "help with the economic recovery", the best thing they could is to give the $219 million back to Calgarians to spend at local businesses, and then get out of the way.
Instead, we get to spend $10 million on hiring more City staff, $45 million to subsidize large corporations, $80 million for more art, $55 million for "downtown vibrancy", whatever that is, more bike lanes, bus lanes, initial planning for a train to Banff, traffic calming, murals, flower pot programs (yes, seriously), and on and on.
Basically, the City found itself with $219 million more than they thought they would have, and now it's party time.
They're splashing the cash at every single project they've always wanted to do, but could never squeeze enough money out of taxpayers for.
Oh, and did we mention, they want a BILLION dollars more over the next 10 years, to do even more of the same?
At Common Sense Calgary, we believe in the novel idea that the government should only take what they absolutely need, not as much as they can get their hands on, and we think that's especially true during an economic and health crisis.
Money is best left with residents and businesses, not with bureaucrats, because people spend their own money more carefully than bureaucrats spend other peoples' (your!) money.
Besides, you can guarantee that if the City accidentally collected too little in taxes and had a deficit, they'd make up the difference by hiking taxes the next year, not by spending less.
So, it's only fair that if they accidentally collect too much, they give it back!
If Councillors want to spend $200 million, or a billion dollars on these sorts of projects, they can run on a platform promising to do so in 6 months' time, and we'll find out how popular these things really are.
In the meantime, $219 million might not sound like much to City staffers and Councillors used to spending billions, but for many Calgarians, every dollar matters.
Calgary residents and businesses are spending every dollar as carefully as possible right now.
Maybe it's time Calgary Council did the same?
If you agree, please sign our petition demanding Calgary Council refund last year's $219 million surplus to taxpayers and ensure that any future surpluses are automatically refunded in future years.
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