Wednesday, July 27, 2011

All in All, It's just Another Brick in the Wall

Every time I read about this new arena, and the funding that the province is tentatively offering in the form of the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, the only thing I can focus on is the fact that 1000 teachers will be laid off this next September. Alberta's education budget is short $107 million, conveniently only $7 million away from the exact amount the province will be giving to build a new arena.

I have always been an advocate of proper borders; if money is intended to be allocated for one problem, we must maintain focus instead of just frivolously throwing money at whatever problem seems more dire. If we start considering our budget as a large pot of money to be used liberally (Har har.) eventually we lose sight of the bigger picture, and mired in debates like "Shelters or food banks? Roads or sewers?" This means that twenty years down the road we may have solved many problems, but we will be left with no future plans or projects.

In essence we should not simply shuffle the money over because we notice the imbalance, but the discrepancy is telling. It is true that we can not be held hostage to the whims and desires of the education system; if we hand over money whenever it is demanded of us we run the risk of losing the authoritative position we hold, but the shortfall is allegedly based on a previously negotiated contract that was not adequately budgeted for, and it doesn't look good to renege on previous agreements because of poor planning. At the end of the day, education tends to bear the brunt of budget cuts, and the MSI boasts a pool of $886 million this year alone, which is a pretty substantial pot to fix potholes.

The only question would be how long the education board is going to run a deficit. A $100 million investment in an arena, even considering Edmonton's history of going wildly over budget, would be over by the next year, and then self-sustaining. The education payment, however, would only worsen as time, and salaries, went on. Ultimately our province is challenging our teachers to do even more with less, and expecting it to work, but since education is not a business, with no quarterly reports, there is no way to show the damage to the system from funding cuts ("See this child? He is %3 dumber than he would have been.") until many years down the road, and sometimes never.

What I'm saying is that Edmonton should not turn down the money (even if I don't think we need a new arena), because it would just be used elsewhere in a similar fashion, but we should begin to take a closer look at the province's priorities, especially at the dawn of a new premier's reign.

No comments: