Sometimes A Surplus Is Just A Surplus

Gather round, all ye loyal readers, and prepare your ears to hear that not heard in these parts muchly. Tis an admission of error on our part. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For some time now, pretty near since our inception over two and a half years ago, we’ve suggested that the mayor and his fiscal conservative ilk have budgetary issues, let’s call them. That their numbers rarely add up. In fact, they are an assault upon reason itself.

But the problem, dear readers, may lay with our abacus not theirs. Our eyes blinded by the ideology of government spendthriftry and the love of dwelling in a gravy slathered city. We are wanton with the money of others when restraint is something near godliness. Affix the letters D P E in brightly stitched pink to our breasts and take the keys to the safe from our sweaty, grubby hands and greedy, bleeding hearts.

For you see, yesterday a word was spoken in the halls of City Hall that has seldom been uttered anywhere near that vicinity if uttered at all. A word so delicious to those hungering for the twin notions of fiscal sanity and respect for the taxpayers that all they could do was but to gobble it up, swallow it whole. That word, curious readers?


Ohhh, sweet, sweet surplus. How we have longed to embrace you all these dark, dank days filled with deficits and debt. Let us never part again, shall we? Not? That is to say, tongue tied as I am in your magnificent presence, may we be together forever and never leave each other’s sight. Ever.

How long has it been, dearest one, since your name upon our lips last passed? Last year? 2010? 2009? 2008. 2007. 2006. 2005. 2004… Every fucking year, year after fucking year, Toronto has a surplus. It pretty much has to since the province mandates against municipalities running any sort of deficit on their annual operational side. It would be news only if we didn’t have a surplus not when we do. Because we always do.

No, any surplus news should involve how we went about achieving said surplus. Increases in revenues? Decrease in costs? A healthy mix of both? An unhealthy mix?

For a couple reasons that angle’s not really in the best interest of our current administration. One, while very revenue generating shy (or tax hating in the common parlance), Team Ford would have to accentuate their approach to surplus delivery has not made them wildly popular. Call it ‘finding efficiencies’ or ‘service adjustments’ all you want, it still strikes some especially those directly affected as the exact same as service and program cuts, user fees replacing tax increases. Things Mayor Ford campaigned on never implementing.

More importantly however, any talk of operating budget surpluses being par for the course in Toronto lays waste to the claim that brought the mayor and other hawks to power. It was all about out of control tax-and-spending, costly union appeasing, money burning on sweetheart deals, complete and utter breakdown of order on taxpayer respecting. “Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling,” Mayor Ford pronounced, not long after using hundreds of millions of surplus dollars from the Silly Socialist David Miller regime to stuff holes in his first budget.

Hold on there, bucko. A David Miller surplus? Hardly. A one-time savings is all. An annual savings that happen every year. Don’t count on that regularly.

Besides much of that repeated one-time savings comes from the loathed Land Transfer Tax and, based as it is on real estate, we know how volatile that is. So undependable we need to get rid of it altogether to free ourselves from such instability. Once we do that, then we can start talking about a strong, stable surplus.


Unless of course widows and orphans come knocking at our door, thinking we’re suddenly flush with cash to spend on their little ‘nice to haves’. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande will know just what to say to nip that in the bud. “I don’t call it a surplus, I call it a positive variance.” Words matter. So get the hell off my lawn.

To ensure all hatches are battened down on the HMS Tightfisted, council’s surplus deniers also delight in pointing out the capital side of things. Plenty of unfunded liabilities there, folks. Any surplus—I mean, ‘positive variance’–must be rolled over onto capital expenses. Otherwise… otherwise… Even former Ford chief of staff and campaign honcho, tough as nails Nick Kouvalis wets his pants at mention of our capital budget outlook. “What’s the Capital Budget deficit,” he tweeted. “Why do reporters not talk about the real issues?”

OK, Nick. Let’s talk about real issues. Let’s talk about our capital budget.

Yeah, it’s big. That tends to happen when big cities need big capital projects like public transit and infrastructure. Just comes with the territory.

It may appear insurmountable to those whose politics are defined exclusively by lowering taxes and cutting spending. So I get why you blanch at those numbers. How the hell can we afford everything that makes a city liveable and prosperous?

Well, we certainly can’t cut our way there. The city manager, Joe Pennachetti said as much earlier this year, suggesting there’s not more than $100 million left in efficiencies to find in the budget. How many subways stops will that buy us? Contracting out some of the city’s waste collection might, might, save us $11 million a year. Contracting out cleaning services looks to save another $800 000. Won’t make a dent on capital costs.

Senior levels of government have largely walked away from their obligations to cities and caught up as they are in the downward spiral of austering us from rocky economic times shouldn’t be expected back any time soon. That well is as good as dry for the time being.

So we’re going to have to figure this out on our own. Operating budget surpluses or one-time savings or positive variances, whatever you want to call them, is the easy part. Everyone does it. Everyone has to. That’s not newsworthy.

What I want to know is how you’re going to spend the money necessary to keep Toronto from collapsing under the weight of small-minded frugality masking as rock solid fiscal stewardship.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr

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