It’s Not You. It’s Me.

May 31, 2012

Look, baby. I just think we need a little space, take a little break. Maybe, see other people. Me? I got a date today with Torontoist. If you want to watch, click the link below.

Surplus, You Say? No. A One Time Savings.

(Yikes. That sounded creepier than I intended. Just read it.)

greasily submitted by Cityslikr


Budget Chief No

May 29, 2012

As we head into today’s abbreviated budget committee meeting with news of a $90 million surplus for the first 3 months of 2012, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande announces what any good, prudent, sane fiscal manager would. Hey, everybody! It’s party time! Let’s roll us back some sources of revenue. Woo-hoo!!

Or, as Elizabeth Church in the Globe and Mail phrases it: “He [budget chief] plans to push for a reduction of the land transfer tax in 5-per-cent increments beginning next year.”

Huh.

What?

Could you elaborate a little further, Mr. Budget Chief?

“He [budget chief] plans to push for a reduction of the land transfer tax in 5-per-cent increments beginning next year, arguing that the city cannot continue to rely on a revenue source that is tied to the fortunes of the real estate market…Mr. Del Grande says the city’s continued reliance on the tax will leave a ‘massive shortfall’ in its budget when the real estate market cools. ‘The land transfer tax is giving us a false sense of security’.”

O… K… Let me see if I follow the budget chief – who is a chartered accountant, don’t you know – follow his logic here. Because Toronto is experiencing a particularly hot real estate market, despite all the fear-mongering that the land transfer tax would kill people’s ability to buy a house, and is thus generating higher than expected revenues for city coffers, we need to start eliminating the source of revenue in order to wean ourselves off the LTT bounty in preparation for the time when we’re making less when the market cools? Sort of a voluntary reduction before the inevitable enforced one sets in?

Hmmm…

We really need to question Budget Chief Del Grande’s motivations. Or his competency.

Regardless of your position in life, whether a public sector budget chief, a private sector financial controller, an individual homeowner, in gazing into the future and spying a possible economic downturn on the horizon, who reacts with the suggestion to cut revenues? Batten down the hatches everyone! We need to start making less money now in order to be used to making less money later!

It makes no sense.

Don’t believe me?

Ask the city manager, Joe Pennachetti, himself a chartered accountant although, evidently, he secured his credentials at an entirely different school (of thought). In a talk delivered a couple weeks ago at the Munk School’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and one we wrote about here and here, and Matt Elliott wrote here (yes, I do think it’s an important enough point to flog over and over until everyone knows it by rote), Mr. Pennachetti suggested that, while there were still efficiencies to be found, it was revenue generation that we needed to be talking about going forward. City building, whether infrastructure, transit, couldn’t be done through cuts or further efficiencies. Toronto, like every other city in this province, country, continent, needs new sources of revenue.

Of course, city building is not part of our current budget chief’s vernacular. I don’t think it too off the mark to suggest he’s more of the Grover Norquist/starve the beast type of politician. Taxation is bad. Therefore government spending is bad. Widows and orphans be damned.

Only hardcore right wing ideologues would suggest that, in this age of austerity, government look to reduce revenues.

Even if the budget chief demanded that any surplus be used to pay down capital debt, he’d gain some traction as trying to have a reasonable argument although not much of one. The city’s debt level is just fine, thank you very much. Credit rating agency Moody’s thinks so. The city manager thinks so (with one caveat: our social housing repair backlog). Any attempt to compare our situation to that of Greece automatically disqualifies you as a serious participant in this discussion.

Instead, Budget Chief Del Grande only raises the spectre of our capital investment debt to argue against both government revenue and spending. This year it’s: “Councillors who want to spend the surplus are forgetting the huge capital costs facing the city,” he [Del Grande] said, “including the multimillion-dollar tab for refurbishing the crumbling Gardiner Expressway.” Last year we had to cut services and programs in order to pay down the debt.

