Sunday, February 22, 2015

Battery recharging

No, not NiCad. Or even Li-Ion ones, though that is a regular thing here.

This is Keith batteries getting recharged. We slept in Saturday, and it was wonderful. That doesn't happen to me much. Normally I don't sleep well, so when I'm awake I get up and do something. Stabilized the Riesling wine. It's going to be a beautiful light straw colour. I had a nice stretching session in the evening, but no thunks.

After a slow start we ended up at a budget round table hosted by our provincial MLA. Wait! Don't go! This is important!

I was a bit impressed by Dave Rodney. He actually kept pretty good control of the meeting, and while moving things along, actively looked for people that hadn't spoken yet. He kept asking for the specific things the government should do, and there was no shortage of advice.

There were about 3 dozen people there, most of them our age or older than us, but a few younger, which was really nice to see. I have no idea exactly what is going to happen to the questionnaire we filled out. Only 3 dozen responses isn't exactly a statistical universe, so they could probably cherry pick any results they wanted.

Some of the comments were foolish. One guy wanted to lay off provincial workers till the budget balanced. I guess he figures he doesn't need health care, or has no children that go to school. One guy was totally on about gays getting more rights than the rest of us. Rodney sidestepped that one a bit clumsily, but did it. I don't know where he stands, but his point was that people were here to talk about the budget. There were lots of angst about raising taxes, but then when he turned it around and asked which services get cut, people were all over the map.

Some of it was cut civil service pay. They couldn't think of any reason why Alberta should be paying the highest rates for such people, but the 800 pound gorilla is the oil and gas industry. They can, and do pay well for their people, and that drives up other costs. We fortunately didn't hear the phrase "gold plated pensions". What these people are not considering is that almost all the money paid to the civil service gets circulated back into the economy, and that's a good thing.

I'm pretty sure I heard the phrase "respect the existing union contracts" and that's a good thing. Bargaining hard for the next one is fine, but keep in mind there are a ton of people on the verge of retiring. Push them too hard, and they'll go. Then who takes care of you when you have to go to the hospital?

Supposedly there is no thought of a provincial sales tax, which is dumb. The no thought part, not the sales tax. I'd happily trade the Alberta income tax away in exchange for a sales tax. Why? I don't buy much stuff. A sales tax is not regressive, like the current flat Alberta provincial tax.

But let's take it at face value. On the income side, here's my suggestions:

  • Sales tax in place of income tax.
  • Get together with the other oil and gas provinces to coordinate royalties, and raise them. The oil and gas companies are getting the raw materials at a bargain basement price. There aren't that many other places to go, and they're all more expensive. Put the royalties on a sliding scale related to the world price of oil.
  • Health care user fees, tied into the tax system so that low income people get it rebated. Everybody should get a statement of how much their health care costs each year, with a note about the average, mean, mode, and peak costs.
  • Raise corporate taxes. There's room to go up, and still be the lowest in Canada. What's more, make the big companies pay more, so it's a progressive tax.
  • Double cigarette taxes, or more. Earmark some of those funds to preventing people from starting in the first place. The rest to health care. Increase booze taxes, but not so much. People can't grow tobacco in their back yards here, but they can make booze in their bathtubs.
  • Raise gas taxes.
  • Borrow money if required. It's cheap now, and will be for a while yet. Require paying it off early when oil prices go back up.
On the cost cutting side:
  • Health care is the single biggest driver of the budget. When you think of it, nearly everything can be marked up as an improvement to the health of Albertans. The big way to cut costs is to stop people from getting sick. I'd love to see tax incentives for people to be healthier. 
  • Injuries and deaths from auto collisions (driver incompetence) are a huge burden on the health care system. Invest in driver training simulators, similar to how airline pilots train. Everybody goes through them every time their license is renewed. Standard and objective testing standards will weed out the testosterone fueled teenagers and the seniors who can't cope anymore. Anybody that is in a collision goes through retraining before they can drive again.
  • Rather than trying to manage all the hospitals as if they were one facility with one set of spending controls, set up hospitals as individual units. Let them experiment with ways to improve service and cut costs. Share best practices. People can understand one hospital, where a province wide system is incomprehensible. 
  • Promote the use of bonds for capital investment. The long desired cancer hospital and the SW Calgary ring road are examples of billion dollar infrastructure that will be there for generations. Encouraging people to buy bonds that are paid back at reasonable rates over a long period is one way to spread out the cost of funding these. Especially if people could put such bonds in their RSP or TFSA.
  • The most vulnerable people in our society cost huge dollars in emergency services. Find the people that cost the system the most, and solve their problems. Don't manage, solve. Build or convert a residential building for the highest cost users. There is evidence that giving them an apartment helps build the stability that keeps them out of the emergency services system. The apartment and a social worker are much cheaper than the hospital emergency room.
  • Stop funding the post secondary institutions. Fund the people that want post secondary education, instead. Let them figure out where they will get the most bang for their buck and have institutions compete for those dollars. What the province gives to them for education gets paid back over time through the tax system. The current institutions are white elephants. Use internet technology to share knowledge.
  • Yank out the VLT's. They are a bad deal. Yes, the government gets a cut, but the social costs are far higher.

Sunday was a sleep in day, and once it warmed up a bit I was out for a run. Lovely. 8K in an hour, legs feeling pretty good. Perfect weather for a winter run. Hanging out and cuddling cats is the rest of the day.

Oh, and The Bone in the Digester. I was going over some material I'd deleted, and thinking about new ways of organizing the book. I had an idea. Stay tuned.


  1. Interesting thoughts on the round table discussion. I am of the same opinion that the focus should be on disease prevention and not simply cures. Not everyone is for that though...esp those in the health care profession. And if they are: I salut them.

    Glad you had a great 8k run; about to match you for distance - did 7k today, feet feel pretty good so far.

  2. Interesting budget ideas, Keith - most of which I agree with, some of which I'd like to discuss in person one day. Glad too that you used the weekend to recharge a bit. We did too. In bed by 9:30 last night and slept for nearly 10 hours. Heavenly! Have a great week.


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