It's a sin to tell a lie. Yeah, I know lies are immoral, but at least they're cheap. By my count, bearing false witness and adultery are a few of the only sins left that the government hasn't found a way to tax.
Once upon a time, governments relied on industry, property, sales and income taxes to cover their expenses. Lots of industry equaled lots of jobs, which equaled lots of revenue for the assorted levels of government. (I'm sure an economist or six will find such a formula simplistic, but that's basically how it works.)
Governments have also supplemented their honest income with so-called sin taxes, extra levies applied to vices like tobacco and alcohol. Now we are running out of smokers and since we don't drink nearly enough booze to make up the difference, governments have turned to other versions of the sin tax to keep their deficit numbers from spiralling out of control.
Gasoline is the new sin in our eco-conscious society and, as a result, the high price of dead dinosaur juice is rooted almost as much in taxes as it is in researching, drilling, transporting and refining the petroleum.
The problem with relying on gasoline as a source of tax revenue is it carries with it a double burden.
On the one hand, the government needs people driving for them to keep paying the gas tax. But to keep cars on the road and credit cards whisking through the scanners at gas stations, money must be spent on infrastructure to maintain the road system.
Unfortunately, the roads in the Lower Mainland are already jammed, leaving the government facing a twin terror in the form of infrastructure for drivers and expanding the current transit system.
The latest miracle cure the politicians are flocking to is tolling new and existing bridges. I have no problem with the concept of putting tolls on bridges - if you use it, you should help pay for it. But make sure the cost of the tolls is not prohibitive.
A loonie to cross? Fair enough. But instead we have bridge tolls set at more than $3 - roughly the cost of a one-zone bus ticket. It's like a warped attempt by the government to force people to use an inefficient transit system by penalizing them for driving their cars.
Sorry, that's out of line. Having bridge tolls equal to transit fares isn't the official policy; it's just a happy coincidence, right? 'Cause it would be wrong to tax people for building a transit system and then fine them for not using it.
I know of one fellow who calculated that with his family's usual commuting and travel schedules, they would be spending $7,000 more each year just to pay for tolls on the new Port Mann Bridge. He's solving the problem by building a new home in Coquitlam.
Sorry Metro Vancouver, that doesn't add up to four less vehicles off the road and four more butts on bus seats. Traffic will still suck, transit will still be inefficient for the average suburbanite, and he and his family will have $7,000 more in their jeans and not servicing a mountain of government debt.
Another sin targeted by the folks in the pinstriped suits has been around almost as long as the dinosaurs. Gambling is an easy mark for governments because it's like free money. The house gets its cut, the government gets a taste and every once in a while, a taxpayer will come out ahead after an evening at the casino.
It started with bingo games in church basements, which begat a lottery in the 1970s to help fund the Montreal Olympics.
Lotteries expanded from single tickets offering a $250,000 prize every week into 6/49 with its enticing growing jackpot, which in turn spawned twice weekly draws plus scratch-and-win tickets plus Lotto Max, plus, plus, plus....
The revenues from these games initially paid for community initiatives, but it wasn't long before the governments were dipping their fingers into that as well, leaving service organizations and other special interest societies to start their own lotto games to make up the gap.
The government kept pace by allowing casinos to be built to increase the gambling dollars flowing in. Now casinos are like Starbucks - it seems like there's one on every corner.
We are now so dependent on casino and gambling revenue that debates concerning new gaming palaces brush aside concerns like addiction and social ills and instead focus on how much money the new slot jockey emporium will generate.
The proposed new casino project in South Surrey is estimated to be capable of producing more than $3 million dollars a year for the City of Surrey.
Sounds impressive - except sin taxes are not new money being injected into the economy. It's recycled cash skimmed off the population after they have already paid their income taxes. It may fill the government coffers, but it certainly doesn't help the economy.
The current government dependence on sin taxes is a lose-lose situation. Having a population that relies on people operating slot machines and dealing cards is no replacement for skilled tradespeople working at jobs that actually produce marketable products. You know, things that actually generate new revenue and contribute to the real economy.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com
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