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Where does 5.43% actually equal 15.9%?

Wairoa ratepayers should be furious with the Wairoa District Council for misleading the public on its forecast rate hikes. Earlier today the Taxpayers’ Union discovered that statements by the District’s Mayor and CEO that rates are forecast to increase by 5.43% are fanciful. The real figure is in fact 15.9%.

Earlier today the Taxpayer's Union were alerted to a slight problem with two statements contained in Wairoa's draft annual plan, currently open to public consultation.

In the introductory statement by the Mayor and Council CEO they claim that on average rates are increasing by 5.43%. But when we do the math, not based on the spin but on the financial numbers in the same paper, we come to a whopping 15.9%

So how do the two amounts reconcile? We wrote to the CEO to ask:

 

Here's the draft annual plan we quote. Note pages 1 and 91: 

Late this afternoon we received a call from a Council official who reports to the CEO and had a frank conversation. Amazingly the official acknowledged what he termed as 'loose' wording by the CEO and Mayor. Apparently when the figure was originally reported to the Council it included a significant proviso that two new rates were not included.

The 5.43% figure does not include two new rates which relate to two waste water schemes. Once you include those the rates increase is nearly three times the percentage the Mayor and CEO were trumpeting.

We're calling on the Wairoa Council CEO, Fergus Power, and Mayor, Craig Little, to apologise to Wairoa ratepayers, and correct their misleading statements in the draft annual plan.

What do you think? Acceptable spin, or misleading the public? Comment on our Facebook page here.

Dusting off the cheque book to qualify for tax relief

Yesterday we were scathing of Mr English's lack of tax cuts in yesterday's budget.

Nevertheless, we were eager to qualify for the only tax cut that was it - the removal of cheque duty - worth about $1 a year per New Zealander.

Budget lock up

To avoid missing out on the tax cut, earlier today we delivered a cheque to The Treasury to cover the lunch provided at yesterday’s budget lock-up.

Rather than pay for our taxpayer funded lunch with cash, we dusted off our cheque book to make the payment. As only the minority of New Zealanders who still use cheques will qualify for the tax relief, we wanted to make sure we are among them.

Yesterday’s budget forecasts that over the next four years, total surpluses will equal $4,935 per household. Of that, Kiwi taxpayers get back $1 from the only tax cut contained in yesterday's budget.

We’re calling on the Government to lay out a clear and meaningful program of reducing tax and compliance costs.

Cheque and note to Treasury

The Taxpayers’ Union fights for lower taxes and value for money from every tax dollar. New Zealanders are welcome to donate their tax cut by clicking here (or of course sending a cheque!).

NBR: Ratepayers underpin vested interests’ development ambitions

With all the focus on yesterday's budget we nearly missed this piece in yesterday's NZ Property Investor.

Ratepayers underpin vested interests’ development ambitions

The Taxpayers' Union says councils around the country are not telling ratepayers about the cost of capital that ratepayers are underwriting for local authority subsidies.

Jordan Williams brought up the issue in relation to Greater Wellington Regional Council and losses arising from its subsidiary CentrePort as a result of earthquake damage last year.

Click here to continue reading (requires NBR subscription).

Autotalk on electric vehicles

White elephant says Taxpayer’s Union, not so says APEV Autotalk - 01 May 2014

The Taxpayers’ Union says it has uncovered what is probably the most expensive staff car park in the country, located at Z Energy on Customhouse Quay in Wellington.
However the Association for the promotion of electric vehicles (APEV) disagrees.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Wellington City Council spent $100,000 on a zero-emissions vehicle programme, and only thing to show for it is a charging station, which is a white elephant claims the Taxpayer’s Union.
Most days it is occupied by conventional vehicles owned by the staff at the Z Energy station according to the Taxpayer’s Union.
“Instead of being used to charge electric vehicles, the ratepayer funded charging station is used as a staff car park for the service station attendants,” says Taxpayers’ Union executive director Jordan Williams.

