Taxing My Patience

December 11, 2012

Just a quick slapdash entry after deputations on the 2013 budget wrapped up this afternoon. madhatterHopefully it will appear entirely different from my regular slapdash efforts.

Mike Del Grande. Councillor Mike Del Grande. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande.

Mike Del Grande, Mike DelGrande, MikeDelGrande, mikedelgrande…

Despite listening to over 200 deputants, none of whom I heard demand their taxes be cut, and a litany of the usual suspect downtown lefty councillors suggesting their constituents would prefer a better city over lower taxes, our budget chief doesn’t buy any of that nonsense. People don’t like paying taxes. End of story. Let’s move on.

How does our budget chief know this? By a rigorous examination of a solid, evidence based study, OK? Voluntary repayment of the Vehicle Registration Tax back to the city. All these people, coming down to plead their case in front of the Budget Committee year after year, all the bleeding hearts the likes of Councillor Janet Davis meets in her ward, all saying they would happily pay more in tax. Well? Where are they, the budget chief wonders. Certainly not filling the city coffers out of the goodness of their hearts, let him tell you.

Now, I don’t have a car, thus don’t pay the VRT but if I did and didn’t have to pay the VRT because the Ford Administration is averse to that kind of revenue generation, nothankyouthe last place I would be returning that money saved is to a City Hall run by a gang of far right, anti-government ideologues. All taxes are evil, as far as the likes of Councillor Doug Ford is concerned. Yeah… sure. Here’s my rebate, Mr. Budget Chief. Please do something nice with it, OK?

Instead, I know a couple people who have diligently used the $60 they saved when renewing their car sticker and donated it to places hurt by recent city cuts – i.e. the library. So, the budget chief’s certainty that people don’t like paying taxes based on a lack of returns back to the city is based on, what do you call it, an inadequate sampling? Nonsense? Pure and utter bullshit?

On top of which, taxation really only works as a collective enterprise. Elective participation in handing over one’s hard earned cash doesn’t tend to fill the coffers like a compulsory obligation. It only fully functions if we’re all in it together, contributing. Some more, some less but none voluntarily.

I’d like to think my willingness to pay taxes is based on an absolute selflessness. That I am constitutionally more inclined to help out the ‘widows and orphans’ than our budget chief is. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.taxation

From an unequivocally selfish perspective, I want to pay more for better transit (which I don’t depend on), for fewer people forced to live on the streets (I have a house), for free recreational programs (which I’ve never taken) because it means the lives of other people (mostly who I don’t know but share this city with) are made just a little bit better, a little more liveable, their prospects of a better life just a little brighter. Why does that matter to me? The possibility of them being able to contribute more significantly and positively will make this a better city for me to live in.

And I can’t do that single-handedly, giving back my VRT or making some other voluntary contribution to the likes of Mike Del Grande. Taxation only works en masse. Everybody pitching in what they can.

It’s disheartening that the person in charge of spending billions and billions of dollars annually either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t believe it.

taxingly submitted by Cityslikr


Deputing Dog

December 12, 2011

Lucas Costello gave his first public deputation last Thursday in Committee Room #1 in front of the Budget Committee. Watch it here. (h/t to Jonathan Goldsbie for tracking it down. Begins at the 58’ 10”.) Today, Mr. Costello offers a post-mortem of the proceedings.

*  *  *

You can fight City Hall. Seriously.

As Cityslikr stated here last week, the public deputations process is political theatre. However, as was seen with the decision to “save” student nutrition programs, when deputants come in heavy (I’ll explain how in just a second) and can paint pro-cuts/Team Ford councillors as miserly penny-pinchers intent on taking food from the mouths of babes in order that car drivers continue to be subsidized, engaged citizens can make an impact. Standing back away from the fight, allows all those mystical Tim Horton’s voters to inform the mayor’s decision making.

Some thoughts upon my first ever deputation and how to make it even better next time.

-          Observe

In person if you can. (Rogers livestreaming for the monthly council meetings and other committees deemed important if you can’t.) I attended the two all night Executive Committee meetings earlier this year. Being there in person also increases the likelihood of meeting some like-minded folks in Committee Room 2.

-          Pick your battle

Do you have a particular program in mind that you want to save? Or are you just outraged with the fiscal mismanagement and shell games this current administration has been playing with our city’s budget, programs, transit, shelters, daycares, etc.

