As political candidates head into the final days of the May 22 provincial election, they’re hearing one consistent message — voters across the province want them to spend more time expanding on their plans to get education taxes off the property tax bill.
“Candidates coming to a house with that lawn sign know that they must have a solid answer for how education is funded in the future,” said Ian Wishart, vice-president of Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), which is a member of the coalition that sponsors the letspayfair.com campaign.
“Our surveys have shown that 80 per cent of people want this issue to form part of the election debate,” said Wishart. “All three parties have now released their positions, so we as voters can start to ask more detailed questions when the candidate comes to the door such as: What does your platform actually mean to my property tax bill next year, and what will it mean by the time your term in office is over?”
Lorne Weiss, chair of the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s political action committee, said the party leaders are starting to understand this is a province-wide concern.
“We’re finally seeing some interesting ideas,” said Weiss. “Doer has promised to use provincial power to prevent further tax hikes by school boards, which we’re pleased to see.
“Gerrard has committed to funding 80 per cent of school operating costs from general revenues — excluding school capital costs. And now McFadyen says he will phase out a substantial percentage over a few years. These are all good starts.”
Weiss said he’s hearing some strong ideas, but the parties still have a long way to go.
“Do any of these ideas remove 100 per cent of education from the property tax bill? No. But it's getting closer to what we know citizens in this province have been asking for — fund education from general revenues in a way that’s fairer to everyone.
“None of the political parties are there yet, but they are getting closer. In these last days of the election we'd like to see them move even closer and expand their positions,” Weiss added.
Dave Crabb, from the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners (MACO), said shifting education taxes off cottage property is his group’s No.1 issue. Some of his members have property tax bills where 75 per cent goes for education, but his members are not eligible to vote for their school board members in the cottage ward and cannot send their children to school in the areas where they own cottages.
“The problem in cottage country is that there are no commercial businesses to help carry the cost of education,” said Crabb, who has been busy posting the new letspayfair.com lawn signs on Lake Winnipeg property this week. “But if we paid for education through general revenues, it would be much more fair.”
The Manitoba Education Financing Coalition, a group of 40 organizations representing 250,000 Manitobans, initiated the letspayfair.com campaign. During the campaign, the coalition is calling upon the province to reduce its reliance on property tax to fund education. The coalition is recommending that education be supported through the province’s general revenues. By changing the funding system, Manitobans can all pay a fair share to support the education for the next generation.
The letspayfair.com website includes a “send a letter” option for citizens who want a convenient way to let their politicians know about their concerns. So far, over 2,000 Manitobans have used letspayfair.com to send a letter to their elected officials.
In the last week, four new provincial organizations have joined the letspayfair.com campaign and are distributing lawns signs: the Manitoba Hotel Association, the Manitoba Corn Growers, the Manitoba Cattle Producers and the Manitoba Association of Cottage Owners.
The signs were distributed across the province just hours before the political leaders were addressing education financing and other issues at a provincial leaders forum held at the Franco-manitobain Cultural Centre. A replay of this forum can be seen on Saturday, May19 at 6:30 pm. on Shaw TV Channel 9.
Following the announcement of this non-political lawn sign campaign, a number of calls were made by homeowners to ask for lawn signs to put on their property. For example, a resident in Garden Grove said he saw the news on this education tax effort and could not help but be sympathetic to the message that education tax is an inequitable and unfair form of taxation.
The homeowner was surprised how much fund-raising he is required to do for his daughter’s school.
Hopefully, a “sign” of things to come post-election will be far less reliance on property owners to contribute to the province’s second largest budget envelope — education — which is exceeded only by health care.