John Bishop on consultation irony

On Monday a fellow Taxpayers' Union board member and I spent a fascinating morning with a group of academics, middle level public servants and representatives of NGOs responding to a request for our views about 'open government'. Sounded interesting; well yes, but it turned out to be a quick fire consultation about how the government could fulfil its requirement to report progress of open government to some international body and agreement it signed up to.

The report is due by the end of July and along with some discussions on Loomio this meeting seemed to be about the sum total of consultation on the matter.  This is deeply ironic given that some of the values of open government are that consultation should be timely, appropriate and that there is enough time taken for interested parties to discuss and debate their positions and learn about the positions of others. The session was very top down. The first question as whether a bunch of documents, variously called Better Public Services, ICT Strategy and Action Plan and the National Integrity System, were an appropriate starting point. They probably were, given that there was really no other obvious starting point.

But the real agenda quickly became apparent when those attending said plainly and simply that making data available wasn’t actually the most important part of open government. Nor was enabling citizens to transact with government agencies (renewing their car registration, applying for a passport, and the like) really anything about more democracy – welcome though such initiatives were.

Officials looked a bit disconcerted and chagrined.  This wasn’t going according to plan. Their primary interest was finding something meaningful to report and preferably with enough of patina of consultation to enable them to say that this was a consensus view from societal groups and not simply the view of officials. The participants, mainly Wellington based policy wonks and advisors, well understood the game and worked to fulfil their needs.

However the discussion was constructive and useful. There was clear consensus about

·       Reviewing the Official Information Act to reduce delays and obstruction

·       Publishing Best Practice guideline on public consultation

·       Defining and codifying “accountability” and responsibility” in the public sector, consistent with the ability of officials to give quality advice

·       Giving the responsibility for open government to a single agency.

For what it’s worth the Taxpayers' Union view of accountability (or responsibility) revolves around being able to find out who made which decision, when and why, seeking to achieve which specified objectives, based on what evidence and costs, knowing that the evidence and costs were themselves robust, and when the programme or activity has been implemented being able to find what results were achieved, and where these results were short or astray from the original objectives what will be done about it, by whom and when.

We believe that it is far too difficult to find out how well (or badly) taxpayers money was spend by government, and that goals such as transparency and accountability needed to be strengthened by coherent actions which match results against objectives and count achievements against costs.

Bureaucratic speak

Finally a couple of examples of bureaucratic jargon to round out the day: My two favourites were:

“We need to systematise our learnings here and develop some protocols around them.” And this little gem of positive sounding word smithing; “develop” became “develop a strategy to strengthen”. Of such debates is a day of discussion in Wellington composed.

Union welfare at Parliament

This morning's Herald on Sunday carries a story on bonus for Parliament's unionists:

The agency in charge of parliamentary staff has agreed to a cash bonus for union members, despite John Key's National Party previously denouncing such deals as discriminatory.

An email obtained by the Herald on Sunday shows union members will receive a one-off, $1000 bonus from the Parliamentary Service - double the amount non-union members will get.

During the Helen Clark Labour administration, union staff once landed an $800 bonus. Act and National blasted the pay-off then, calling it "corrupt" and accusing Labour of cronyism.

Despite that this is union welfare and a political subsidy for the left goes on. We know of parliamentary staff who feel uncomfortable with the pressure and financial incentive from the Parliamentary Service to join a union.

The Government should scrap these kinds of deals. It made sense that the Labour Party would want to ensure its trade union donors are well funded. The fact it is continuing under National is outrageous.

Email on bonus to Parliamentary staff

The email the Herald on Sundays refers to was sent through to our tip line last week.  Click "continue reading" to view.

 

What does the taxpayer get from Lydia Ko?

I take my hat off to Lydia Ko.  A young women with an impressive talent and no doubt a bright career ahead.  New Zealanders can rightly take pride in her accomplishments.  But why does taxpayer funding necessary follow pride?

