Three parties release education funding platforms

The fact that the three major political parties have taken three different approaches to funding education doesn’t phase Manitoba Real Estate Association political action committee chair, Lorne Weiss.

“It’s important to note that all of them have come up with a plan to start to reduce the unfair burden education taxes are placing on property owners in Manitoba,” he added.

All three party leaders recently revealed their education funding platforms while campaigning for the May 22 election.

And that has aroused the interest of Weiss and the members of the education  financing coalition, which includes such organizations as MREA, the WinnipegREALTORS® Association, the Manitoba and Winnipeg chambers of commerce, the Keystone Agricultural Producers and the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners. The coalition said its 40-plus organization membership represents about 250,000 Manitobans.

“It’s taken years since REALTORS® first brought up the issue of eliminating education funding from property taxes, but it’s been worth it — it’s finally a major election issue,” said Weiss.

“All the parties have come to terms with the fact that funding for education has to come from general revenues. And the leaders now recognize that most Manitobans believe the present education funding model is inappropriate,” he added.

The education finance coalition, which is in the midst of its campaign, has proposed that education funding come entirely from general revenues since education is a core service like health care. The coalition said the change over to general revenues could be phased in over four or five years. 

“Our surveys have shown that 80 per cent of people want this issue to form part of the election debate,” said Ian Wishart, vice-president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers.

“All three parties have now released their positions, so we, as voters, can start to ask more detailed questions when candidates come to our doors.”

Wishart said voters should ask candidates: “What does your platform actually mean for my property tax bill next year, and what will it mean by the time your term in office is over?”

The NDP has promised to increase the education property tax from $525 to $700 and cut farmland education taxes by 80 per cent by 2010.

If re-elected, Doer also said the NDP  will provide 80 per cent of education costs — this includes operating and capital costs — and work co-operatively with school boards to keep taxes from continually being raised at the division level. 

Doer said the NDP would get tough with school boards to stop them from raising taxes that eats up tax relief provided by the province, which has been the case in the past.

The cost of this program is estimated at $142 million.

The Progressive Conservative Party is promising to cut education taxes in half by 2013 for all home and cottage owners and for seniors by 2009. PC Leader Hugh McFadyen said his party will eliminate property taxes on farmland for education by 2009. The total cost of the program of cuts is expected to be $290 million.

McFadyen also promised to strip school boards of their taxing authority.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard said his party would cover 80 per cent of the operating budgets of school boards, which would then cut property taxes by 30 per cent. The total cost of the Liberal program is expected to be $295 million.

Gerrard said he would work in co-operation with school boards to realize his party’s campaign promise. 

“Do any of these ideas remove 100 per cent of education funding from the property tax bill?”rhetorically asked Weiss.

“No,” he continued. “But it’s getting closer to what we know citizens in this province have been asking — fund education from general revenues in a way that’s fair to everyone.

“None of the political parties are there yet, but they’re getting closer.”

Dave Crabb of the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners said shifting education taxes off property is his group’s No. 1 issue.

He said some of the association’s members have property tax bills where 75 per cent is levied for education, but none of the cottage owners are eligible to vote in local school board elections and cannot send their children to schools where they own cottages.

“If we paid for education through general revenues, it would be a much fairer system,” Crabb added.