Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Nats/Greens rates review will do next to nothing

Stuff reports that the Nats and the Greens have agreed to a parliamentary inquiry into council rates. Well who knows what that will mean. Given the Greens voted for the Local Government Act 2002, which gave all local authorities wide ranging powers to engage in whatever activity they wished (following “community consultation” which usually means they ask and almost nobody but nutters with spare time respond), I don’t have much confidence that they are on the same wavelength.
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The Greens believe local government should do more, should spend more, should regulate more, which is hardly conducive to rates being capped. Secondly, Metiria Turei has already stated the two key issues that matter to the Greens on local government funding:
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1.Rates remission for Maori land (which is fair enough when values increase and rates increase without any commensurate increase in services, if you can collect rates at all. The multiple ownership of Maori land, poorly defined, means some local authorities find it virtually impossible to collect rates on some land. If rates are not paid, the land is unsaleable anyway and putting a charge on the land (which is what happens to other land) is meaningless to the council. The key should be paying for services, and Maori land should not be treated differently).
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2.Extent of rates funding for public transport (The Greens think public transport should be subsidised by taxes from road users, which it is by 50% - supposedly to reflect the benefits from reduced congestion of increased public transport use. Shifting this from rate payers is not about funding public transport from users – the main beneficiaries – but motorists – who benefit only at peak times in major congested cities). Turei said in the Greens press release "As things stand, there are communities which have poor or non existent public transport services simply because local government either can't afford the cost, or is unwilling to raise rates to meet the costs involved". No Metiria - it is because there aren't enough people willing to pay the fares necessary to pay for the cost of operating it. If they wont pay for it, and if councillors aren't willing to force ratepayers to pay for it, there is no way in hell taxpayers throughout the country should pay for it.
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If National is going to support preferential treatment for Maori land, and shifting public transport funding to road taxes even more (when local roads are 50% funded from rates), then you might wonder why you’d vote National! The Nat press release talks about costs loaded noto local government, but not about local government growing. The Greens will want rates replaced with some form of income based tax, so that those who consume the same council services as everyone else, pay more. They will also support higher rates for business because businesses are “bad”.
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As I have said before, Rodney Hide’s Rate capping Bill is far from perfect, but it is a start. It puts limits on profligate councils and helps to put a barrier around their growth. It would be nice if the Greens supported it – but as a party committed to the growth of local government, they wont. NZ First apparently is wavering, after previously agreeing with Labour to oppose it. I suspect that Grey Power's condemnation of NZ First policy is focusing the minds of NZ First MPs on their constituency - or what is left of it!
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I would be far more impressed if there was proper debate about the role of local government – National should be talking about reducing it – about at the very least, focusing on local government undertaking what are currently “public goods” (need not be in the longer term), rather than promotion, subsidies and operating businesses. It is the size of local government that is the problem, not how people pay for it.
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Local Government NZ (which represents all councils) President Basil Morrison did not enlighten the debate by saying Rodney's Bill contravened the Local Government Act - forgetting that Parliament is sovereign and can change any legislation it wished. His view that "Rates are a matter to be agreed between communities and their councils, not central government bureaucrats" might be tempered by the fact that clearly communities, through the elected MPs of National, United Future, the Maori Party and ACT at least, are not happy with this process. Did your council get your consent for its rates increase? Did you "agree"? Or does "agree" in Morrison's parlance mean "we're going to do this, what do you think? No? Well we're doing it anyway - because you elected us, so we represent you, now fuckoff and pay your rates you ungrateful sod, you should have voted for someone else".
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Next council elections makes sure you DO vote for someone else.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Its very easy to blame the councils, not so easy to see just why rates are going sky-high. Central government just loves devolving its services and putting the responsibility onto local government. NZ taxpayers pay for these services, but the money stays in government coffers and does not go towards helping local government meet compliance costs. So, how do councils get the money to cover these additional "services"? Rates, of course. You like the idea of capping, but consider this - capped rates mean only discretionary expenses can be impacted. The legal requirements of government (like dog registries and microchipping) still have to be done, but where money is limited then its roads, footpaths and rubbish collection that is discretionary. No point putting a limit on the symptom when the cause is untreated!