Actor James Garner is still alive. And I suspect his long-running TV detective show, “The Rockford Files”, lives on in reruns somewhere. Looking terribly dated and all. Nevertheless, if Rockford were around today, and he were hired to solve the mystery of Alberta’s missing billions, I’m pretty sure we’d get a lot clearer explanation from him than we can expect from Alison Redford’s fireside chat tonight from 6:52 until 7:00 PM on CTV.
Wow, eight minutes to elucidate the Big Gap! The Big Gap being the difference between the huge piles of money her government’s last budget predicted we’d all be starting to roll around in by now, and the billions of dollars she is actually short in revenue to pay the bills for her government’s spending. How many billions is she short? Is it $6 billion? $8 billion? Little whispers mention both those numbers, and neither figure has been denied.
So, we are told by the premier’s people that we will get some details tonight. But the new provincial budget is still six weeks away, so it’s a safe bet that tonight we will get the dropping of only one or two veils in this Dance of the Seven Veils. We are told by opposition politicians and pundits that tonight’s show is all about “managing expectations” – showing just enough of her hand to get people sufficiently frightened about the prospects of Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style spending cuts and/or exorbitant borrowing that when we see what’s actually in the budget, it won’t seem nearly so bad.
There’s a long-overdue conversation going on in this province now about whether to increase taxes and, if so, by what means. A general tax hike? A return to progressive income taxes? A provincial sales tax?
But the Government of Alberta is so deep in the rhubarb that even a sales tax won’t be enough to tow them out of it.
Economists estimate that every percentage point of sales tax would generate about $750 million in revenue for the province. That means a 5 percent sales tax (equal to the federal GST) would raise $3.75 billion a year.
If these guys are short $8 billion, that wouldn’t even cover half of it!
Of course, they’re not going to impose a sales tax – at least, not yet – but I’m just saying that if they did, they’d still have to cut spending and borrow money.
It’s a very deep and difficult hole – the sort you can’t dig your way out of, or explain your way out of, in eight short minutes on TV.