  • If the former, find out what other similar programs exist within the amalgamated city. I guarantee you there’s a parent/citizens/advocacy group in every corner of Toronto that’s feeling the same way. Some councillors assume that we Torontonians do not think of the city as a whole and try to exploit that division for political gain. I disagree with that line of thinking, and I imagine if you’re wanting to give a deputation, you probably do to.
  • If it’s just a general, overarching disenchantment with the direction Mayor Ford is taking the city, approach your friends who you consider good speakers and try to submit your deputation requests via e-mail at the same time. This way you’ll have a cluster of people speaking to the same issue back-to-back, or one person stating grievances, the next person offering solutions, the next grievances, and so on.

-          Prepping your deputation

FACTS

Anecdotes, are great, and hey, they worked to kill the Jarvis bike lanes but you my fellow deputant are going to show up with statistics, numbers, and dollar amounts.

Why? Because we are in the middle of a battle for control of the narrative. So many false dollar amounts and tax percentages have been flying around during the budget process, it’s easy to get confused. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some councillors are still telling their residents that a 34% tax increase is looming if we don’t hack away services and bring city workers into line. Such an egregiously false figure is not on the table and never was.

Get in touch with your local councillor to find out what services, shelters, daycares, bus routes etc are up for closure, delays, shortened service. This might help to personalize your deputation a bit more.

Oh, your councillor says these cuts are necessary? Well, you’ve been watching previous deputations throughout the year, right? So that means you know which councillors in your surrounding area may be more amenable to helping you fight the good fight. All councillor e-mail contacts are available at toronto.ca. Over at Ford For Toronto, Matt Elliott has a helpful primer for you to check out what each councillor have been up to.

He’s not alone. There are many great resources out there in the City Hall watching world. Aside from Elliott, there’s David Hains at The Clamshell and Edward Keenan of the Grid, Hamutal Dotan and the Torontoist gang to name a few. Email them with questions and check out their Twitter accounts. You’ll find them pretty good at responding to queries. Along with them, many of us nerds are engaged in a 140 character (or less) battle in the #TOpoli #TOcouncil searches. Join in. Give a holler.

Check, check, and re-check your numbers. An eloquently delivered, well thought out presentation can ultimately be undermined by one councillor fixating on one incorrect number, amount or percentage. Stupid, right? But that’s how it goes.

And finally, no Hitler references. Ever. No. Ever. Never. Ever.

-          Rehearse

Welcome to the the-a-tuh! I didn’t really rehearse my deputation, and wish I had. Even if you can’t corral a couple of friends into deputing, try to run it by a sympathetic ear in order to a) time it; and b) to find out what points need clarification. I could have shaved 30 seconds off mine had I done this.

Come deputation day(s)…

City Hall releases the full list of deputants the day of the committee meeting. Not exactly schedule friendly I know, but, if you have your own small child, bring them as it will be an educational experience and you just might get bumped to the top of the list!

-          Visual Aids

There’s a way to hook up a laptop to the committee room projector but depending on how cagey the chair of the committee is they may use any set up time against your deputation time, meaning 3 minutes has suddenly dwindled to 2’ 30”. So unless you have a tech savvy friend guaranteed to be by your side as a power point presenter, go old school. Keep visual aids basic and easy to use. The projector may come in handy to help highlight one important point or even frame your deputation. Had I thought ahead, I would have just printed out the question that Edward Keenan put forward last week, “How are we making Toronto a better city?” Simple, effective and cheap.

-          The deputation

You’ve rehearsed it, so it’s going to be awesome, don’t worry. Be brave and have fun. Yes, it will be a bit unnerving to have a bunch of angry (mostly white) dudes (and one or two ladies) staring at you, yawning, falling asleep, shaking their head, glowering etc, but don’t worry. That’s what they are paid to do. It’s their job to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible if they disagree, oh wait…that’s not right. They’re supposed to be supportive of public input, aren’t they?

 

Well, such pushback is one thing that rehearsal might not prepare you for, so heads up!

-          The question(s)

This is actually the fun part, where the magic happens! Some of your elected officials not persuaded by the arguments you just put forth, if they don’t simply ignore you, will sometimes take personal shots or try to undermine your well prepared and thoughtful deputation with irrelevant and bizarre questions. This isn’t a trial, so I would say feel free to answer the dumber questions with a question in return. (For example: Do you drive? Reply: I do/don’t but do you take the bus?)

