The Real Tax Bogeyman

June 10, 2013

A local anti-tax advocacy group responded to the news of an updated $248 million surplus as proof that we are ‘very, very over-taxed.’ taxburden1It’s a sentiment that pretty much parrots the thinking of Mayor Ford who saw the surplus as a sign he could begin trimming the Land Transfer Tax in order to make partially good on his campaign promise to eliminate it all together. It wasn’t a promise out of line with most of his opponents. George Smitherman talked of how the city was nickel and diming residents. Joe Pantalone — David Miller’s deputy mayor – hopped aboard the anti-tax boat mid-stream, pledging to ditch the vehicle registration tax he’d helped to usher in.

It’s hard to be a tax-and-spender these days.

Why? BECAUSE IT’S MY MONEY, DAMMIT!! Unlike the streets, the schools, the police, etc., etc. taxationisthefttax money goes to providing for everyone.

This anti-tax pressure is especially acute at the municipal level.

Why? Because municipalities in this province are forced to rely so heavily on one form of taxation as its primary source of revenue. Property taxes.

There’s something really visceral about paying property taxes. It’s like an attack on your home and hearth. An article flagged by Rowan Caister today about the 35th anniversary of California’s Prop 13 which severely restricted the state’s ability to utilize property taxes as a source of revenue suggests to me that it was the source of a generation’s groundswell of anti-taxation fervour. Not to mention an important factor in the steady erosion of California’s economy over the past three+ decades.

(And doesn’t Howard Jarvis, the proposition’s point man, bear the same classic phenotype as almost every other anti-tax, anti-government zealot who has come after him?)

howardjarvis

Since property taxes make up such a big slice of Toronto’s revenue pie, it’s intuitive to then assume we’re paying too much or are being gouged. Nearly 40% of the city’s revenues came from property taxes (page 28 of PDF) in the 2013 budget. That’s a lot of taxes we’re paying, right?

Well…

Here in Toronto we still pay lower residential property taxes than any other municipality in the GTA. Even factoring in property values, the city winds up right in the middle of the pack. (Check out Joe Drew’s excellent analysis.) taxmanSo when someone claims that we are very, very over-taxed, I have to ask: Compared to… ? Not our municipal neighbours, surely. What then? The 1950s?

This is not a call necessarily to raise our property taxes although I will call bullshit on anyone claiming ours are too high already. Property taxes are not the ideal revenue tool for adapting to changing economic situations. They tend to be years behind reflecting reality. They’re relatively inelastic, I think the economic term is.

We need to diversify how we generate revenue. Consider how other municipalities around the world are equipped to do so. Check out Table 2 in Enid Slack’s  A Report to the London Finance Commission. In addition to property taxes, there are sales taxes, land transfer taxes, hotel taxes, beer and liquor excise taxes, income taxes, payroll taxes. Tokyo even has something called a ‘hunter tax’. taxesareevilA hunter tax?!

Of course, for Mayor Ford and all his acolytes, this has never been about reforming Toronto’s system of taxation. We were heading in that direction with the power bestowed in the City of Toronto Act. The Vehicle Registration and Land Transfer taxes (hardly unique by international comparison) took steps toward revenue diversification but were roundly defeated in the 2010 election campaign.

The only good tax is a dead tax, it seems. And I ain’t talking an estate tax neither. Councillor Doug Ford summed up the ghosts of Howard Jarvis sentiment perfectly last year when he declared all taxes to be evil.

Such short-sighted selfishness has held sway for too long now, and much to the detriment of our crumbling infrastructure and sorry lack of recent transit building. It just isn’t good enough anymore to cross your arms and shake your head no. It doesn’t get subways built or roads paved.

texaschainsawmassacre

It simply sponges off the sacrifices made by previous generations and stiffs future ones with the bills we were too cheap to pay.

freeloadingly submitted by Cityslikr


Suck It Up, Losers

February 22, 2013

spite

During Wednesday’s city council debate over the Striking Committee’s appointment recommendations to the Executive and Budget Committees, Matt Elliott asked, “What would this administration do if they didn’t have so much spite to fuel them?”

