Vancouver's Non-Partisan Association started out its election campaign earlier this month putting its emphasis on fighting crime. Then mayoral candidate Peter Ladner said that homelessness was his priority.

But as of Tuesday, Ladner and the NPA decided to make the city budget their priority.  Ladner held a news conference to talk about the NPA's plan for keeping the city budget under control, as people worry about which way the economy is heading. During the news conference, he said he'd talked to one cabbie who said he'd lost 20 per cent of his net worth in the past couple of weeks. I couldn't help thinking -- who is this lucky guy? The last time I went online to check my mutual funds, because the day hadn't gone quite badly enough yet, I was at about the 40-per-cent loss mark.

But I digress. The NPA team realized Monday it needed to do something. Their opponents' platform launch that day got decent coverage -- far more than the NPA did when they launched their platform two weeks ago when people had barely recovered from the federal-election vote.

Picking budget issues was not a bad idea. People are worried and they have no real understanding of how the current economic troubles may affect city budgets and, more importantly, city taxes. So Ladner said he would cap a tax increase at three per cent, which would be quite a feat, since it is currently projected to be close to 10 per cent for 2009. He also stole an idea from Vision's platform, in calling for an auditor to check on whether the city is getting value for money.

So now the NPA is banking (sorry for the pun) its campaign on the bet that people will be more concerned about their own homes and wallets than the homeless, which is what Vision Vancouver's made the central plank of its campaign.

The question now is whether people will respond to that. There's always a core group of voters who just plain hate city taxes and any talk of an increase at all. And the NPA's voter base is composed of a lot of people who watch their pennies. But what about that group of people in the middle, who don't automatically vote right or left. What is going to inspire them more to come to the polls?

Another question is: What is the impact of the current economic troubles likely to be for cities? As I've pointed out in previous posts elsewhere, cities are not as affected by economic declines as much as provincial or federal governments. That's because their revenues are not tied to income and sales taxes and royalties, the way the budgets for B.C. and Canada are. At least two-thirds of most city budgets come from property taxes. Despite what you may fondly be hoping, property taxes don't go down when property values go down -- or at least not when everyone's property taxes are going down. The only time you get a break is when your land goes down in value a lot more than the average.

The biggest hit that this region's municipalities are taking is in building-permit and land-development fees. Surrey, the region's fastest-growin' suburb, has already seen some decline in revenues in land development and Vancouver is expecting to get less than the $33 million in building and development fees originally projected. But that's a relatively small part of the budget.

So then the really interesting question is: How will either of the two parties trying to get control of council deal with what is now projected to be a 10-per-cent tax increase in Vancouver? It's an increase that Vision Vancouver is campaigning to pin squarely on the NPA council that was in power the last three years. You can bet they're going to come out swinging, saying that if the city is having budget problems, it's because of three years of NPA government.

And now the NPA will have to say what it plans to chop out of the budget that it helped create. But Vision Vancouver needs to explain, too, how it is going to get aggressive about ending homelessness while also keeping spending under control.

Unless the whole issue of money turns into a one-day issue in the civic campaign. Do you think it will?