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How About That Infrastructure Deficit?

Do you want to leave our grandchildren our deficit to deal with?

It is a mantra often sited by deficit hawks to guilt us into cutting government spending. An iteration of it was pronounced in the U.S. by former Senator Alan Simpson when he was appointed Republican deficit commissioner last year. “If you don’t want your grandkids picking grit with the chickens, better ignore soundbite politics and get lawmakers to find real solutions to the deficit,”  so said Simpson who seemed unaware of the irony of using a soundbite to criticize ‘soundbite politics’.

Two can play at that game, Senator Simpson. What if we plug one word into that phrase? Do you want to leave our grandchildren our infrastructure deficit to deal with? How does that change the equation?

I came across an article last week in my Kawartha.com via the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. In it was a laundry list of infrastructure needs for Ontario cities, towns and communities that amounted to $100 billion of unfunded ‘unrepaired and unbuilt’ infrastructure according to the provincial government’s own estimates. “… delaying upgrades means higher costs in the long run,” according to the FCM’s Gabriel Miller.

‘Higher costs in the long run’. Try using that phrase with fiscal conservatives and watch their heads explode. We don’t have the money, they’ll yowl. But if we don’t find the money now it will end up costing more later. Thus, the infrastructure deficit is born.

What’s doubly interesting in this debate is that it is not simply we here in ‘tax and spend’ Toronto facing such a dilemma. Places big and small, conservative and liberal are under similar pressures. According to myKawartha, every Toronto resident would have to pay more than $1,000 extra on their property tax bill to deal with its infrastructure gap while residents of wee places like Prince Edward County and Perth face closer to $2,000 per person. Even the Fords’ favourite frugal city, Mississauga, is looking at nearly $450 million of debt in the next decade needed to fund infrastructure projects.

Clearly, it is a situation beyond the control of municipalities to deal with on their own. The revenue tools necessary to grapple with it are not at their disposal. So the internecine, right-left battles we’re now witnessing here at city council are fruitless. We can slash and burn all we want but we’ll still have an infrastructure deficit. Probably even more so. Since our ability to generate more revenue is severely limited, neither can we tax our way to better infrastructure health because the costs would be too unbearable for most households to carry. Although claiming we are over-taxed as a way to cut and freeze taxes is fallacious at best, highly destructive at worst.

This is a fight that needs to be re-directed at so-called ‘senior’ levels of government. Their coffers are where our tax money goes (90%+ by most estimates). They, both Liberal and Conservative, have been the laggards on this issue, dating back to the 1980s. For the past 3 decades, successive federal and provincial governments have been able to ignore this coming perfect infrastructure storm as it manifests itself mostly at the local level. Disintegrating roads and sewer systems. Dilapidated community centres. Diminishing social housing.

In fact, one could argue that both Ottawa and Queen’s Park have attempted to balance their books on the backs of cities. We need to start calling them out on that. Municipal politicians who don’t are simply doing the dirty work of their provincial and federal masters. They are the ones burdening our grandchildren with an infrastructure deficit and should be judged accordingly.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr

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