Spite? That sounds absolutely benign compared to what some raging right wingers hurled around council chambers over the course of the past few days. Witness Councillor Mike Del Grande vituperative outburst. The sound a black hole makes when it’s collapsing into itself. (Video clips courtesy of Matt  Elliott).

To the victors go the spoils. Just like Jesus Christ himself said. To which the Romans replied, Hey, guy. You’re a carpenter, right? How be you build us a cross. We’ll bring some extra nails.

While the tone of the councillor’s screed was astounding, the really telling aspect of it was the claim he made early on in his speaking time. “… and we were denied getting on certain committees [during the Miller administration]. And the reason was, the mayor at the time decided who he wanted on and who he didn’t want on, and one of the early criteria was the bridge to the airport. Bridge to the airport. If you weren’t onside with the bridge on the airport, you were automatically discounted. So that was the key. And I remember going to talk to Deputy Mayor Pantalone at the time, and he made it very clear. That vote was important to the mayor, and that’s what differentiated whether you got positions or not.”

In other words, every mayor has an agenda and if you’re not on board, you’re on the outside looking in. So suck it up, lefties. That’s how things have always been done at City Hall.

Except for the fact, well, I’ll let Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby explain.

“Mayor Miller had an Executive Committee after the City of Toronto Act. I sat on that committee. He knew that I did not support – I mean, I did support the bridge to the city airport. He knew that. But he still asked me to sit on that Executive Committee, even though knowing that I am a conservative and that I would not support him on every vote, and I certainly did not.”

Oops.holdonsec

Now hey, who’s to say that Mayor Miller and his deputy mayor didn’t tell Councillor Del Grande and Speaker Frances Nunziata or Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday — who have both also endlessly complained about how they were sidelined during the previous administration (although, as noted by Councillor Paula Fletcher after Mr. Holyday’s similar themed left out in the cold rant this week that he was, in fact, chair of the Audit Committee under David Miller, just like he is currently) — that there was an anti-bridge litmus test for anyone wanting to get key positions? Maybe it was just a more diplomatic way of going about it. After watching their respective performances while in power over the course of the last couple years, isn’t it quite possible nobody in their right mind would choose to spend any more time than they had to in the company of such flinty, carping, divisive people?

That fact of the matter is, even the most cursory search through the archives of amalgamated Toronto will quickly show that the Ford Administration is by far the most exclusionary administration this city’s ever had. Neither Mel Lastman nor David Miller demanded such blind loyalty based solely along strict ideological lines as Rob Ford has. To argue otherwise is nothing less than to embrace revisionist history. It is perpetuating a basic untruth.

wipeclean

Which brings us to an even more problematic point. The appropriation of rightful anger, resentment and a feeling of exclusion purely for political purposes.

There should be no doubt that far too many residents in this city, entire under-served neighbourhoods and communities, have been excluded, neglected and sidelined in terms of economic development, transit, planning and representation. They have every right to be pissed off and resentful. That tune sung by many of their councillors, none louder and prouder than Rob Ford, hit the right chord for them. It sounded like fellow travellers.

The big difference, however, is that the isolation and bitterness spewed by the likes of Rob Ford, Doug Holyday, Frances Nunziata, Mike Del Grande was entirely self-imposed. Each of them chose to varying degrees not to play along with the previous administration because they did not agree with the agenda. And now they try to propagate a mythology of exclusion that does not hold up even to the slightest push against it. Councillor Del Grande’s is demolished within a minute by Councillor Lindsay Luby.upyours

These hardcore right wing ideologues were angry but not for the same reason many of those voting for them were angry. They frothed the anger in much of the electorate and used it to gain power. Achieving that, it’s all become about settling political scores and getting even while doing absolutely nothing to address the roots of the discontent and isolation that swept them into office.

In no way do any of them reflect the true outsider status many of their constituents actually experience. Taking their cue from Mayor Ford, they merely exploit it. To build walls and divisions that having nothing to do with good governance or positive public service. It’s all about laying waste to their opponents and playing the politics of destruction.