The budget chief needs to start coming clean with us and simply admit that he doesn’t think government should be in the business of governing. That way, we could cease pretending to have a rational debate on this point with him and get on with what we really should be discussing. Mike Del Grande’s unfitness to be overseeing our city’s finances.

fit of piquely submitted by Cityslikr


Keep Your Seatbelts Fastened

May 28, 2012

Politics in Toronto right now is how I imagine it feels to be on an airplane when the engines shut down in midflight. It’s not yet a catastrophic failure. Nothing’s on fire. You can’t smell smoke. You are, in fact, gliding, maintaining enough altitude to convince yourself and the hysterical man sitting beside you that everything’s fine, just a glitch. No need to shit your pants at the moment.

You keep repeating Captain Sully Sullenberger’s name over and over again in your head, and remember Air Transat Flight 236, that fuelless Airbus that landed in one piece in the Azores. Besides, what are the chances of your actually dying in an airplane crash? Infinitesimally low. Don’t panic. Everything’s going to be A-OK.

As everybody’s pointed out by now — the latest observation coming from Matt Elliott — Team Ford has moved beyond autopilot at this juncture, and simply switched the engines off, it would seem. Sitting back to enjoy the view, they appear confident that they can re-engage the system in about 18 months and coast smoothly into re-election mode. In the meantime, it’s all, Look, ma! No hands!!

But I have to say, watching the mayor in inaction lately makes me wonder why on earth he’d want to win again in 2014. He really doesn’t appear to be enjoying the job. Why would he inflict another 4 years on himself?

I know the working theory.

The mayor and his councillor-brother are already hard at it, kicking into campaign mode, and preparing to back a slate of pro-Ford candidates that, once installed, will make governing much easier for Mayor Ford. A simple clapping of the hands and His Worship’s will will be done. Just a few more Vincent Crisantis and a few fewer Gloria Lindsay Lubys and we will be truly a Ford Nation Toronto, united under fealty to the Emperor of Etobicoke.

It’s this kind of magical thinking, I believe, that has suspended the mayor in animation at this point. It was all going to be so easy. City Hall didn’t have a revenue problem, it had a spending problem. Stop the spending. Stop taxing. Everything would be gravy(less). Only some sort of career politician not looking out for the little guy would make it more complicated than that.

“You can’t run a government if you hate government,” John Moore wrote in the National Post a couple months ago. Or, in riff on the old H.L. Mencken nugget, you provide clear, simple and wrong answers to complex problems. This isn’t rocket science, folks. This isn’t the private sector. It’s government. How hard could it possibly be?

As the mayor is discovering, yeah, it’s pretty hard. So he’s retreated back into his own little cocoon, hoping for a more favourable roll of the dice, councillor-wise, in a couple years. Then, you’ll see, it’ll be a snap.

Leaving us to do what?

While Mayor Ford and his brother air their views and policy initiatives on their weekly radio show, their once surprisingly formidable team has dwindled to a few unreliable courtiers. Those who still believe do so in a way that is seldom helpful to the cause. I mean, if your movement depends on the likes of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong to provide the voice of reason and sound judgement, clearly there’s some sort of engine problems.

For others, it’s now blatantly just a marriage of convenience. No pressing the ejector seat, pulling the ripcord and parachuting to safety because you’re either too lazy, too unsure how this is all still going to play out or too in love with your committee chair position to risk losing it due to mayoral ire. So you quietly go about your business working matters out with councillors Mayor Ford isn’t in the habit of dealing with, hoping that whatever it is you’re working on has long since disappeared down the mayor’s disinterest hole.

The fact is, getting past ‘the mandate’ the mayor got in his ‘landslide’ election in 2010, he was among very few politicians elected municipally to have much of that Tea Party sensibility. The Fords. The Deputy Mayor. The Budget Chief. The Speaker. The afore-mentioned councillors Minnan-Wong and Crisanti.

After that?

