Ana-igma

February 5, 2014

Let me state this again before proceeding.runforyourlife

I do not envy any of the first term councillors whose introduction to municipal governance was essentially a drop from a helicopter into a burning hellfire of partisanship and concerted efforts to city strip. I don’t envy any councillors subjected to it. 2010-2014. Non-stop anni horribiles.

Having said that…

Councillor Ana Bailão (Ward 18 Davenport), am I right?

For the life of me, I cannot get a handle on her. What makes her tick politically? While most of her rookie colleagues scampered toward the respective ideological corners that were quickly drawn when Rob Ford became mayor, Councillor Bailão seemed to get caught flat-footed and wide-eyed somewhere out in the middle, in no-man’s land, flapping like a ragged flag.deerintheheadlights

Sure, she took carriage of the TCHC file in an effort to help fend off the charging conservatives on council just itching to sell of the entire operations if they could. She’s nursed it through the storm. But as chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, Councillor Bailão has essentially served in the role of protectorate. There’s been little advancement made, no decrease in the capital repair backlog at TCHC. Pretty much status quo.

That said, the councillor’s done little to help the city’s revenues with votes in favour of repealing the vehicle registration tax and to freeze property taxes back in 2011. Oh, and the Scarborough subway. The Scarborough subway, diverting millions of tax dollars to a questionable transit project.

This one’s a total mystery to me.headscratcher

At last week’s budget meeting, Councillor Bailão was spared the necessity of publicly choosing between more money for TCHC capital repairs and the Scarborough subway when a motion to do just that was questionably ruled out of order by Speaker Frances Nunziata. When she was forced to stand up and make a defense of the Scarborough subway, Councillor Bailão came up with the 2nd weakest argument after the They Deserve one. Skin in the Game, baby. City council needs to show their willingness to spend money on any old politically motivated transit plan to prove they’re just as unprincipled as other levels of government.

*shrug*

Looking through her voting record as presented in Matt Elliott’s council scorecard leads to a lot of such head scratching. Stop funding the Christmas bureau. Confirming council decision to tear up the Jarvis bike lanes (which she initially voted against). Not factoring in the school year when moving tenants in the case of the sale of TCHC homes. No additional property tax increase to help maintain city services. No additional funds to the Tenant Defense Fund. Reduce funding for AIDS programs. trippedupNo endorsement for any of the proposed Metrolinx revenue tools to pay for public transit expansion.

All mixed in with a majority of more progressive votes, let’s call them, that leaves one’s head a-spinning.

Maybe Councillor Bailão’s just more open-minded than most, not stuck in any sort of partisan rut. Fair enough. But there’s got to be some sort of logic to it. A reasoned pattern of voting. Social liberal, fiscal conservative?

I just can’t make her time in office bend into any sort of coherent narrative.

As Mr. Elliott points out in his 2013 wrap up, in a year when the mayor`s sway over council completely evaporated, Councillor Bailão pro-Ford backing actually increased. While her Ford Nation percentage remains low, she has come through for the mayor on some key items over the course of the past 3+ years. Items that, arguably, bring zero benefit to the residents of her own ward.

Truth be told, the councillor has seemed a bit lost in the jungle of city council during her time there. Maybe if things had been normal, the atmosphere less toxic and threatening, she would’ve found her footing and settled in more easily. roadkillUnfortunately, it wasn’t and she didn’t.

Should Councillor Bailão be rewarded with a second term simply because she made it through alive? That’s pretty weak an endorsement. It could be argued that she made things worse, not taking a stand against divisiveness and city dismantling when the chips were down. She was simply not up to the task of being a city councillor when the city needed her most.

baffledly submitted by Cityslikr


Shouldn’t You Be Dead If You’re Taxed To Death?

December 9, 2013

With the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski reporting over the weekend that the Anne Golden-led seriousdiscussionTransit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel will be recommending some sort of corporate tax as part of an overall funding plan to start building transit, I say, good. Can we now start seriously discussing our transit needs and how to pay from them? Can we? Huh? Please?

One of the sticking points so far, at least for some progressive voices on the left side of political spectrum, was the very conspicuous absence of ‘A Corporate Tax’ option in the funding columns of either the city’s Feeling Congested and Metrolinx’s discussions earlier this year on revenue streams. This was a non-starter for many who legitimately wondered why individuals alone were being asked to shoulder the cost of new transit projects that would also serve to help the needs of the business community. An oversight, let’s call it, made even more fishy since one of the biggest cheerleaders for a massive regional investment in transit infrastructure was the Toronto Board of Trade.

Hey everybody (but our members)! We’re in this together (except for our members). Dig into your pockets and pay for the transit we so desperately need!*cavedwelling

But now it’s there on the table, and for anyone using its previous lack of presence as an excuse not to talk or even so much as consider a discussion about taxation as a means to fund transit expansion, well, time to step out into the open. Your cover’s been blown. I commend you for putting corporate taxation back into the mix but it won’t pay for everything. Let’s start talking turkey.

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty yet as the panel’s recommendations don’t go public until Thursday but let’s just say that my hope is that this can kick start a wider discussion beyond just transit needs to reclaiming the idea of taxation from its current status as some filthy word spat out in disgust.

