Heading into this week’s deputation days for the 2014 budget process, it is worth pointing out that the staff recommended budget, as it stands now, remains very much a conservative document. Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly has emphatically stated that, while the mayor, for all intents and purposes, is gone, his fiscal ghost haunts city council still.
Remove the entirely self-inflicted half percent property tax increase dedicated to the building of a Scarborough subway and what’s left is two percent, just under the projected 2.2% uptick in inflation. What that translates into, of course, is less of almost everything. If the real revenue doesn’t pay for the same amount of services or programs as it did in previous years because costs have risen – inflation — that becomes effectively a cut, a reduction.
Aside from the police and emergency services and the TTC (which after 3 years of making do with less and charging users more for that privilege will see an increase in the subsidy it gets from the city but still less, in actual dollars, than it received in 2010), there will be more belt tightening almost everywhere else throughout the city. This is a status quo budget with the status quo being making do with less. Toronto is treading water while still wearing soggy, heavy jeans and thick soled boots.
And my guess is, there’s not much room to push for more revenue generation. With the last few voices of Team Ford already shouting about the return of a tax-and-spend mentality since the loss of key powers by the mayor – a claim not made when the exact same 2.5% property tax increase was passed in 2012 – enough councillors will be skittish of any talk of higher increases. Going into an election year, very few of them will want to risk having their fiscal conservatism challenged.
So, let’s make the 2014 budget debate an election discussion. We need to challenge the prevailing wisdom that running Toronto on the cheap is somehow prudent or virtuous. You get what you pay for and, recently, we haven’t been paying for much. Don’t think so? Try telling your friends and family in Pickering or Mississauga about your municipal tax woes and prepare for them to laugh in your face.
This week’s deputants need to demand a wish list of the services and programs they want. Put them on the table and attach a price tag they’re willing to pay. Dare councillors to go on record as tough-minded public money managers who are willing to strangle the life and vitality out of this city for the sake of a few bucks.
Between today and the end of January when city council finalizes the budget, let’s firmly establish which councillors remain steadfast in their support of our disgraced mayor’s fiscal agenda and force them to explain to their electorate why? Despite this administration’s dubious achievements in savings and enormous outlays of unnecessary costs that hardly add up to what you might normally think of as fiscally conservative, what is it that the remaining defenders of this agenda are actually defending? What future cost will we be paying for a continued insistence that we have a spending problem? That somehow a liveable city, community, neighbourhood simply springs up and out from the rocky ground of mean-spirited, small-minded austerity.
If the 2010 municipal campaign was all about the costs of living in Toronto, 2014 needs to focus on the benefits. How much are we’re willing to pay for those benefits and how far are we willing to extend them throughout the city and into the future. We’re done talking about nickels and dimes. It’s time we moved up to the big money table.
– liberally submitted by Cityslikr