Waters: A raise by any other name would be as steep

Kelowna council says raises for council members will offset federal claw-back of tax-free allowance

So, if the federal government were to change the tax rules tomorrow and the change meant you have to pay more in tax, would your employer make up the difference?

Would you expect your employer to do so?

That’s basically what happened this week at Kelowna City Hall when members of council voted to give themselves hefty raises to compensate for the loss of a longstanding tax break they currently receive on one-third of their pay.

The catch is, to receive the pay hike each member of the current council will have to be re-elected in October’s municipal election as the increase kicks in Jan. 1, 2019.

Council’s decision to have taxpayers make up for the “pay cut” they say they’ll face as a result of Ottawa’s change stemmed from a city finance department reccomendation.

Starting next year, Kelowna’s mayor will receive an extra $11,830 per year and councillors will get $3,050 more. The increases will push up the amount the mayor gets to just under $107,000 per year and the amount councillors get to $36,500.

But should council members be the ones to vote themselves more money?

On Monday, during the discussion at an open council meeting, several councillors stressed the salary bump was not a pay increase but simply off-set the loss of the tax break.

And, that age-old attempt to justify higher wages was trotted out—if you don’t pay people enough, you won’t attract good people.

But the folks who currently sit on council would no doubt consider themselves pretty good—they are running for re-election after all—and they ran last time for knowing they were to be paid less money than they are now receiving.

And that’s the key. If you know how much a job pays—and everyone will prior to the Oct. 20 municipal election—then the choice to seek office is yours.

Whether you agree or disagree with Ottawa’s move, it’s not like anyone is having something taken away.

The change will only impact the folks who are elected, or re-elected, in October. That could be incumbents or newly elected folks but either way they will be members of a new city council.

Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a break the federal government giveth, and then taketh away.

The break was meant to cover expenses associated with elected officials’ duties and that is admirable. So why not just have the politicians submit receipts for a credit at tax time or for reimbursement?

Because the optics of politicians giving themselves a raise—no matter what spin they put on it—are never good.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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