However, since you’ve been watching past committee meetings, you probably have an idea who these councillors are. Some have a real knack for running down the clock so that their question actually ends up being a statement. In this situation, I think you’re fully within your right to anticipate the question and give your answer. You may be called belligerent but that’s neither here nor there. In the truncated versions these more high profile public deputations sessions become, there’s only one minute for questions, so feel free to get in as many salient points as possible. Also, councillors may try to say things like, “I just want a yes or no answer” (kind of gives you insight into the lack of scope some councillors have at times). Again, I say feel free to reply with a question.

Remember, you are not on trial. City councillors are public servants. You are the public.

There are also those councillors who have your back, and will offer up softball questions which can give you room for more questions or, if you’re so inclined, make direct statements at specific councillors.

Be warned though, varying reactions may occur!

That’s it. You, my fellow traveler, have completed your first deputation. However, the work is not done.  We are going to go through this budgeting process under the Ford administration at least two more times with our public services under constant threat. So tell your friends in all corners of the city why it’s not only vital that they take the time to depute but also exciting and invigorating. Yes, you can make a difference. Chances are if they are your friend, they share interests similar to yours and have insights that you won’t. The more often we get different people, from different neighbourhoods giving public deputations (or just generally speaking out), the more cracks we can put in this idea of it being just “the usual suspects” at City Hall.

Because remember, the ‘usual suspects’ are simply an engaged citizenry concerned with the welfare of the city they live in. That’s you, right? So what are you waiting for? Step up, be brave and have fun.

submitted by Lucas Costello


Fun With Numbers

December 4, 2011

774.

Let’s forget that number ever existed. As explained by Hamutal Dotan in the Torontoist on Monday, it was little more than an accounting trick, the roughest of estimates in order to begin the yearly budget process. Routine practice, in other words, never intended by anyone other than Team Ford to be taken seriously as a number that truly had to be wrestled, Jacob or Hercules-like, into submission down to a zero balance.

258 is more like it.

$258 million is really the number that has to be tamed. In terms of a $9+ billion budget, almost a rounding error. 2.8666666% to be more exact. Nothing a proper and modest increase in revenues wouldn’t easily handle. And no, a 2.5% property tax increase is neither proper nor modest especially coming a year after a property tax freeze. A 2.5% property tax increase is, in fact, improper and irresponsible, unnecessarily limiting the city’s ability to meet its budgetary demands. It just gives the appearance of being fiscally prudent.

Which is what this entire budget process has been all about: appearances. The big scary 774 number was simply being used to give the appearance of a budget precipitously close to the brink of disaster, out of control spending run amok. The ugly stick used to beat us into fearful submission of an oncoming train wreck if we don’t pull up hard on the brakes. Ballast needs to be tossed over for the city to stay afloat. Fasten your seat belts, folks. We’re in for a very, very bumpy ride ahead. (How’s that for your trifecta of trains, planes and hot air balloons analogies?)

Then, come Monday, and staff delivers a budget presentation that’s not as dire or drastic as feared. Tax hikes aren’t as big and brutal as the numbers that were being floated beforehand, and please, look away from the proposed user fees. Cuts weren’t as deep as they could’ve been. Look, folks. We had 105 wading pools we could’ve cut. We only axed 5! There were 59 outdoor pools on the chopping block. We pardoned 57. Library branch closures? Pshaw. We only want to ‘adjust’ hours. If you don’t count dialysis patients, we didn’t lay a glove on WheelTrans.

Oh yeah. It’s bad, folks. But it could’ve been a whole lot worse. Like our friend David Hains at The Clamshell said after the meeting, it’s like the schoolyard bully who threatens kids with both a beating and taking their lunch money. When he only takes the lunch money, it almost feels like a relief. It could’ve been a whole lot worse.

This doing great battle with a great big number also gives the appearance of tough choices being made by tough politicians. “It’s too bad the rest of the world doesn’t have the courage to do what we are doing today, ” Budget Chief Del Grande said, while refraining from beating his chest and grunting triumphantly. The few, the proud, the brave politicians, going where angels fear to tread, to slay an imaginary number. It’s a budgetary fish story. You should’ve seen it, guys. It was really this big. Budget Chief as Baron Munchausen.

In reality, there are no tough choices on offer here. Filling a hole deliberately made larger – although nowhere near as large as you claim — by your own fiscal imprudence on the backs of those most dependent on the services the city provides can hardly be called ‘tough’ or brave or novel. That’s what right wing politicians do. Nothing to see here, folks. Just business as usual.

