The Weather Up There

August 16, 2011

I spent the last few days trying to pull numbers from my ass. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks but it wasn’t entirely a waste of time either. I did find a couple mismatched socks that I’d long ago written off as hostages taken by my cantankerous dryer.

What really baffles me however is just how easily and often conservative politicians, pundits and thinkers pull off this feat. They are perpetually pulling numbers from their ass and using them as ‘proof positive’ of their various arguments and pet peeves. Why, just last week the mayor went deep and came up with a threatened 35% property tax increase if we don’t get down to some serious slashing and burning of city services and assets. Where’d he get that number? He didn’t pass along any footnotes or references, so we can only assume it came from where the sun don’t shine. Just like the 80% labour costs he tells us that that make up our annual operating budget. Or the 6% attrition rate of city staff that occurs every year. (Actual numbers point to less than 3%.)

Mystical, magical numbers that suit whatever situation the mayor’s railing against, thrown up against the wall to see how long they stick. That one’s done. That’s done. Oh. That one may need a little more cooking.

To be fair to the mayor, the 35% property tax increase number probably didn’t originate from up his ass. It seems to be a figure pulled out from the keister of one Matthew McGuire of the Toronto Taxpayers Coalition. 34% + 1 for good measure. Always round up when looking to scare people. Round down if you need to mitigate the increase to the police salaries you just agreed to.

Where did Mr. McGuire come up with his numbers? Well, I don’t have an MBA from the Rotman School of Business but it looks to me as if he just took the already arbitrary figure of $774 million Team Ford has been using to bludgeon us into submission and calculated what hike in property taxes would be needed to cover that cost. If we did nothing else. As happened every year David Miller was in power. Spend more money. Raise property taxes. Repeat. Years 2003-2010.

(Hey. I just pulled that from my ass. Maybe I am getting the hang of it.)

McGuire floated that number a week or so ago and it was immediately picked up by CityTV news and the receptacle of all things pulled from right wingers asses, talk radio. Stop the presses! Somebody just said something really loopy. Get that man a microphone! City council is a haven for communists? Print it!

Of course, it’s mostly a one-way street on that account. If I were to float something equally as questionable, chances are the press wouldn’t be knocking down my door unless maybe the mayor flipped me off or if I issued death threats. But in terms of policy like, say, Matt Elliott did about budget alternatives. I’m not sure our local mainstream media would be as a quick to set up an interview. Have you been interviewed yet, Matt, on your budget thoughts?

Right wingers float whatever ideas that emanate from their gut and the press is all ears. Nothing is ever too crazy or cracked to pass by unnoticed. It’s just put out there as a starting point for future discussion. Of course a 34 or 35% property tax increase would never happen under any administration but especially our current one. It’s just where the goal posts are planted. Negotiations begin from there. Don’t want a 35% property tax increase? Fine.

Where do we start cutting? Libraries? Grants? Sidewalk snow removal? No wait. That one’s off the table.

In our Matlovian manner, we then desperately search for the middle ground, playing on the field where the lines have just been redrawn. No, no, no. Nobody wants a 35% property tax increase. So let’s settle on the rate of inflation and begin cutting from there. Maybe we can sell off some of our assets instead? The mayor’s heavy lifting has been done for him and all he needed to do was negotiate in bad faith, using dubious numbers he pulled from his ass.

Why don’t we call his bluff? No, no, no. A 35% property tax increase is out of the question. We’re happy with 30%. Of course, the response will inevitably be, are you nuts? To which we respond, are you? You suggested a 35% increase. What? You mean you weren’t serious?

All of which takes me to the clip I’ve been watching over and over again since I first saw it on the season ender of Real Time with Bill Maher. New Rules. The Donner Party. In short, we who don’t adhere to radical right wing ideology need to start bringing the crazy. By playing nice and trying to be reasonable and always searching to find the ‘truth’ somewhere in the mushy middle, we’ve already given up the game. If you try fighting crazy fire with the coolness of logic, you succeed only in moving closer to the crazy not coming to a logical compromise.

HiMY SYeD had it right in his deputation to the Executive Committee last month. Rather than settle for cuts to some libraries, he demanded that we double the number of branches in the city. Why? Mr. SYeD claims libraries increase property values and increased property values increases revenue to the city. Libraries are a creative city’s DNA and engine driving innovation. (A sidenote: The book Mr. SYeD holds up for Councillor Kelly is The Warhol Economy.) Of course, if he were really playing by the crazy rules, Mr. SYeD wouldn’t have offered up any plausible explanations for his reasoning other than, just because or I pulled the number from my ass.

From that starting point, I can envision the conversation going something like: We can’t afford more libraries. Yes but, we can’t afford fewer libraries. That would be the start of some meaningful negotiations.

So let’s all start putting on our crazy dresses and Mr. Peanut tophats and make our demands heard loud and clear. Let’s stop reaching out to find a compromise with half-baked notions and patently false assertions. Let’s be ‘… a dog that can bark at a pine cone for 9 days and not get tired.’

insanely submitted by Cityslikr


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