Home improvement experts say the key to laying down flooring is to take extra care with the first few rows of tile. If those first tiles are even a tiny bit out of place, the floor will seem completely crooked at the end. It's all about taking care of the little things first -- a good model for governments spending our money.
B.C. Finance Minister Kevin Falcon was the latest leader to forget this important lesson. As public and media criticism swirled around the Government Employment Recognition Cupboard, a $1.5 million program which allows bureaucrats to send taxpayer-funded gifts to one another, Falcon defended the cupboard, noting that it was a tiny percentage of the province's budget.
He's not wrong on the numbers -- the cupboard is small compared to what the government spends overall. For Falcon, who is busy putting the finishing touches on what will likely be a $43 billion budget, $1.5 million may seem like peanuts. But for B.C. taxpayers, it's another sign of disconnect between government and the people.
Taxpayers want to know that every nickel they send to government is being spent properly. We look at the little things and our comfort level (or lack thereof) creates an overarching feeling toward the government as a whole.
A culture is created when little things are allowed to slide. A million dollars of waste becomes two, then 10, 50, and more. It's a slippery slope that governments must continually guard against.
Small decisions begin to add up: $8,960 for a year-end YouTube video from Premier Christy Clark that unnecessarily duplicated several year-end media interviews. Another $130,000-plus job in the Premier's office. Almost $125,000 spent on lawyer bills to keep government contracts secret from the public.
Last fall, after spending a whopping $563 million on refurbishing B.C. Place Stadium, the provincial government kicked in an extra $550,000 for the Grey Cup Festival. Wasn't a half-billion dollar capital expenditure and a hometown win by the B.C. Lions enough to make the game a success?
These little things cultivate an environment where bigger problems grow.
The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) is a $19.4 million program that is essentially corporate welfare under the guise of greenwashing. Government agencies, school districts, health authorities spent your tax dollars to buy "carbon credits." That money went to big companies to pay for offsets, a practice that even irritates environmentalists.
The PCT wasn't the only place where tax dollars were disappearing in the name of fighting climate change. B.C. put $17 million into a program to give rebates to electric car buyers. Shouldn't that decision be a personal one? Why waste tax dollars on this, when electric car drivers will already benefit by avoiding 50 cents per litre in gas taxes?
Then there's the Children's Education Fund, where government is putting aside $1,000 for every post-secondary student who starts school after 2025. Punishing today's taxpayers for tomorrow's spending is just as flawed as creating massive debts and penalizing tomorrow's taxpayers for today's mistakes. This gimmick should go the way of its creator -- Premier Gordon Campbell.
It gets worse. Over the past two years, the provincial government has seen a 22 per cent increase in the number of public sector employees making more than $100,000 a year. Wages are the single largest cost driver in government. That's almost four times the median income in B.C., and puts them in the top four per cent of provincial income earners.
When you build a floor, it's critical the first row of tile goes on perfectly straight, or the work will become more and more askew and need to be redone. Likewise, government needs to take care of the little things, the nickels and dimes, because they add up all too quickly into big problems.
Follow Jordan Bateman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jordanbateman