Councillor Clueless

May 2, 2012

OK. Everybody take a seat. I’m about to write something I’ve never written before.


I don’t understand what goes on in the head of Councillor Doug Ford.

No, wait. I always write that. Go back to standing. This is a regular thing I write about when it comes to the councillor-brother.

Yesterday he was in the Globe and Mail, leading the pushback to the mayor’s mild musings about modest property tax increases (which if not maintained at least at the rate of inflation actually constitute a tax cut) and the problem for the city’s coffer with any sort of rescinding of the land transfer tax.

“Councillor Doug Ford, the vice-chair of Toronto’s budget committee,” the Globe’s Kelly Grant wrote, “said Tuesday that he is ‘absolutely, 100 per cent’ in favour of holding the line on property-tax rates in the future.” And as for the LTT? “We have to look at the upcoming budget. And if there’s room to look at a little bit of the land-transfer tax, we’ll look at it,” the councillor said. “Eventually, [it should be] phased out. I don’t think we can afford doing it all in one shot.”

We can’t currently afford to phase out the LTT but sometime in the future we’ll be able to. What will have changed between now and then, I wonder? Oh yeah, further reduction in the role of the municipal government in our lives.

That’s what this is all about. A slow but steady erosion of the services the city provides to the population with an equal measure of tax cuts and elimination. Hell, while we’re at, why stop with the LTT? Instead of freezing property taxes, why not plug away at doing away with them altogether too?

“It’s the taxpayers’ money,” Councillor Ford said. “It’s not our money. We should give it back to the people that gave it to us.”

As usual, neoconservative/libertarians like Councillor Ford conveniently only make half the argument. They claim taxpayers fork over their hard-earned money and receive little in return. Government’s so-called ‘spending problem’ delivers few benefits and usually amounts to what the councillor likes to call a boondoggle.

But as Trish Hennessy highlighted yesterday, government spending actually translates into major benefits for taxpayers. Median households earning $66 000 annually receive $41 000 in public services. That’s what I would call getting a bang for your buck.

More intriguingly, in Councillor Ford’s arena of municipal government, it seems higher income households garner more benefits in public services than lower income households. From the full report:

The pattern of benefit from the spending of local governments is quite different from that of both the federal or provincial governments. The per capita absolute dollar benefit from public services delivered by local governments actually increases as household income increases…For higher-income households, local government is actually more important than it is for households with lower incomes. [bolding mine] In fact, measured benefit from local services for high-income households exceeds the measured benefit from federal government services.

I’d like to think that Councillor Ford rails about municipal taxation from a redistributive standpoint, calling to spread the wealth of public services the city provides a little more evenly. My guess, though, is that it comes from a complete lack of knowledge of the job he was elected to do. Respecting the taxpayer means actively supporting policies that, in fact, diminish the returns they receive for the taxes they pay.

In an Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance paper (page 7) last year, Toronto was compared to 3 other cities in terms of the sources of revenue generation available to them. Only London, England had fewer. By comparison, New York City levelled 13 different kind of local taxes. Toronto now has 3. And Councillor Ford advocates freezing one and the eventual elimination of another.

How exactly does he expect the city to function properly?

My guess is he doesn’t actually care, or doesn’t comprehend the importance in our lives City Hall plays. All taxes are evil. End stop.

I’d probably be less offended if the councillor was more upfront about his intentions than he is. Rather than blowing smoke about giving back money to the taxpayers (we already do in the form of public services), Councillor Ford should just come out and say what he’s really thinking. He wants to reduce government.

Unfortunately, to do so, he’d be advocating reducing the services the government provides to us like transit, libraries, programs, various forms of social innovation. Elect me and I will make your city less liveable and equitable!

That tends not to be a winning campaign platform.

finger to the nosingly submitted by Cityslikr