I make no claim to be a working class hero. So far I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in decently paid employment. I’ve never relied solely on social welfare, nor have I ever spent any real amount of time unemployed. I’ve also had educational and social opportunities that thousands of my countrymen haven’t since birth, and I will never take any of that for granted. Today I saw my government proudly announce that they’d be doing their best to build a budget around people like me, middle-income family people, while doing the exact opposite.
Throw your memory back around ten months, to the Irish government’s claim that the initial setup cost of Irish Water would be around 180 million euro. Keep that number in mind for a little while – 180 million.
Unpopular an opinion though it may be, I’m not against paying for water. While it’s a natural resource and a basic human right, the maintenance of the water system – which as readers in Roscommon, Leitrim, Galway and (depending on the height of the Lee at any given time ) Cork will know – is shockingly lacking in Ireland, and has been for some time. Simply put, while we’ve been paying for the water system up until now, it’s not actually been doing the required job. The quality of the system’s output, the reliability of its safety, it all needs fixing. For that reason I can absolutely accept that there has to be an increased, shared cost for the citizens of the republic.
Remember, 180 million.
Let’s make a few assumptions for a minute about Irish Water.
Let’s assume that it’s not actually an unnecessary behemoth, designed to do the job of the department of the environment without exposing the civil service to any kind of oversight or criticism if its done badly.
Let’s assume that it’s not actually merely a buffer between a department and its responsibilities, in much the same way NAMA wasn’t set up to protect the department of finance, and the HSE doesn’t exist almost solely as a bureaucratic buffer zone for journalistic criticism for the Department of Health.
Let’s assume also that it isn’t a retirement home for good party boys and girls, rewarded for years of loyal service with cushy board jobs and self-determined bonuses.
Let’s assume that it’s going to exist solely to get the system to a serviceable quality in a timely fashion, and that afterwards its profits will all go back to the state coffers, unlike similar projects in the past (M50 toll, anyone?).
Let’s assume most importantly of all that big Phil Hogan wasn’t talking through his arse when he attacked the partnership programs around the country that have spent two decades actually having a positive impact on the socially marginalised for being “quangos” while setting up the largest quango in the history of the state.
Let’s also ignore all the evidence to the contrary (“it’ll take longer than planned, and we don’t know how long, now shut the fuck up and keep signing our cheques”) and assume that the number above is what it will cost us.
Now, let’s also pretend that the man responsible for managing the state’s finances is allowed to play pretend for the day, and pretend that the water charges aren’t going to happen, because that would totally ruin his super day in the spotlight with the big briefcase and all the cameras.
Today’s budget made significant cuts in the tax liability of specific groups of people. Specifically, the higher tax band was reduced by a percent. That’s the percentage paid on earnings above around 35,000 euro. So that’s great, right? If you’re earning that much you pay more than the poorer earners already, and it’s no harm to have a few extra euro in the back pocket, right?
Actually, yeah. It’s absolutely grand to reduce tax for the higher earners, but – and this is the crux of the point – it’s a bit shit to let the high earners off the hook while doing absolutely fuck all for the lower earners. Consider the following two examples.
I earn 90,000 euro a year, I have 3 kids. I’m up by 750 odd euro a year, or 15 euro a month. Which is great, because in my capacity as a small business owner i now have more disposable income to spend on investing in my business, maybe taking on another part timer, maybe spending a bit more in retail and hospitality and services around the country, and my money is going to go back into the country’s coffers. Sure, I’m going to drop maybe 3 or 400 a year on the water charge, but that’s ok because my tax cut will more than cover it. And not only that, but if little Timmy, Tommy and Tony use more than they should and I end up paying 500 euro a year in water charges, I get 100 more of a cut. so that’s 300+ euro in my pocket that will help generate my part of Enda’s projected 13,000 jobs. COOL BEANS! Money for me, bills paid, jobs created, happy economy. WOOHOO!
Another scenario for you – I earn 30,000 a year. I’m better off by about 200 euro in tax terms, and with or without children what I save is gone to Irish Water. But that’s ok, because the guy that earns more than me will probably make more jobs for me to work, or something.
So where’s the problem? What’s the solution? Well here’s a fucking one – everyone pays the LOWER rate of tax on the first section of their earnings, meaning that a cut to THAT band would have positively affected everyone in employment to a more equitable degree. That’s right, the working rich and the working poor would all have benefitted together. Now I’m not actually for this tax cut. The way I see it, there were two possible ways to pay for the reconstruction of the national water system.
1. Cut taxes for everyone, freeing up some disposable cash to pay the bills, and introduce a separate charge
2. Cut taxes for nobody, and use the tax revenue to pay for the water system directly, without setting up the new superquango.
Fine Gael found a third way, namely
3. Cut taxes for the wealthy in the vain hope that jobs will be created, while billing EVERYONE THE FUCKING SAME for the water. And if anyone thinks for a split second that the jobs created will be anywhere near the average industrial wage, or even half that, or even full-time, or even a hair above Jobsbridge level, they’re insane. The money saved will be going directly into paying down personal debt, of which this country has a staggering amount. And yeah, some of it will help fill up the tills closer to christmas, but history has shown over and over and over again that when the country is broke (as we are, in case anyone had forgotten) the choice is simple – everyone pays together or everyone suffers.
180 million. Remember that number? If all idealists are to believe the honest, truthful words in January, that’s what the government want you to believe Irish Water will need to fix our broken pipes and rancid faucets.
585 million. That’s the number that was given away in tax breaks today. In other words, Michael Noonan gave away over three times what he claims we need to raise in water charges.
And the breaks are just for the rich. But the charges are for us all.
Did I miss something?
(originally posted at Blumpkine)