As angry as 47% of voters in Toronto were in 2010, few of them hated government as much as they hated the government Rob Ford successfully convinced them had been in control down at City Hall during his time there. Now that the curtain’s been pulled back, revealing nothing more to it than a dyspeptic, dystopian view of government in general that’s fetidly percolated in the psyche of our mayor, his has become a lonely vigil. How exactly do you maintain anti-government momentum toward a government you ostensibly lead? It defies the laws of physics, even electoral physics. (Yes, such a thing exists.)

The best thing councillors could be doing right now, especially those who Team Ford will be targeting in 2014 (and you know who you are), is to govern well. Show your constituents and the city that government is not inherently evil, unhelpful or whatever other term of derision the mayor and his brother will throw at it. Government can only be bad when it governs badly which this administration is doing currently. The surest way to help the mayor now would be to continue to enable him, expending energy propping him up and pretending he’s become anything but political dead weight.

Time to remove the mayor and his brother from the cockpit and switch from auto-pilot over to co-pilot.

flight attendantly submitted by Cityslikr


Scenes From A Life With Cars

May 25, 2012

Three car themed vignettes today, all crashing to one inevitable conclusion which I won’t spell out directly, leaving it up to the reader to arrive at on their own. Hopefully, it will give the post an art house film feel.

Yesterday the McGuinty government announced a $1 billion eastward extension of the 407 highway, sounding as if it were some revolutionary act of patriotism. “Our intention is to ensure that this is a people’s highway, owned by the people, tolls are set by the people, service standards set by the people and the revenues that are generated are returned to the people.” And this road, this getter of the people from point A to point B, shall be known from this time forth as the Volksroute!

I don’t have the information at hand to judge if this is a good use of money or not. At least they’re tolling it, so drivers will be paying more for the pleasure of using it. As to a new highway ‘tackling congestion’ as the CBC site claims? There’s little evidence to prove such a case. Google the question do more roads reduce question and judge for yourself. What jumped out at me was this point in link #3 from a U of T study: For interstate highways in the densest parts of metropolitan areas we find that vkt [Vehicle Kilometers Traveled] increases in exact proportion to highways.

I only wish that our premier would embrace the building of public transit with the same kind of grassroots gusto he has for the 407. His support of Metrolinx and its Big Move has been what we might call mercurial. An initial enthusiasm perpetually dampened by an eye on the bottom line. One could argue that, along with the David Miller administration’s failure to really get out and sell the idea of Transit City to the people who would benefit from it most, the Liberal’s quick trigger finger in reducing funding for it in the face of the economic crisis of 2009 made the plan seem, if not expendable, at least elastic to those intent on doing it harm.

Public transit, it seems, is for downtown elites. Highways are for the real meat-and-potatoes, drive-through Tim Horton’s salt-of-the-earthers.

[Cue awkward segue.. A traffic jam as far as the eye can see, under a menacing sun cutting through a smog filled sky. The sound of blaring horns slowly fades into those of hockey sticks on pavement; angry shouts of drivers are replaced by the gleeful peels of joy from kids playing road hockey. The scene of traffic congestion dissolves to a leafy neighbourhood street, curiously devoid of any cars. Only children, boys and girls, all races and creeds, together playing road hockey.]

It seems Councillor Josh Matlow’s quixotic quest to end the city’s ban on ball hockey has come to a stultifyingly bureaucratic end. Too much red tape for many of his colleagues although the idea and its demise provided plenty of opportunity for hockey related puns. So there’s that.

I got no particular dog in this hunt nor do I blame the councillor for pulling the plug in the face of what seemed to be certain defeat certainly at the committee level. Is this an issue you’d waste political capital on? It’s the source of the alleged bureaucracy that grates.

As explained on the councillor’s site, the determination for allowable road hockey would be based on the level of car use. “The street would have to have a speed limit of 40 km/h or less, 1,000 or fewer vehicles passing per day, an average gap between vehicles of one minute or more, and sightlines sufficient to allow vehicles to stop before crashing into the goalie.” In other words, kids, streets are for cars. Sharing is entirely up to them. Maybe if you ask nicely and there’s not too much red tape involved…

Think I’m just being petulant? Read Confession of a former engineer. It seems road/street design runs contrary to how many of us think a proper neighbourhood/community should flow. 1) Traffic speed 2) Traffic volume 3) Safety 4) Cost versus 1) Safety 2) Cost 3) Traffic volume 4) Traffic speed. It’s a car’s world, man. We’re just allowed to live in. Unless we get in their way, of course.

