Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: Higher tax bracket ‘a risky game’ in the 2020 B.C. budget

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

Finance Minister Carole James delivered the NDP government’s 2020 budget on Feb. 18.

The government continues to aim for small annual operating surpluses and hopes to avoid getting into a deficit position. In addition, the NDP remains committed to a handful of signature initiatives, including incrementally advancing its plan to expand child care spaces and ramping up capital investment in the transportation, health care and education sectors. It’s also worth noting that the new budget is built on a relatively conservative macro-economic forecast, as was also the case with the 2018 and 2019 budgets.

READ MORE: Budget 2020: B.C. NDP taps top tax bracket for more revenue

Despite this, Budget 2020 does contain a few surprises that warrant a closer look.

The first is the absence of any clear strategy to diversify and strengthen the foundations of the province’s economy over the medium- and longer-term, beyond investing in infrastructure and other public sector capital assets. There is very little in Budget 2020 that will benefit the high technology, advanced manufacturing, or tradable service industries that occupy important places in B.C.’s increasingly diverse economy. Nor does the budget do much for the natural resource industries that supply the lion’s share of the province’s exports and underpin regional economies across most of B.C. And the NDP government is missing in action when it comes to new measures to spur the business innovation and productivity growth that are essential to support and sustain a high-wage economy.

A second surprise is the budget’s assumption that housing starts are set to decline steeply over the next few years. After reaching a record 45,000 in 2019, starts are expected to fall to 35,000 this year, before dropping further to 31,000 by 2022. A slump in residential construction is projected to occur even though B.C.’s population will continue growing at a steady clip and the government itself is allocating more money to develop social and other types of non-market housing. Dwindling starts will crimp new supply – and likely lead to higher housing prices — at a time when the government is rightly concerned about affordability.

KEEP READING: Budget 2020: ICBC ‘dumpster fire’ to turn into $86M surplus, NDP say

A particularly ill-conceived surprise in Budget 2020 is the NDP’s new higher tax bracket for upper-income individuals (those earning at least $220,000 a year). This follows an earlier NDP tax hike imposed on people earning $150,000 and up.

For a left-leaning government, the politics around “taxing the rich” may appear attractive. But on economic policy grounds, the government is playing a risky game. Combined with federal income taxes, the top marginal tax rate in B.C. will now be just shy of 54 per cent, fully 17 points higher than in Washington State and almost six points higher than the top marginal rate in Alberta. As individuals exposed to the new, higher income tax rate adjust their behaviour to minimize tax liabilities, the government will likely collect less extra revenue than it is expecting.

By treating the most productive slice of the population as an ATM machine for government, B.C. will make it harder to recruit talent, discourage entrepreneurial activity, and lead to the loss of high-paying managerial, professional, and technical jobs across a mix of industries. In embracing a high tax path, the NDP government, perhaps inadvertently, seems intent on turning British Columbia into a graveyard for professional and business ambition.

READ MORE: Budget 2020: Weaver ‘delighted,’ minority B.C. NDP stable

All in all, Budget 2020 counts as a disappointment to the business community. It reflects an unwarranted complacency about the underlying health of the economy. It provides very few reasons for companies, entrepreneurs or investors to direct their capital and attention to advancing economic development opportunities in B.C. And it sends a signal to highly skilled people that they would be wise to at least consider taking their talents elsewhere.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

B.C. Budget 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SD62 bus driver Kerry Zado said it’s common to see drivers lose their patience and pass by his bus while he’s picking up students during the morning commute. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
School bus driver laments motorists who pass while red lights are flashing

All buses in Sooke School District outfitted with stop sign cameras

Nearly 2000 BC Hydro customers in East Sooke lost power around 1 p.m. on Jan. 20. (BC Hydro)
UPDATE: Power restored to nearly 2000 East Sooke residents after blasting

Blasting caused power pole to move and faulted the circuit Wednesday

(Black Press Media files)
Transport Canada not budging on enclosed deck rules, despite calls from BC Ferries union

There have been at least 23 cases of the U.K. variant detected in Canada, four of which are in B.C.

Victoria police are seeking home surveillance video and witnesses following a prowling incident in Esquimalt Jan. 20. (Black Press Media file photo)
Esquimalt prowler removes air conditioner, peers into person’s home

VicPD is seeking video footage, witnesses following Jan. 20 incident

The Victoria Fire Department extinguished a 15 foot tent fire in the 500-block of Ellice Street Jan. 19. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Victoria police investigating after 15-foot flames engulf tent

Flames damage nearby business in 500-block of Ellice Street

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, vice-president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, speaks at a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
B.C. records 500 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday, 14 deaths

Outbreak at Surrey Pretrial jail, two more in health care

A suspect has been arrested in connection with fires at Drinkwater Elementary (pictured) and École Mount Prevost. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Arson suspect arrested after fires at Cowichan Valley schools

Drinkwater Elementary and Mount Prevost schools hit within a week

A woman writes a message on a memorial mural wall by street artist James “Smokey Devil” Hardy during a memorial to remember victims of illicit drug overdose deaths on International Overdose Awareness Day, in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, on Monday, August 31, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. paramedics respond to record-breaking number of overdose calls in 2020

On the front lines, COVID-19 has not only led to more calls, but increased the complexity

Nanaimo RCMP are seeking the public’s help after a man allegedly assaulted a clerk at James General Store on Victoria Road on Jan. 18. (Submitted photo)
Suspect screams at customer then assaults store clerk in Nanaimo

RCMP asking for information about Jan. 18 incident at James General Store

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Two Nanaimo care-home residents have died during COVID-19 outbreak

Death reported Monday was the second related to Chartwell Malaspina outbreak, says Island Health

Rod Bitten of Union Bay won $500,000 in the Lotto Max draw on Jan. 15. Photo supplied
Vancouver Island electrician gets shocking surprise with $500K Extra win

Rod Bitten has been hard at work with home renovations, which is… Continue reading

Eighteen-year-old Aidan Webber died in a marine accident in 2019. He was a Canadian Junior BMX champion from Nanaimo. (Submitted)
Inadequate safety training a factor in teen BMX star’s workplace death in 2019

Aidan Webber was crushed by a barge at a fish farm near Port Hardy

Oyster River Fire Rescue members were called out to a suspicious fire in Black Creek. Two vehicles parked at a private residence were destroyed by fire. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Rescue
Suspicious fire destroys two vehicles at Vancouver Island residence

Oyster River Fire Rescue personnel were dispatched to a fire at a… Continue reading

Seven streets in downtown Duncan, including Station Street, will soon have new native names added to their signage. (Submitted graphic)
New Duncan street signs will be in English and Hul’q’umi’num

Seven streets to get additional names in First Nations language

Most Read