Finance Minister promises extra cash for Queenstown "soon"
Finance Minister Grant Robertson flew into a barrage of questions today about more money to fund local growth but could only really offer one word of reassurance - "soon".
The Minister admitted to a Chamber of Commerce business lunch that the proposed national border tax would not go far in addressing the cost of Southern Lakes growth. He firmly slapped down any suggestions that the district might be able to keep a percentage of locally collected GST, a solution being proposed by a group of small to medium accommodation providers.
In an extended interview with Crux, Grant Robertson also defended the very low amount of money so far allocated to the Southern Lakes from the $1 billion Provincial Growth Fund being handled by Regional Development Minister Shane Jones. TVNZ reported this week that the entire South Island had only been given 1% of the fund so far. Mayor Jim Boult was confident two months ago of getting $200 million from the fund, but so far there is no sign of that, or anything else, being confirmed. He said that the South Island and Southern Lakes would be in line for their fair share of the Provincial Growth fund but that it was "early days" and strong bids need to be made for a slice of the $1 billion regional bonanza.
The Finance Minister is adamant though that progress is being made behind the scenes with the QLDC.
The Minister's visit comes at a time when Local Government NZ is pushing hard for more power to shift from Central to Local Government. Local Government NZ President Dave Cull is backing a new plan that is described as Localism. He told Crux in an interview that it was time for local authorities, such as the QLDC, to be able to look at controlling their own taxes and even becoming part of special economic zones.
"The principle we are arguing for here is the ability of local government to levy local taxes of some kind. It'll be different needs. So an example would be in Auckland a local fuel tax was brought in to deal with transport issues. In Queenstown the issues are around tourism infrastructure so that the council has chosen a push for bed tax. It will be different around different parts of the country, but I think special economic zones alongside that could be really, really useful."
You can read the full Localism launch document here.
This is all challenging for a Government that is used to, and reliant on, centralised control of revenue.
However Grant Robertson was sending some hints today that the ice is melting and Wellington is ready to give way to some specialised local taxes.
He's also made it clear today that he expects to see evidence from the QLDC that the tourism industry in Queenstown is united behind one type of solution.
Watch the full interview here with Grant Roberston where he speaks about funding options for Queenstown, the need for any extra local hospital funding to be channeled through the Southern DHB and his hope that the future will involve sustainable, rather than mass, tourism.