Perhaps most egregious in this opportunistic touting of misleading numbers is its ingraining into the political discourse the idea that the city’s near broke, and only a monumental display of austerity can bring it back from the brink. It’d be hunky dory to be environmentally minded. Wouldn’t it be great to provide affordable daycare? World class transit? You betcha. If only we could afford it.

“Nice to haves” as the mayor likes to refer to them. Those things that elevate a city from a mere functioning, nuts and bolts, utilitarian place to live to one people flock to, from all over the world because of the endless opportunities on offer. That’s the gravy our mayor, his team and the city staff have targeted. The building blocks to a truly liveable, equitable and great city. Unaffordable, we’re being told, the root cause to our out of control spending. Somehow the building of a better city can only come after we dismantle it, pool by pool, library book by library book, bus route by bus route.

Sorry, folks. Our hands are tied. Numbers don’t lie.

Maybe.

Same can’t be said of some politicians.

resubmitted by Cityslikr


Irony 101

November 2, 2011

Stop the Presses!

I was right in the middle of another post for today, desperately trying to set aside my agitation with the guest columnist op-ed by our budget chief, Mike Del Grande, in today’s Toronto Sun. Why, oh why do I insist on thumbing through the Sun before having a hearty breakfast? Get your tasks for the day done before sitting down with that paper because you know you’re going to be driven to distraction by it. Or at least, just go to the sports section first, ease yourself into the nonsense.

Besides, David Hains over at The Clamshell already took the budget chief’s piece to task. No need for a pile on. Just close the paper up, back away slowly and get on with your day…

But here’s the thing.

What exactly is Budget Chief Del Grande trying to accomplish, mewling and moaning about agenda driven media outlets in what is the most hyper-partisan newspaper in the city, the Toronto Sun? Oh, the Toronto Star is out to get the mayor. The CBC has ‘… lost their journalistic compass.’ This he has the temerity — no, the chutzpah — to write in the pages of the Toronto Sun?!

As I tweeted earlier this morning, Google ‘Toronto Sun’ and ‘David Miller’, see what pops up. “David Miller’s magical makeover”. “David Miller’s math still vefuddling.” “David Miller’s nightmare still unfolding before our eyes.” Better still, Google ‘Toronto Sun’ and ‘David Miller’ and ‘Sue-Ann Levy’. “The latest leftover bull from David Miller”.

So the budget chief takes to the pages of the same newspaper that hounded, derided, mocked the previous mayor, even going as far as running a cartoon that compared David Miller to Adolf Hitler (unable to find a copy of it, alas; only references to it), to decry the agenda driven motives of other media outlets? All this shows is that our budget chief is oblivious to the meaning of irony. He should’ve just stood inside a glass enclosed green house and threw rocks.

Actually, I’m wrong. What his piece in the Sun actually proves is that the budget chief is nothing but a rigid, small government ideologue whose intent all along was to cut the city down to size. “Our mayor was elected because voters perceived him as a simple guy,” the budget chief writes, “the people’s mayor, who would clean up City Hall.

But last year’s election is clearly not over for news outlets like the Star and CBC.

Apparently they cannot stand to think changes in the way City Hall operates are imminent, and they will do all they can, not to offer any alternative, but to derail them, simply for the pleasure of saying, ‘I told you so’.”

Only partially right, councillor. Mayor Ford may’ve been perceived as ‘a simply guy’ or ‘the people’s mayor, who would clean up City Hall’ but he was also elected because he said he could do all that with no service cuts, guaranteed. There were so many efficiencies to find that he could cut, trim, slash, burn and no one would notice. Easy. Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem. It had a spending problem. Remember when the mayor said that back on the campaign trail, councillor?

It’s not that the election isn’t over, Mr. Budget Chief. It’s that the mayor hasn’t lived up to his election promises. There was no talk from candidate Ford, out on the hustings, of any “tough medicine budget”. If there had been, do you think Rob Ford would now be mayor of this city? Or you’d be its budget chief?

Don’t think of it as an ‘anti-Mayor Ford agenda’, Councillor Del Grande. Think of it as ‘the chicks coming home to roost for another mendacious politician agenda’. That’s really the message you should be hearing.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Awful Untruth

October 21, 2011

Of all the responses we get here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, the pushback we receive when criticizing Mayor Ford, by far the most frequent… No, wait. The 2nd most frequent, just after ‘Why don’t you guys get a real job?’… tends to be, ‘Well, Miller did the same thing.’, Miller being the former mayor, David Miller. Whether it’s how Mayor Ford’s conducting business at council or City Hall or fiddling with the budget numbers. Whenever we level a critique his way, we inevitably hear, ‘Well, Miller did the same thing.’

