My first budget cut income taxes 30 per cent

By MPP Toby Barrett

As this column was being sent out to local media, I was on the floor of the Ontario Legislature debating my Private Member’s Motion:

‘That in the opinion of this House, the Ontario government should reduce taxes where feasible, and not introduce any new provincial taxes or raise existing provincial taxes – including, but not limited to, any personal income taxes, business taxes, corporate taxes, or carbon taxes.

The day before, we received an Ontario budget that will jack up taxes $2 billion over the next three years.

When I was first elected as a government MPP, our first budget, in 1996, cut personal income taxes 30.2 per cent.

Through my private members motion, I am extending an olive branch to the governing party and the third party to ask for their support to, at minimum, hold the line on tax increases.

The last thing our economy and hardworking Ontarians need right now is tax hikes. I am also asking the members opposite to vote for tax cuts – that is something I favour, and have always voted for during my tenure at Queen’s Park.

The May 1996 budget was no ordinary budget.  It was a budget that cut taxes. A promise during the 1995 election campaign.

When was the last time an Ontario budget cut taxes?  Hard-pressed, hard-working and skeptical, Ontario taxpayers have rarely heard those two little words used in a budget — tax cut.

High taxes kill jobs; undermine government revenues and slow economic growth.  If high taxes created jobs, there would be zero unemployment in Ontario today.  If high taxes were good for revenues, we would have a budget surplus and no accumulated debt.  If high taxes helped economic growth, we would be living through a bonanza right now.

We can learn from the past. The two governments in this province from 1985 to 1995, hiked taxes no fewer than 65 times, including 11 personal income tax hikes.  Consumers were given 65 reasons not to spend money.  Businesses were given 65 reasons not to hire new employees.  And investors were given 65 reasons to keep their money out of Ontario.

Here is a case study that serves as an evaluation. Bob Rae alone increased total tax rates the equivalent of some $4 billion.  And what did we get: nearly nine percent unemployment; successive double-digit deficits; an accumulated debt of $100 billion.  Ontario had the highest per capita residents in the country trapped in the cycle of welfare dependency. Despite those huge tax rate hikes, government revenue stayed stagnant.

The problem was, and is today, not enough people are buying.   The idea of disposable income has been disposed of because governments historically take more and more of our own money.  And we never see it again.

Unlike the past Liberal and NDP governments, who made it a priority to raise the revenue of the Ontario government during that lost decade from 1985 to 1995, our goal was to raise the average income of the Ontario family.

At the time, our common sense government said it would cut taxes to create jobs – and it did.  The government returned roughly $4 billion over three years to taxpayers’ pockets.  That means we took the total tax rate burden back to where it was before Bob Rae.