News and excitement from the last two weeks
It’s been two weeks since our last issue. The following two items re-cap every single newsworthy event that’s happened since then. Minus eight or nine zillion other things. Those coffee breaks really cut into our writing time.
Taxes, Transit And Trespassing: Congratulations Regina, It’s A Baby Budget
It was the last budget for this council and they’ll be going into the October 2016 election with a 3.3 per cent property tax increase under their belt and a five per cent utility rate increase.
Those numbers are slightly better than what council had proposed going into the Dec. 7 special budget meeting. The draft budget proposed increases of a 3.9 per cent on property taxes and six per cent on utility rates. Council was able to drop the property tax hike without affecting programs, as administration’s revenue projections had increased by $1 million since the budget was prepared.
As for the utility rate, several councillors had been hearing from residents concerned about the size of the annual increases. In response, Ward 1 Councillor Barbara Young passed a motion the reduced the increase by one per cent and initiated a review of how future utility rate hikes are set.
Other budget nuggets: Ward 3 Councillor Shawn Fraser passed a motion making the holiday transit service pilot project a permanent fixture. He failed however to add an additional $1 million to the Community Investment Fund. Other councillors balked at the size of Fraser’s ask and instead, administration will look at the way the fund is dispersed and how much it should be increased by.
However, by far the most tense stretch of the Dec. 7 special meeting was early on when council considered the 2016 Regina Police Service budget. Four delegations came forward to oppose the RPS’s request for a 5.3 per cent budget increase. They objected to the RPS’s enforcement of the Trespass to Property initiative (also known as the Unwanted Guest Initiative) which the delegations argued unfairly targets the poor, the homeless and Indigenous people. They also objected to the RPS’s use of street checks of people without cause.
Council granted police chief Hagen a substantial block of time to rebut the charges delegations brought forward. He argued the Trespass to Property initiative was brought in at the request of businesses. He also argued that their community policing initiatives were well liked in the community.
In the end, council approved the RPS budget increase. /Paul Dechene
Gormleygate 2015: 20 Lawyers Object
The man some call Saskatchewan’s version of Rush Limbaugh, John Gormley, is probably really regretting sending THAT anti-Muslim Tweet now that 20 current and former law professors at the University of Saskatchewan have written an open letter distancing themselves from the radio host.
Gormley, who is also a lawyer, is an adjunct professor at the U of S College of Law.
In case you missed it, the shock jock’s response to the tragedy in Paris was a tweet which read “Me: Next guy in a Western democracy who chants “Allah Ahkbar” we shoot. Wife: Don’t be this way. #Angry”
After hefty backlash, the post was deleted, apologies were made and two petitions started asking for the radio host’s resignation.
The controversy bled into the college and on Dec. 4 a letter was posted on the College of Law’s website.
“The twitter comment, highly demeaning to members of the Muslim faith, has offended many students, faculty and staff at our law school and beyond,” the letter read.
“We were astounded by Mr. Gormley’s comment and, in the strongest terms, disassociate ourselves with his remarks and the sentiments conveyed in these remarks.”
The letter goes on to explain that law schools must be committed to inclusion, tolerance, and diversity and law itself should be a place where people build the foundations of a community.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Gormley’s twitter comment is the antithesis of this sentiment,” the letter said.
On Monday, when asked on Twitter if he would be responding to the letter from the college, which he is an alumni, Gormley, for once, was short on words.
“No,” was his reply. /Geraldine Malone
Budget Blahs: NDP Questions Government Figures
Despite riding high in the polls heading into next April’s election, the Saskatchewan Party government doesn’t seem very eager to face public scrutiny.
Why else would it wait until the fall session had ended to present its mid-term financial update?
Despite a $400 million drop in non-renewable resource revenue, the news Finance Minister Kevin Docherty delivered on Nov. 30 was in line with last March’s budget. In fact, through government spending controls, the projected deficit of $292 million has been whittled down to $262 million. That’s in addition to $700 million of capital debt committed to previously.
But according to NDP finance critic Trent Wotherspoon plenty of concerns exist about the accuracy of the government’s figures. Oil, for instance, is forecast to be $49.50 per barrel. Each $1US drop in price costs the treasury $23 million. If oil stays at its current level of $39.97 that could translate into a $230 million shortfall.
“They’ve also employed some budget trickery with changes to the fiscal reporting period for Crown Corporations that counts 15 months of income in a 12-month period,” says Wotherspoon. “In the technical briefing I pressed them on this, and they [admitted] it improves their position by $140 million.”
Even with tighter commodity prices, Wotherspoon adds, “budget revenues are still decent, so it’s frustrating to see cuts to programs and supports in education, health care and seniors’ care that Saskatchewan people rely on. Meanwhile, the government continues to spend big in areas such as the $1.5 billion carbon capture plant, the bypass, P3 projects that benefit out-of-province corporations over Saskatchewan companies and the Lean debacle.”
During a record run of resource revenues and prosperity, Wotherspoon notes, the government failed to set aside any money for tough times. “Now, it’s asking Saskatchewan people to pick up the tab by peeling money back from organizations that serve students, families in need and other vulnerable members of society. It’s just not right.”
To give voters a true picture of Saskatchewan’s finances prior to the election, Wotherspoon says, it’s imperative that whatever budget numbers get released down the road be audited. “I think it would be a big risk if they were unwilling to do that. I think most Saskatchewan people would see that for what it is, a government that’s hiding something. So my message to Mr. Wall is if he’s got nothing to hide get the books to the auditor and get them signed off.” /Gregory Beatty