This sense of entitlement defines our 3rd car tale. (Oooo. Seamless transition. Well done.) And it’s a story that actually happened to me. So it has a more gritty, hand held, verité feel.

Earlier this week I picked up an Autoshare car for a couple hours. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do drive occasionally. As a reminder why I fucking hate it so much. And to pick up items that are too big to fit in my bike baskets.

Chores and loathing finished, I returned the vehicle only to find someone parked in the spot. Right in front of a sign clearly indicating it was reserved 24 hours a day, each and every day. No parking. Yes, that includes you, dickhead.

This ought to be interesting I thought, never having encountered such a problem before. With no other place in sight to leave the car, I honked the horn a couple times, thinking that the driver might be within earshot, knowing they were illegally parked. Nothing.

So I called Autoshare, hoping that the solution would be to throw the anchors out right behind the motherfucker and force him to call Autoshare and explain why he thought it OK to park his car wherever the hell he wanted. Unfortunately, no. I was advised to find a place wherever I could in the area, leave it there and let them know the location.

“You’re going to call and have the jagoff towed though?” I asked. “Right?”

Apparently, no. That’s not a thing Autoshare does. It’s more live and let live. Inconvenience rather than enforcement.

I did find a place not far away. But as I finished up I caught a glimpse of a meter guy, walking along a street, writing out tickets. So I raced to find him and point out a certain transgression.

“Excuse me, sir. If you’re looking to fill your quota, some asshole” — yes I do swear this much in real life especially when a car’s involved – “just parked his car in my Autoshare spot. Come on. Follow me. I’ll show you.”

But what do you know? Apparently, this was not an infraction he could ticket. “It’s sort of like private property,” he tried to explain. Unless someone working for Autoshare showed up to complain, his hands were tied.

Shaking my head, I headed home. Unless Autoshare came and moved the car I’d parked from the street in a couple hours or so, it would get ticketed. Ultimately I’d bear the cost in some indirect form or another, as a member of the organization. Some piece of shit would walk away, his wallet none the lighter. Just another freeloading car driver.

THE END

[An addendum: after showing this to a couple test audiences, I was informed that 71% didn’t get it, didn’t see how the three stories were related, failed to understand the point. Some voice-over narration was needed. Don’t worry. It’ll be removed for the director’s cut edition.]

OK, SO NOT THE END

Cars kill cities. Cars kill communities.

NOW, IT’S THE END

auterly submitted by Cityslikr


No Girls Allowed

May 24, 2012

Can I tell you something?

Sitting in the audience at last night’s decidedly un-sausagefest panel discussion, The Comments Section, brought to fruition by the relatively new to the scene Women in Toronto Politics group (#WiTOpoli), I found myself feeling very much the bystander… bysitter? My Blackberry deliberately stuffed into my back pocket, it wasn’t a discussion for me to participate in. I came to listen.

Not owing to any sense of condescending chivalry or politeness but, frankly, it mostly had to do with my surprise this conversation even needed to be aired. The talk wasn’t directly about the obstinately immoveable low numbers of women actively pursuing a career in politics although that problem certainly bubbled below the surface of much of what was being said. The evening’s main topic was the low percentage of women finding space to have their views on  municipal politics heard, clogged up as it is by those of us possessing penises. (No, that word didn’t come up. I just used it because I don’t get to very often especially in its plural form.)

Come on, I thought to myself. We’re talking about the wide open world of social media here, the Twitter and Facebook, the blog-o-sphere. Why, even I, an outsider to the world of local Toronto politics, just sat down and started to read, watch and write about it, and two and a half years later, here I am, having reached, well, not dizzying heights but I’ve made a name for myself. I mean, Councillor Josh Matlow knows who I am and, apparently, he doesn’t care for my work.

