‘It’s your decision’, says panel looking into HST

Like most things to do with the HST, an independent panel’s report released last week on the harmonized sales tax depends on your point of view.

Like most things to do with the HST, an independent panel’s report released last week on the harmonized sales tax depends on your point of view.

Chilliwack MLA John Les, an HST proponent, called the panel’s report “very balanced” and “very fair.”

“I would encourage people to read this report,” he said. “It’s not a sales job, it’s an honest evaluation.”

But Chilliwack resident Ben Besler, an active member of the anti-HST movement, was also “very happy with the findings,” which showed the HST is not revenue neutral – making it a “tax grab” in his eyes – and hikes the tax bill of each B.C. family by an average $350.

“It’s the worst possible model of the HST they could give us,” he said, in part because B.C. does not have control over regulation of the tax, like Quebec.

“We’re not in control of the administration of the tax, it’s handed over to the feds,” he said.

But the report goes on to say the HST will lead to a $2.5 billion growth in the provincial economy by 2020, or about $830 per family.

“The HST taxes the growing part of our economy – services – and will provide extra revenue to fund hospitals, schools, roads and other important services you rely on,” the report states.

Going back to the PST/GST system will put a $531-million hole in the provincial budget “in the first year alone,” the report continues, as $1.6 billion in transition money must be refunded to the federal government.

“It’s not a simple choice before you,” the panel members said. “It’s your decision.”

A province-wide referendum on going back to the PST/GST system is now scheduled for June 24.

Fraser Valley residents will have the chance to talk to B.C. government ministers about the HST during a “tele-town hall” starting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 10.

Everyone with a publicly listed number will get a call, and a recorded message will ask if you want to take part in the discussion, and provide further details on how to put questions to the ministers.

The independent panel’s report is available online at www.hstinbc.ca

Les agreed the government’s early estimates of a revenue-neutral tax, and the number of jobs created were overly optimistic, but returning to the PST/GST system will benefit small businesses.

It’s also a “progressive” tax that affects those who spend more, and there is a rebate program for low-income wage earners.

Besler said he personally would rather pay back the money owed the federal government than be paying increased taxes “forever.”

He also said “political pressure” could be applied to the Conservative to reduce the amount of the payback.

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