At last week’s budget committee deputations, retired teacher Don Quinlan referred to Toronto as ‘a rich city that doesn’t act like it.’ taxesareevilThat’s borne out by the fact residents of this city, on average, pay below the GTA average in property taxes. When given the opportunity to relieve pressure off the property tax base with other revenue streams, i.e. the Vehicle Registration Tax, we couldn’t elect a city council fast enough to repeal it. The Land Transfer Tax remains under constant threat.

For a generation now (at least), we’ve been trying to run a city on the cheap and then find ourselves surprised at the lack of good state of repair in almost every aspect of our infrastructure. Crumbling roads. Decrepit social housing. Bursting watermains. Substandard public transit. How did this happen, we ask ourselves, and immediately begin looking around for the easiest answers that won’t cost us anything. Lazy unions. Profligate spending. Inefficient bureaucracies.

To be fair, municipalities have been largely abandoned on many of these files by senior levels of government that operate, not at all coincidentally, on a similar Taxes Are Bad approach. Shit rolls downhill, leaving governments with the least amount of financial flexibility to deal with the ugly results. This has lead to a nasty zero sum race to the bottom with city councils facing tough either/or choices between vital services and programs. Public housing or public transit? Child care or after school programs?

The grim situation, however, only gets exacerbated when we mirror such anti-tax sentiment. freeClearly, many self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives believed our tax intolerance was not such that we’d mind an annual half percent property tax hike to pay for a Scarborough subway extension. So let’s keep that conversation going. What else is on our wish/to do list?

Enough already with the burden of taxation. At this point, we’re getting exactly what it is we’re willing to pay for. We either accept that and live with it without complaining or we start putting our money where our collective mouth is. Anything less than that is a shirking of our responsibility and just plain flat out freeloading.

– seriously submitted by Cityslikr

 

*excluding Board of Trade members


Double Down On Blue

June 24, 2013

If nothing else, this $150 million latest Mayor Rob Ford-Queen’s Park brouhaha should lay wide open the very essence of our mayor’s fundamentally terminal approach to governing. punchyourselfA dullard’s populism that contradicts itself with every policy utterance and eats its own tail without so much a burp of self-awareness. He’s mad as hell but probably only because of who’s making the proposed cuts and the colour of their team’s jackets.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t trust the province’s numbers one little bit and I’d like to see the work behind Royson James’ math or, at least, some context. It’s particularly galling to read the shiny remembrances of gold-standard fiscal management by the previous administration at City Hall from a guy who had few positive things to say about that matter in real time.

Even if the province is simply playing politics with this announcement, Mayor Ford has put himself in no position to fight back without looking like a massive hypocrite. potkettleThat may be of no consequence to him – he seems quite comfortable wearing that – but it does undercut his legitimacy and, by extension, the city’s.

You can’t claim the government you lead doesn’t have a revenue problem and then cry foul when some of that revenue is cut. Earlier this month the mayor was beating his chest about the $248 million surplus in 2012. So hey. You should be able to take a $50 million hit (the $150 rollback would be over a three year period) and accept a smaller surplus. Mayor Ford is on record hating those one time savings anyway.

You can’t go around cutting your own revenue stream (the VRT), threatening to reduce another (LTT) and keeping the main source impractically low (property taxes) and then stamp your feet and pop off when Queen’s Park does likewise. When the mayor came to power under the banner of getting the city’s financial house in order, he set about to cut spending. He demanded the same from the province. pleasesir1Get their fiscal house in order. Cut spending.

So they cut spending. To the city. Now he’s got a problem with that?

You can’t continually pick fights with your provincial overlords and not expect some pushback. Some pushback that is detrimental to the city you were elected to serve. Oh, it’s on, Mayor Ford declared, when he killed Transit City and demanded the province give him all the money to build his Sheppard subway or else he would unleash the electoral power of Ford Nation on them. They complied. The mayor reneged and got all partisan in the subsequent provincial election. There was no Ford Nation.

Like Junior Soprano told his nephew Tony, if he was going to come at him, he better come at him hard. Our mayor is all bluff, no bite to his bark. By now, everybody but the mayor and his brother realize that fact. juniorsopranoHis threatening gestures ring hollow.

You might actually feel for the guy if he was taking the fight to the province looking out for the best interests of Toronto. Increasingly however, it looks like anything but. Fuck, it isn’t even ideological with him. If it were, there might be some sense to it all, some straight line you could draw from intent to action.

More and more it just seems like nothing but a branding battle. The mayor and his brother are Conservative blue to the bone. Anything to do with Liberal red or NDP orange is automatically bad and must be fought. Both Fords, elected to represent the residents of Toronto, seem far more interested in changing the government at Queen’s Park than they do effectively running City Hall. bluemayorI think they’d happily sacrifice the best interests of the city if it meant the Tim Hudak Conservatives became the next government of Ontario.

In his unflagging support of local sports team, the Argos, the Leafs, the Jays, you might think he’s just doing his job as mayor acting the local booster. I think he just likes the colour blue. As both a sports fan and as the mayor of Toronto.

me-too-bluely submitted by Cityslikr


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


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


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