While not nearly as addictive as Angry Birds, spending a few hours with the province’s You-Be-The-Finance-Minister teeter-totter app—more prosaically known as backtobalance.ca—is entertaining. And depressingly, face-slappingly educational.
The government created the interactive online budget-making tool as part of its pre-budget consultations. It allows taxpayers to virtually raise and/or reduce revenues and expenses—and immediately see the bottom-line consequences.
Let’s begin with the government’s starting point—a projected budget deficit of $390 million—and our own biases. Can we bring the numbers back to balance?
Perhaps like me, you think the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes. According to Back to Balance, 9,000 taxpayers making over $150,000 a year currently pay the top personal tax rate of 21 per cent.
Go to the highest personal income tax rate bar on the page and slide the on-screen slider thingee a full percentage to the right. A little box pops up, telling you’ve raised $9.6 million. Just $9.7 million? A drop in the deficit drain.
Or perhaps you’re a delusional, cut-taxes-balance-the-books booster who believes corporations pay too much tax. Let’s lower the general corporate tax rate by one per cent. Oops. Now you have $25 million to make up somewhere else before you even begin to dent your deficit number.
You could get that much back by reducing granny’s nursing home bed budget by five per cent, of course, but can you do that to a fast-aging population? And granny?
Doctors—we spent $722 million on salaries and fees for 2,500 doctors last year—make up the second largest line item in the province’s $3.7 billion health care budget. We could make big savings here, but how many doctors would we lose if we did?
The point is that it’s all a zero sum game. And actions have consequences.
By the beginning of the month, the backtobalance website—the first of its kind in the country—had had close to 39,000 page views and 458 budget-making submissions.
I only hope they’re better than mine.
Match wits with reality at backtobalance.ca