This is as democratic as it gets, ladies. Meritocracy rules. If you can’t make it here, you won’t make it anywhere.

Of course, in the microcosm that is Toronto politics, we now have a mayor, the scion of wealth and privilege casting himself as the underdog during his successful campaign run, the down-to-earth feller who just wanted to be mayor so he could look out for the little guy. (No, not that one. The actual little guy. I mean, I think that’s what he meant.)

If a rich and, arguably, the whitest of white guys can winningly embrace the mantel of the triumphant outsider, what room does that leave for those who are actually on the outside? Guy claiming to be powerless railing against a guy in power. Sort of a variation on cock blocking. Keep it down a bit, girls. Can’t you see we’re fighting amongst ourselves here?

The hyper-testosterone driven aggressiveness of the current administration probably also contributes greatly to the boys’ clubbiness of the political atmosphere. From the get-go, the language and attitude has been confrontational, regularly descending into little more than a pissing match between supporters and opponents. With a War always going on about something or other, it’s hard not to see a men’s game at play.

Now I’m not crazy for the… a-hem… a-hem… broad gender generalizations. I know as many outspoken and feisty women who like a good knock `em down and drag `em out debate as I do soft-spoken and reticent men. So I wouldn’t say that the tenor of the political discourse in Toronto has kept some women on the sidelines. But perhaps the tone has.

I’ve been referred to nastily in various ways over the course of my time at TOpoli. Never, however, has my gender been attacked. You fucking guy doesn’t quite have the same personal sting as you fucking bitch. Too many times have I seen gender become an issue in the heated debates that flame up on social media sites. Gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity.

All problems with which Mayor Ford has stumbled over during his 12 years in public office. So it’s not taking a big leap to suggest his attitude has fostered an antagonistic straight white male mindset into our politics. More malignantly, an aggrieved antagonistic straight white male mindset that lashes out at any demand to think more inclusively.

And his female troubles are especially pronounced. His Executive Committee is heavily male dominated. One of the two females on it, Councillor Jaye Robinson, has announced she’s stepping down at the end of the year and, if she’s not replaced by another women – it’s difficult to see who’d willing step into her spot at this point of time – there will be one woman on the committee.

Not only that, but in the last election the Ford campaign targeted a number of sitting councillors for defeat, three of whom were women. Councillors Maria Augimeri, Gloria Lindsay Luby and former councillor Suzan Hall who they did help unseat and replace with a Ford friendly face Vincent Crisanti. That would be Mister Vincent Crisanti.

I think it’s safe to say that Ford Nation is not terribly female friendly. While that hopefully will inspire some pushback activism, it also creates, I would imagine, something of a hostile work environment for those women willing to step into the fray. It’s one thing to dedicate time and effort into a cause with the expectations of a spirited and vigorous debate but another thing altogether to find ugliness lurking under every bridge you cross.

It would be foolish, however, for me to lay the blame solely at the feet of the Ford administration for the barriers women are feeling in getting heard around these parts. By not recognizing them myself, I help keep the obstacles in place. Even this post I write hesitatingly for fear of appropriating their terrain and horning in on the action Women in Toronto Politics are attempting to generate.

But I do believe there’s plenty of space at the table for new players, lots of ground still to be tilled. Regardless of who’s in the mayor’s office, Toronto is facing problems and opportunities that cannot be solved or taken advantage of using old methods of thinking or ways of seeing things. Putting new wine into new wineskins and all that.

So if you’re out there, reading this, wondering if it’s worth the effort. From my protected harbour of white maleness, let me assure you it is. And I offer you space here if you want to test the waters, see how it feels or just simply want to get something off your chest and have nowhere else to do so at the moment. It is a humble offer, no remuneration and not tons of eyeballs but it is a friendly place. It is a start in the right direction.

manly submitted by Cityslikr


Voluntary Civic Participation

May 23, 2012

As I sat staring blankly at my Twitter feed yesterday, a Don Peat tweet retweet appeared on screen. It was from last week during the Executive Committee meeting debate on the motion to rescind the 5¢ plastic bag fee. “Budget Chief Mike Del Grande says city only made $18,000 from people wanting to voluntarily pay more tax.”

