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