Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On scam artists

Of the three types of NDP views on the push for a new stadium in Regina pointed out by LRT, I'd count myself in the first group which sees the idea as a general plus - assuming the concept was well-planned and effectively implemented.

Unfortunately, there's little reason for confidence on that point from the Wall government. And indeed there seems to be a disturbing connection between the stadium plan and the Sask Party's push for nuclear power based on the Wall government's determination to make sure that the real costs of any of their preferred developments are artificially hidden from the provincial government's books.

Here's Stephen Larose:
One of the strangest things I'm hearing in the entire Saskadome debate (Leader-Post) is the Sask. Party government getting on about how no taxpayers' money will be used to construct the $350 million (estimate? Guesstimate?) cost to build the thing. A lot of those proposals for paying for it involve funds from the Crown corporations or the Saskatchewan Gaming Commission (the people who run Casio Regina and Casino Moose Jaw). Well, they're supposed to be turning over their profits to the provincial government's revenue stream. And if they don't, then the money's going to come from somewhere – either higher taxes or cuts to government programs. Taxpayers will still pay the cost, directly or indirectly.
And Kevin Yates:
Yates questioned why the government is drawing a distinction between general revenue funds and other money available to the government, noting Crown corporations typically pay a dividend that helps add to government coffers.

“If those funds are diverted either before or after, it means there’s less money ... for much needed other services,” said Yates, who maintained the Opposition doesn’t have enough information to say whether a domed stadium is a good idea.
Needless to say, the story is similar when it comes to nuclear power. While the Sask Party insists that it won't spend public money to build a reactor, that claim runs face-first into the reality that their chosen developer is demanding that a "government-backed entity" guarantee its profits. Which would seem to send an obvious signal that Saskatchewan's citizens will ultimately bear the cost - whether through SaskPower or through another entity which gets locked into a long-term deal to drain public dollars toward Bruce Power.

Of course, it's particularly remarkable that the Sask Party is showing this consistent pattern of Enron-style public accounting at a time when there's enough money in provincial coffers to actually have a meaningful conversation about what investments deserve to be on the receiving end of public funding. Thanks to the Calvert government's legacy, the books are already in good enough shape that there shouldn't be even a perceived need to invent new ways to hide the cost of any project worth carrying out.

But rather than trying to defend its plans on the merits, the Wall government is firmly committed to portraying its megaprojects as free lunches which don't require any cost-benefit analysis. And those of us who don't plan to be long gone by the time the bill comes due have every reason for skepticism.

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