Friday, February 04, 2005

Tax breaks for kids’ sports, arts fees needs a hard look

VICTORIA - I feel like a bit of a grinch, raising doubts about Christy Clark's pitch for tax subsidies for parents who sign their kids up for hockey or art classes.
It's obviously appealing, and the goals make sense. Clark lined up an impressive group of backers to launch her effort, some two dozen reps from sports associations, arts groups and health organizations.
Parents are out there spending hundreds or thousands of dollars a year on programs that keep their children active and creative, she says. A tax credit would give them some of that money back, courtesy of other taxpayers, and may allow more families to get their children involved.
But there are a couple of issues, both flowing from the basic question of whether this is the best way of achieving the admirable goal of helping kids grow up happier and healthier.
The most obvious one is how you make sure that this isn't just a tax break for people who are already able to put their children into these kinds of programs. There's not much need to give a family with a household income of $250,000 a $100 tax break because they've enrolled their children in soccer and ballet.
If the policy goal is to ensure that more children participate, then any tax credit should only go to those parents who can't afford to provide the opportunities for their children now. (Or making huge sacrifices, anyway.) Fewer recepients would allow a larger tax break for the families who really needed it, and mean more children were active.
My sense was that the people supporting the idea wren't really thinking about a program only for people with incomes under $40,000, for example.
The other question, the one Finance Minister Colin Hansen is interested in, is whether this is really the best, most cost-effective way to work toward the goal.
Clark says she's leaving the details up to the finance ministry and the health ministry to sort out - her aim is to get the issue on the agenda, and push the Liberals to include some similar tax credit program in their platform for the May election.
The cost could be vary wildly, depending on how extensive and generous the program is, she says, and the important thing is to take a first step.
But say the credit is designed to cover 25 per cent of the registration costs for these progams. My best guess - wildly rough - puts the cost of providing that aid to hockey parents across the province at $4 million. (Based on 40,000 players, at registration costs of $400.) So say $50 million, when you include registration fees for dance and piano and tennis and all the rest.
The question then becomes what else could you do with that money.
It would be enough to give school districts across B.C. an extra $2,500 per class for arts and recreation programs, or launch a masive after-school program aimed at every child under the age of 12, or an even larger program focused on kids most at-risk of inactivity.
Full marks to Clark for rasiing the issue, which should lead to some sort of government response.
Children aren’t active enough, to the point that this generation will actually live shorter lives than their parents, according to Bobbe Wood of the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation. Preventable diseases - diabetes, heart and lung problems - are ging to take more lives, and add huge health care costs, unless we take action now.
Clark also deserves credit for demonstrating how a backbencher, admittedly a highly experienced one, can advance an issue publicly.
It’s an opportunity they make use of much too rarely - only this effort, Lorne Mayencourt’s safe streets bill and Steve Orcherton’s push for alternative medical treatments come to mind.
People elect MLAs to speak out publicly on the issues that matter, not just behind closed doors in caucus commmittees.
Clark showed how effective that can be.
Footnote: Clark plans a private member’s motion urging support for her plan. She said a “bizarre” rule in the B.C. legislature bars MLAs from introducing any actual bills that deal with the collecting or spending of money.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's nice that Gordon Campbell is promising a greener, more caring party than we've seen since 2001. Of course, in the last campaign, he also promised us a greener, more caring party than we've seen since 2001, and is something we shouldn't forget.