This morning’s Dominion Post reports:

Golfer Lydia Ko is asking for more taxpayer support since turning pro than she received when she was an amateur.

The 16-year-old prodigy can now reap big financial rewards from professional tournaments, as well as millions in management contracts and endorsement deals.

She pocketed NZ$181,000 for winning the Swinging Skirts World Ladies Masters tournament in Taiwan last year and so far this year has collected more than $280,000 in winnings.

As an amateur, she received $115,000 from High Performance Sport NZ in 2012 and $185,000 last year, chief executive Alex Baumann said.

New Zealand Golf's application for this year is for $208,000 to pay for her coaching, physiotherapy and mental skills training. 

 

The Dominion Post picks up Taxpayers' Union criticism of Government funding the America's Cup


Taxpayers' Union criticise Government funding $36m towards the America's Cup
The Dominion Post - 28/03/2014

Government claims that last year's America's Cup campaign has paid for itself more than twice over have been criticised by the Taxpayers' Union.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce yesterday released an independent report into the "direct and indirect benefits" of entering the high-speed yachting regatta.

"From a $36m taxpayer investment, the evaluation shows an estimated positive impact of $87m to the New Zealand economy," Joyce said.

However, Taxpayers' Union executive director Jordan Williams said there was no reason to celebrate the funding of a sport for rich men.

"The analysis is based on the questionable assumption that private money would not have flowed into Team New Zealand without taxpayers coughing up," he said.

The report also says Team New Zealand contributed to 1220 new jobs.

"Of course politicians like Mr Joyce will claim to have created jobs by spending other people's money," Williams said.

"The jobs and economic activity lost due to the tax taken from the economy in the first place, is ignored. Even a sport full of the richest men in the world doesn't turn down government money," Williams said.

Click here to read more.

John Bishop on Judith Collins

Being involved in political activity makes it tempting to comment on each and every movement in the political dimension. Early on, the Taxpayers’ Union decided that it would focus on instances of waste and extravagance in central and local government spending, and on cases where spending had clearly not achieved its purpose.

Hence we criticised Tony Marriott of the Christchurch City Council for charging a visit to Hooters’ Bar to his council funded credit card. And we decried Transpower for spending over a million dollars on a swept up cafeteria in its building for staff when there are plenty of cafes within easy walking distance. 

We also decided that, generally speaking, we would not go after what politicians’ poor performance, bad decisions, and questionable judgements unless there were circumstances to justify our intervention. Much of that is partisan debate and we were simply not going to get involved in every public issue, particularly when there were plenty of others making the same points as we would make.

Yes, that makes us look selective in our criticism, but we have taken on Peter Dunne over the cost of passports, and Len Brown over Auckland’s debt burden. We were also quick to point out that Hekia Parata’s inquiry into the Te Kohanga Reo National Trust asked questions about the wrong body, but we have stood back from the row over Judith Collin’s trip to China. 

In the first matter large sums of public money are involved and the misuse of funds is alleged. In the second, the cost of the Collins trip is not large, and her “crime” is not about the misuse of money. It may be a fine distinction, particularly for those who wish to attack us for existing at all, but it is a real one.

Contributors to our blog pages and tip line are constantly urging us to get involved in issues, whether it’s the funding of programmes promoting recreation and sport, the operation of the ACC scheme, the worth of the defence forces, or whatever else is on their minds.  We would love to be able to question policy matters, and to test whether a wide range of policies actually deliver on their objectives and represent value for taxpayers’ money.

It’s early days.  We only launched in October and we are still reliant to a large degree on volunteer time. Because of that we’re focused on exposing instances of clearly bad, mad and wasted spending - until we have built up our resources to do more.  Our record shows that we’re not favouring one party or another. For example, our exposé of the DOC IT cost blowout is precisely why we were established.

Waste and poor spending are our targets, not people and or partisanship.

 

John Bishop
Chair, New Zealand Taxpayers’ Union


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