Finance Minister Wes Sheridan says no to raising basic income tax exemption
© Guardian photo by Heather Taweel
Finance Minister Wes Sheridan
No. No. No. That is the favoured response from P.E.I. Finance Minister Wes Sheridan anytime that anyone comes looking for a break from the provincial treasury. The finance minister wants to save every dollar possible for the next two and a half years on his mission to balance the books before the provincial election in the spring of 2016.
Mr. Sheridan is adamant there will be no loosening of his tight purse strings, except of course when it comes to MLAs getting their .75 per cent pay raise starting next April.
The harshest no of them all was his refusal to increase the basic personal income tax exemption for Islanders. He told the legislature last week there’s a better way to focus tax relief but then offered no options what they might be.
It appears there is no way Mr. Sheridan will give any kind of relief to over-taxed Islanders, at least not at this point. But at what point will low- and middle- income Islanders, our working poor, get a tax break? The finance minister says it won’t be until he balances the budget. That’s two and a half years away, at the earliest. Basic personal income tax exemptions have been frozen on the Island since 2008.
Incredibly, Mr. Sheridan said he doesn’t think raising the personal income tax exemption is useful because people like he would benefit when they don’t need it and there are better places to give Islanders tax relief. Well, Mr. Sheridan, the issue is not about you, it’s about the majority of Islanders who need and deserve a tax break right now that raising the basic personal exemption would provide.
He can always raise the provincial tax surcharge on upper-income Islanders in higher brackets if he feels so distressed, so the rich can pay a little more to negate losses to the public purse of increasing basic personal exemptions to assist those most in need.
In P.E.I., the basic personal amount is $7,708, which is the lowest in the country. It’s not indexed to increase with inflation and Mr. Sheridan has no intention of changing that either. Alberta has the highest basic personal income tax exemption at a staggering $17,593, to go along with low tax rates. The basic exemption in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia is approximately $8,500 and Newfoundland Labrador is almost $9,500. That extra thousand or so dollars for low- and middle-income Islanders won’t be staying in their pockets very long but will go right back into the provincial economy to buy staples and necessities. That move will stimulate the economy.
Government has tied all of its fee increases to the consumer price index, which have left Islanders poorer, but the basic personal exemption is immune to the CPI application. Why? What does Mr. Sheridan know that every other province doesn’t?
The majority of Prince Edward Islanders would be much more sympathetic to Mr. Sheridan’s fiscal goals if he were seen to show some compassion and flexibility when it comes to taxation relief.
We want to hear a yes that this province cares about the poor and a yes that tax relief is coming soon. We have high taxes and high unemployment. Our crippling electricity costs and high fuel prices are all heavily taxed. There is one area where Mr. Sheridan can give Islanders a little break and he says no.
Perhaps he should go the Salvation Army, food banks and soup kitchens to see how many Islanders have to live.