Compounding this timing issue is one inherent to public finance itself. Governments raise revenues to cover current commitments. Sometimes these are called "program expenditures," which essentially are bills that have to be paid on an ongoing basis like the salaries of teachers and nurses, social assistance and so forth. These kinds of costs have come to dominate public spending as government commitments have grown, and it is an ongoing challenge to balance these day to day expenditures. Infrastructure spending is "capital," seen as one-off spending so it isn't really accounted for in the revenue equation, the assumption being that in some good years there would be money left over, or worst case, the government could finance infrastructure with borrowing. The problem is that as program expenditures exploded since the 1970s, there was less money "left over," and less willingness to borrow to pay for infrastructure, as governments were often borrowing already to fund deficits for day to day costs. The result was that we saw infrastructure spending plummet from the 1970s onwards, and while it has recovered some of late, the same basic problems remains - where does the money come from to pay it? The solution in many places has been dedicated taxes. These kinds of taxes are surprisingly common in many countries, and especially in those countries that build infrastructure that is envy-inducing for us Canadians.
Why aren't dedicated taxes used more commonly in Canada? It seems to be a case of political culture and institutions, often with a historical context. It is not that we "don't have the money," an absurd position in what is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. I'll talk about these more in my next post, and consider how such barriers might be surmounted, as they will have to be if infrastructure is to become the catalyst that I believe it can be.