Thinks I’m exaggerating? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Burning Rage of a 1000 Nunziatas”. (phraseology h/t @ManuvSteele).

ragedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Gig’s Up

January 24, 2013

It’s impossible to accurately predict a turning point of an era, let’s call it, while still living in that particular time. seethefutureUnless of course you have planes flying into buildings. That kind of catastrophic plot point writes itself. But in a period of relative normalcy on a scale of one for placid calm and ten for, Run For Your Lives, Jesus Has Returned!, you can never be certain when things have taken a most definite turn.

But allow me to go on record as saying I think yesterday, January 23rd 2013, was a turning point of the Mayor Ford Era here in Toronto. Now, now. I know lots of you will quickly jump in and claim that there have been so many turning points over the course of the last couple years, how could I pick just this one. You would not be wrong. I just think yesterday all the air that remained came out of the hot air balloon that once carried Rob Ford aloft.behindthecurtain2

The prick (ha, ha) that did it?

Matt Elliott at Metro’s Ford For Toronto, Debunking Ford Nation’s favourite budget chart. I will take it one step further. Mr. Elliott’s article debunks the very platform upon which the Ford Nation was constructed. City Hall’s fiscal foundations were crumbling due to out-of-control spending by the Miller Administration. The Gravy Trains must be stopped. Councillor Rob Ford was the man to do it.

It was the flimsiest of canards, and not one used only by then candidate Ford. He just perfected it. Coincidentally, this week is the 3rd anniversary of Rocco Rossi announcing his mayoral run chickenlittle(h/t to the Toronto Star’s David Rider for sending a reminder out). He too was full of municipal spending/debt alarmism based on little more than pronouncements of big, scary numbers. “He [Rossi] is prepared to sell off assets such as Toronto Hydro,” Vanessa Lu wrote, “to put the city on a better financial footing by cutting the city’s debt, now hovering near $2.5 billion.”

George Smitherman wasn’t above such cheap politicking, talking about how the city was nickel and diming residents to death and ‘restoring Toronto’s financial credibility’. Not for nothing, Mayor Ford recently claimed (albeit in typical Fordian hyperbole) that 80% of voters in the 2010 election backed his mandate. Meaning, I guess, everyone who didn’t vote for Joe Pantalone.

And all of it was nonsense, baseless assertions that opened the door for the Ford administration to run amok and slash and burn which was their intention all along, notwithstanding a rock solid pledge that there’d be “No Cuts To Services, Guaranteed”. texaschainsawmassacreAn easy line to follow that fit perfectly on a t-shirt and bumper sticker. It doesn’t have to be true if it’s snappy.

This isn’t to say that all’s pollyannishly well and good. Toronto does face some financial hurdles. Reeling in overspending just doesn’t happen to be one of them. As Matt (and most other reasonable political minds around these parts) has pointed out over and over again, we can’t fix major problems like congestion and crumbling infrastructure by slicing away at our annual operating budgets or attacking unions or contracting out services or selling off assets or a combination of all those things. Those numbers simply don’t add up.

Reducing revenues won’t help out either. This Team Ford’s done by not only getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax but by also ensuring we keep our residential property taxes insufficiently low. A clear-eyed examination of the facts will reveal the mayor’s claim of over-zealous tax-and-spending of the previous administration to be outright misinformation based on de-contextualized charts and misleading graphs.

We haven’t been having a truthful conversation about this city’s finances for over three years now. All to our detriment. As we head into more uncertain territory over the next few months – Tnot just in terms of the outcome of Mayor Ford’s legal ups-and-downs but the Metrolinx forthcoming report on future transit funding – we really need to start dealing honestly and in an informed way with our current circumstances.

Hopefully Matt Elliott has finally put a stake through the heart of the Legend of Toronto’s Profligacy. It was never a thing. We need to get past it now and start working on the real problems we’re facing.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


Playing Politics

October 5, 2012

Try to parse the dark logic of this.

In the end, city council voted unanimously (with a few notable abstentions) to adopt the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman’ report into the civic appointment process conducted last year by the Civic Appointments Committee. Recommendations a handful of councillors and the mayor vehemently argued at council and/or in the media were unnecessary because the problems they are intended to address never occurred in the first place. Or, in the always blithely oblivious words of Councillor Norm Kelly, “… the Ombudsman is fixing something that is not broke.”