To which, our initial response is: yeah, so? It doesn’t make it right. The former mayor also received plenty of criticism. In politics, two negatives do not—you get where I’m going with that.

Besides, wasn’t this mayor elected on a platform that included not doing business as usual? He was going to be sticking up for the little guy by putting it to the fat cats and lazy bureaucrats. He’d put an end to all the backroom deals. Clear and transparent would be the Ford Administration. No more game playing with the budget. No sudden finds of hundreds of millions of dollars. We were going to get an open and honest debate.

Step forward all ye steadfast Ford supporters, and with straight faces all, tell us your man has kept his word. Follow the bouncing ball on the sing-along that has been the 2012 police services budget debacle and belt out the coda that it’s all been on the up and up, yep, an open and honest debate. Without cracking a smile or a knowing grin. Tell us this is exactly what you voted for.

“It’s a huge reduction!” exclaims TPS board member, Councillor Frances Nunziata.

Wait, what? No. No, it isn’t, Councillor. Not only is the police services budget not facing ‘a huge reduction’, there’s no reduction at all. None. In fact, just the opposite. They’re getting an increase.

David Hains over at The Clamshell, Daniel Dale at the Toronto Star and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott all go into much more interesting detail than I can but here’s the nuts and bolts of the situation. Mayor Ford demanded a 10% reduction to all city departments based on their 2011 budgets. Putting it to the fat cats and lazy bureaucrats. Police Chief Bill Blair announced he could do no such thing without laying off front line police officers and endangering public safety. So instead, he asked for an increase. A modest one by the police standards but an increase nonetheless.

All hell breaks loose. A showdown seems imminent between the mayor and police chief. Hardcore Ford ally and TPS vice-chair Michael Thompson plays the heavy, letting it be known that the police budget faces the same pressure as every other department and agency in the city. There must be a 10% cut or else…

Last week’s TPS meeting to deal with the impasse was postponed at the last minute. Details of some sort of compromise leak out. We learn that the mayor’s OK with the 10% cut being carried out over a two year period which, if my math skills are up to snuff, isn’t 10% but 5%. It’s an offer made to no one else on the city payroll.

Then comes yesterday’s news of an agreement. The chief has found almost 5% in cuts, 4.6% to be precise for the 2012 budget, through attrition, a 10% reduction in senior management and a host of other bits and bites. No layoffs of police. The city’s safety has not been compromised. The rest of the cuts will come next year.

“It’s a huge reduction!” exclaims TPS board member, Councillor Frances Nunziata.

OK, actually the councillor’s right. It is a huge reduction. Just not from the 2011 budget which is what the mayor called  for. It’s nothing more than a reduction in the original ask from the TPS. The one everyone got up in arms about and said wasn’t possible. The 1.6% increase Chief Blair proposed that, apparently, put his job in jeopardy. He scaled that back 4.6% and settled instead for a mere .6% increase.

An increase, folks. The Police Services Board approved an increase to the police budget not a cut which every other department is facing. There’s no cut to the police budget. There’s just less of an increase.

“It’s a huge reduction!” Shut up, Frances. Doesn’t matter how many times you say it. It simply isn’t true.

What does Mayor Ford have to say about such an about face? Who knows? He was coaching football at the time. How about his hard-assed enforcer on the TPS board, Michael Thomspon? Away on family business.

So what this says is that the mayor holds the police to an entirely different standard than the rest of the city departments. He boasts about giving them a pay increase while everyone else on the city payroll must make do with less. For the overall budget to balance, somebody’s going to have to give up more to make up for the TPS increase. (Nope. Don’t say it, Frances. It’s an increase. Shh-shh!)

Now, maybe Mayor Ford values the police more than any other employee of the city. Perhaps his worldview is such that happy police make for a happy town. I wouldn’t agree but there it is.

Or maybe the mayor’s afraid of the police. Butting heads with them would put a serious dent in his law and order veneer. They might remind voters that on the campaign trail the mayor promised 100 new police officers and delivered none. Bad optics all round.

But the straight-shooting, tell it like it is mayor ain’t talking. Instead he’s hiding behind monumental spin, trying to convince us that an increase is really a decrease, black is white, up is down and there we go through the looking glass, people.

Just like every other politician Rob Ford railed about as a candidate, saying one thing to get elected and doing the exact opposite when in office. The kind of politician he pledged not to be. It’s all just business as usual.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


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