Hurricane Hazel’s secret to good government

by Don C. Brunell

Today, the news of the day is budget cuts and taxes. Whether it is the federal government, the State of Washington or the City of Seattle, governments across the nation face serious revenue shortfalls. Since state and local governments cannot deficit spend like our federal government, elected officials are left with the standard choice of cutting services or increasing taxes.

But there’s a better way. A Canadian mayor has proven that, if you design government to serve the customer (taxpayers) and encourage employers to locate in your city, you can have good government, prosperity — and a job for life.

That’s the case in Mississauga, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto. Mississauga is the sixth largest city in Canada and is debt-free with $700 million (Canadian) in reserves. It is now the fourth most populous incorporated municipality on the Great Lakes, surpassing both Milwaukee and Cleveland over the last decade. From 2001 to 2006 the population increased 9.1 percent.

Mississauga also boasts one of the largest corporate and financial districts in Canada with major international companies such as Microsoft, Wal-Mart, General Electric and PepsiCo locating their Canadian headquarters in the region.

Hazel McCallion, 88, has been Mississauga’s mayor for 31 years. Affectionately called Hurricane Hazel, she received 92 percent of the vote in the last election. A former professional hockey player, Hazel still grabs her skates, hockey stick and puck and hits the ice almost every day in the winter.

Her secret to success is, “look out for your people, keep taxes down and bring lots of jobs into the city.” She has a great sense of humor, boundless energy and doesn’t plan to retire. This is a mayor to die for.

Hazel’s success is rooted in one basic truth: Jobs and taxes are intertwined. If taxes and fees are too high, employers won’t come. Without employers, there are no jobs. It is all about the cost of doing business. Now more than ever, employers have to go where they can earn a profit and compete with companies located across the world.

That point was made abundantly clear in the aerospace competitiveness report commissioned by the Snohomish County Economic Development Council which showed aerospace companies are bypassing Washington in favor of states such as Texas, Kansas and the Carolinas.

While the report doesn’t take much issue with our Business & Occupation tax, which taxes income regardless of profit, it does single out employer costs such as unemployment insurance and workers compensation as very problematic.

Washington employers are pressing the governor and lawmakers to find ways to reduce those costs. Reducing those costs doesn’t mean denying benefits to people who truly deserve them, but it does mean rejecting additional benefits the unions want, such as granting full unemployment benefits to people who voluntarily quit their jobs.

McCallion believes that jobs are the key to prosperity. Mississauga’s master development plan calls for redeveloping its waterfront on Lake Ontario. But the mayor also recognizes the importance of reducing the hurdles government puts in the path of employers who need quick action on permitting and zoning.

Mayor McCallion’s success proves that you can expedite the process without sacrificing quality of life and public safety. In fact, being able to get things done without costly bureaucratic delays generally results in additional jobs and economic opportunities.

Mississauga’s $700 million in reserves during these difficult economic times is unprecedented. But being debt-free with money in the bank didn’t occur overnight. It took a lot of hard work and years of dedication by a mayor who knows that a successful government is one that takes care of its people, keeps taxes low and brings in lots of jobs.

It is a formula we can — and should — follow.

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