Only could a hardcore ideologue or someone completely disengaged with the reality swirling around him sit through this week’s fiery council debate, shrug his shoulders and conclude, what’s the problem? This, coming from a guy who sits right beside the budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande. At the height of the viciousness being tossed around at council chambers yesterday, Del Grande stood up on a point of privilege to essentially wipe his hands of the proceedings, disgusted with the gutter tone it had descended into, claiming he’d never been a part of anything like it in all his time in office.

As any of our regular readers know, I am not a fan of the budget chief. He represents almost everything I dislike in right wing politicians. And not for nothing was he once dubbed, Cardinal Mike Del Grandstand.

But in this, I have to say, his repulsion felt genuine. He talked kindly of gentlemanly behaviour at previous councils towards him by Joe Pantalone. His abhorrence at the fight over the Ombudsman’s report crossed political lines.

This is both good news and bad news for Mayor Ford.

The Ombudsman’s report and ensuing debate over it saw him abandoned by almost all of his natural allies. Not only did the budget chief walk away but other conservative councillors kept their distance. You heard nothing from councillors David Shiner or Karen Stintz. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday stood and expressed complete and utter incredulity at why council was spending so much time on this debate. The recommendations in the report were clear and good. Let’s just get on with it. At one point of time, the deputy mayor could be seen standing on the periphery of the chambers, glaring in the direction of Councillor Mammoliti, looking as if he couldn’t bring himself to be sitting in the same row as his colleague.

Even Mayor Ford’s bad lieutenant of devious doings, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong steered cleared. There was no upside to be seen going to bat for the mayor on this issue.

Only those must entrenched and (not coincidentally members of the Civic Appointments Committee) stood with Mayor Ford. Much has been rightly made of the bully antics of Councillor Mammoliti but the true depths were dredged by Speaker Frances Nunziata. Assuming her councillor seat, her 7 minute speaking time extended to at least 15 minutes with all the points of order and privilege demanded by those she shrilly huffed and puffed and hurled baseless accusations at. It was during this time, the budget chief rose, castigated his colleagues and left the chambers.

Which may represent the silver lining of all this for the mayor.

All the hurly burly created by his defenders helped impugn not only the integrity of the Ombudsman’s report but that of city staff as well in at least the minds of his most ardent supporters. ‘Politically motivated’ they managed to insert into the debate and got the chatter of it being nothing more than a he said-she said, hearsay document despite the fact that all the non-material evidence in it being sworn to under oath. They demanded names and documentation, ultimately revealing only their supreme ignorance of how the work of the city’s Accountability Officers is effectively conducted.

Yet, when all was said and done, despite the protestations of innocence and claims of partisan, political attacks inflicted upon them by the office of the Ombudsman, they voted (with the exception of councillors Kelly and Mammoliti who stepped out of the chambers when the vote was held) to accept the report’s findings and adopt its recommendations. How couldn’t they? After all, Councillor Doug Ford said over and over how the administration was dedicated to openness, accountability and transparency. For them, to vote against receiving the Ombudsman’s report would be nothing more than trying to suck and blow at the same time.

The only element of ‘politics’ introduced into all this was done on behalf of the administration. To accept the Ombudsman’s finding without attempting to denigrate it first was tantamount to admitting mistakes had been made (and I’m being very generous with that assessment). And we all know, Mayor Ford and his closest advocates are loathe to admit to mistakes. Ever.

Instead unsubstantiated allegations were thrown out against everyone and anyone. The Ombudsman, council colleagues, city staff all came under fire from Team Ford. At one point, Councillor Ford said that whatever may’ve happened, the mayor’s hands were clean. Not that the report ever named the mayor specifically, only referring to the mayor’s staff. No matter. The mayor was above reproach.

But that’s not exactly how things are supposed to work.

From the 2010-2014 Council Handbook:

2.14 Councillor staff – conduct and policies

Councillor staff, when acting in their role as a representative of the Councillor, must comply with the Code of Conduct for Members of Council (see page 100). Councillors are responsible for ensuring that their staff understand their obligations and responsibilities.

(h/t to Jude MacDonald)

Certainly the same goes for the mayor and his staff.

But accountability, it would seem, only applies to others and previous administrations. Demanding it from the mayor’s office and his most rabid supporters is just playing politics.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 214 other followers