Having not attended the meeting, I can’t say what exactly the budget chief was getting at. People don’t like paying extra taxes? Voluntary taxes aren’t nearly as effective at revenue generation as mandatory taxes?

I shrug. A firm grasp of the obvious.

But it did get me to thinking about this idea of a voluntary contribution payment the city has going. I first heard about it at the public deputations during last year’s budget cycle from the budget chief in fact. On a couple of occasions he asked deputants who’d come to plead their case for not cutting this service or ending that program, given the opportunity, would they pay extra into the city’s coffers in order to fund the service/program of their choice. It was sentiment that got picked up by the likes of Councillor Frances Nunziata who’d bark out the same question at a deputant she found particularly annoying.

A motion to pursue this was passed by city council last September and by a surprisingly large 39-6 vote (item 3d) including all councillors I would consider to be of my political persuasion.

So let me just say this. It is vilely inane.

What it suggests to me is that if you think some service or program the city offers is worthy, open your wallet. Everybody else? We’ll just sit back and live off others’ largesse, counting our extra money while doing so.

It undermines the concept of community, for lack of a better term I can’t come up with at the moment. We’re not in this together. Everyone for themselves.

Why not follow this to its logical conclusion? The city sets up a tax bill and we simply check off stuff we want to pay for? As a very irregular car driver, I don’t want much of my money going to road maintenance. Instead, I’m willing to pay for more cycling infrastructure. And since I don’t depend on public transit, no cash from me goes to the TTC budget. My contribution will come via the fare box.

Now, that’s respect for taxpayers.

No more meddling by meddlesome politicians in trying to strike a proper balance. Money talks and bullshit city building walks. I’m mean, why oh why should I pay to maintain a fire department if I’ve never had a fire? On the flipside of that, if I really want to get my money’s worth, maybe I should torch my garage. I need to rebuild it anyway.

You see where this kind of free-for-all thinking can lead toward a very spiky city scape.

I, for one, think we get pretty good value for the money we give to our city government. Compared to my monthly private sector outlay to Rogers for the services they provide me? Yeah, I’m a pretty satisfied with what the city delivers.

Hell, compared to the return on investment I get from the senior levels of government, City Hall is a beacon of serving up a bang for my tax buck. From my personal experience, an overwhelming majority of taxes go to the feds and province in the form of income and sales taxes. The return I see is inversely proportional.

I know the historic reasons for such an arrangement and there’s certainly a lot to be said for Ottawa and Queen’s Park ensuring a level playing field for service delivery across the spectrum of their respective responsibilities – less so with each successive downloading of that responsibility – but this arrangement is long overdue for a revisit. The hierarchy has been turned upside down with the importance of cities to the entire country’s well-being grown to the degree it has. It seems the height of inefficiency sending the biggest amount of money the furthest away from where it’s needed, waiting for it to trickle down.

That’s the discussion we really should be having not haggling over how we divvy up an unsustainable slice of the taxation pie. There is only one taxpayer, it has been said. Yeah well, 80% of them live in municipalities that are increasingly coming up short of money needed to function properly. The only voluntary contributions that can change that fact need to come from our senior levels of government.

donatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Fiscal Discipline

May 22, 2012

Fiscal discipline.

The term screams of denial, restriction, restraint, asceticism even.

So it plays easily into the language of those ideologically bent on cutting our way back to prosperity. Anti-government types who see any public sector spending as inherently wasteful. A discipline of living within our means by way of making due with less.

But what if we interpret fiscal discipline through another lens?

