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John Carpay | Barrister and Solicitor

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Home John's Columns Alberta can build roads without debt

Alberta can build roads without debt

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After a decade of success in his struggle against alcoholism, a man returns to the bars. Drinking alcohol really isn't that bad for him after all, he decides. Considering the damage and destruction which alcohol caused in his life, it's a sad choice.

A similar sad situation is playing itself out in provincial politics, with Alberta's governing "Conservatives" talking about going back into debt again. For taxpayers, that kind of talk is frightening.

Back in 1994, Albertans lost one out of every eight tax dollars to debt servicing costs. Annual debt-servicing costs of $1.7 billion in 1994 worked out to $645 for every man, woman and child in Alberta, or $2,580 for a family of four. Considering inflation, that $2,580 in 1994 works out to about $3,400 today. In other words, Alberta families were paying over $275 per month - every month - to service the provincial debt. Not one penny of that $275 monthly payment was available for roads, bridges or other government programs.

Fast-forward to 2005. This current year, debt servicing costs of $291 million work out to $90 per Albertan, or $360 for a family of four. In other words, Alberta families are now paying only $30 per month to service the provincial debt, instead of $275 per month. Taxpayers benefit when all of their tax dollars are available for roads, bridges, policing, the justice system, etc.

But now Premier Klein is talking about reversing this progress, and saddling Albertans with debt again.

The reason Infrastructure. Yes, somehow the $9,000-per-Albertan which Klein's government is collecting this year is not enough to build new roads and maintain existing ones. Somehow, although the Alberta government collects more - per person - in tax revenues than any other government in Canada, it claims there is not enough money for infrastructure.

The Alberta government, if it laid down its priorities properly, has more than enough money to pay for new roads and bridges, and to maintain existing infrastructure. Alberta's spending on government programs is up 100% in nine short years, from $12.7 billion 1996 to $25.5 billion today. Alberta's population only grew 18% during the same time period. Why has this 100% spending increase not been enough to pay for adequate infrastructure 

In other words, if there isn't enough money available to pay for Alberta's roads and bridges, this government is guilty of gross mismanagement of tax dollars.

There would be plenty of money available for more roads and better bridges if the government cut its spending on lower priorities.

Why not scrap the Ministry of Restructuring and Government Efficiency, with its 1,272 bureaucrats And why not abolish the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and its 90 bureaucrats Does the health ministry really need 1,378 bureaucrats Surely Premier Klein could get his job done with fewer than 233 people working for Executive Council And why do we need 2,007 bureaucrats running the seniors ministry No doubt Alberta's 26,811 civil servants are sincere and dedicated, but there are far too many of them.

The Tories haven't gone back to the bar yet. But the fact that they are discussing a return to the bad old days of $275-per-month interest payments calls for sober thought. This is one "trial balloon" which should be shot down immediately.

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 April 2011 19:59