A guest post by Simon Lusk:
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff’s targeted rate on accommodation providers is one of the riskiest political moves in New Zealand political history. By charging a small section of the community millions of dollars per year he has created a natural funding stream for his opponents at the 2019 election.
From a straight business perspective he has created a powerful incentive for those who will pay the tax to remove him from office. A sensible right wing mayor elected in 2019 would likely remove the targeted rate, so funding a credible right wing candidate would save businesses tens of millions of dollars. Funding a campaign to remove the mayor and councillors who vote for the targeted rate will cost a fraction of the rate.
Goff’s extensive political experience has not included being directly opposed by a well funded group of people he has personally cost vast amounts of money. If those being forced to pay the targeted rate get moderately organised and fund a sensible right wing candidate over the next two and half years Goff is very, very beatable. So are the councillors, especially the councillors in right wing wards who vote for the targeted rate.
Even if Goff is not beaten, a political near death experience caused by angry hoteliers will likely mean Goff is unwilling to increase this rate every year to cover his budget gap. Removing one or two sitting councillors in 2019 will have a similar effect. Councillors will be terrified they will face a well organised and well funded campaign because their vote has cost businesses a very large amount of money.
Any industry campaign against Goff and councillors who vote for the targeted rate would be completely legal under the Local Electoral Act. Donations to candidates would have to be declared, but any third party campaign asking voters to vote against Goff and against councillors supporting targeted rates would not have to be disclosed. There are no spending limits for negative campaigns against local government candidates, and the Local Electoral Act does not mention campaigning against candidates, only campaigning for candidates.
Goff appears not to have thought through the implications of the targeted rate. It could easily be career ending for him, or leave him with a right wing council for his second term. While the Auckland Mayor has some executive power, a right wing council could prevent him from promoting his agenda a second term.
Simon is right that there is no spending limit in the Local Electoral Act for a campaign against a candidate – only for campaigns for a candidate.