Not one that suggests some sort of punitive action but one that provides a ‘training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.’ A discipline that teaches the value of our tax dollars spent rather than the simple cost to each of us individually? To train a larger community into seeing that paying less inexorably translates into doing with less. You get what you pay for, folks, and demanding city service levels be maintained (or even improved in the case of transit) while insisting on paying less is the exact opposite definition of ‘discipline’.

Self-indulgence, perhaps?

With Moody’s maintenance of Toronto’s Aa1 credit rating last week, Mayor Ford and his allies hailed their curtailing of expenditures as the kind of fiscal discipline the city needs, conveniently ignoring the fact it’s the same level rating we’ve had for 10 years now. Wait. You mean during the 7 years chief tax-and-spender David Miller was mayor we had an Aa1 credit rating? Doesn’t that give lie to the entire underpinning of Mayor Ford’s reality? That the city was an out-of-control financial train wreck waiting to happen? We’ve borne the brunt of unnecessary cuts owing to a hysteria generated by a misguided but successful municipal election campaign in 2010.

On their radio show yesterday, the mayor and his councillor-brother hosted the city’s budget chief, our own resident Droopy Dog, Mike Del Grande who bemoaned the fact our credit rating hadn’t been upgraded a step to AAA, the highest level Moody hands out. I mean, what’s a guy gotta do to get a AAA around here? How many widows and orphans do we have to ignore before we’re awarded best in class?

“We need firm discipline,” the budget chief said at an Executive Committee meeting last year. “I get a little concerned when we start making arguments about the widows and orphans. Negligibles add up. We cannot afford to do everything that everybody wants us to do…the 2011 budget is cupcakes. We tend to spoil everybody. We need to learn to say ‘no.’”

Yet, we read this from the Moody’s report: “Toronto’s rating relative to other Canadian municipalities reflects a low debt burden and high levels of liquidity, balanced by operating budget challenges typically not experienced elsewhere.”

Huh. Low debt burden and high levels of liquidity. So why is the solution to our operating budget challenges from Team Ford only consisting of saying ‘no’ to government spending and paying down an already low debt burden? Oh, right. Fiscal discipline as a form of abnegation. No cupcakes for you, widows and orphans!

If we want an improved credit rating, Moody’s offers a solution. “Continued fiscal discipline, including a permanent solution to the existing operating budget pressures, [bolding ours] along with a continued strengthening in financial position, could exert upward pressure on Toronto’s rating.”

That would be fiscal discipline with a caveat from Moody’s. To ‘exert upward pressure on Toronto’s rating’ (arguably a necessity at this particular time) the city needs to find ‘a permanent solution to the existing operating budget pressures – in itself a challenge ‘typically not experienced elsewhere’. According to city manager Joe Pennachetti in a talk at the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance last week, there’s maybe $100 million more in efficiencies to be found which is roughly 1% of a $9 billion operating budget. In other words, we’ve about maxed out in the amount of cutting as a source of fiscal discipline we can do without unnecessarily harming our ability to deliver adequate services.

Now we must talk about generating revenue. It’s hard to believe that any credit rating agency would seriously consider an upgrade until we begin to show that type of fiscal discipline. A willingness to consider and implement new ways to pay for all the services and programs we say we want. Or, what the city manager referred to as city building.

As we ramp up to the 2013 budget debate, starting sometime next month, this should be the direction the conversation goes. The slash-and-burn disciplinarians have had their way, exploiting a faux crisis of their making, not only succeeding at hacking away at services and programs but eliminating vital sources of revenue the city needs to properly develop and grow healthily going forward. That is only one aspect of fiscal discipline and, as it turns out, the least effective.

“The [Moody’s] high investment-grade rating also reflects a large and diversified economy, which remains a source of credit strength, providing access to a broad tax base.”

How to fairly and efficiently tap that ‘broad tax base’ should be the starting point of next year’s budget discussion. It’s one we’ve long avoided having as it’s fraught with political implications and easy prey for those too undisciplined to make difficult decisions. Discipline doesn’t have to mean simply doing without. It can also represent learning how to contribute to a wider good.

floggingly submitted by Cityslikr