Monday, July 30, 2007

Ban the tax-free allowance!

A few days ago, the local council here in Hamilton voted to keep one-third of the annual salary councillors make tax-free. There's nothing illegal about that -- federal and provincial law allows for this possibility and many towns and cities across the country have similar provisions. But it's an outdated one and it's time to pay politicians a straight salary, one that's fully taxable.

The rationale behind giving people from the Prime Minister down to a local alderperson a tax-free allowance was that they received dozens of requests for support from civic society groups and social clubs, and it was just easier to make donations from this stipend without having to ask for a tax receipt. But that goes back to the days when the former Revenue Canada only allowed paper returns and demanded receipts for everything. These days, however, only about 7% of Canadians actually get their returns reviewed each year and usually it is just a request for additional info. Maybe only about 2% of us, if that, get a full blown audit, way less than the 33% quota for the IRS.

In recent years, the federal government and most provinces have gotten rid of the tax-free allowance and make elected representatives pay taxes on a full salary. The trade-off has been their base salary goes way up to make up the difference, but it's a fair trade in my opinion.

That local leaders continue to get this rip-off while raising property taxes on everyone else is inherently a conflict of interest. It's time to put it to an end. All politicians should get a straight salary just like the rest of us. And pay raises should be pegged to the Consumer Price Index, just like Old Age Security is. Not one penny more.

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