Today kicks-off the official launch of the city’s Budget 2015 process. Day 1 of nearly 40 days of numbers, haggling, debate, deputations, bluster, compromise and, finally, a dead reckoning. Campaign bullshit walks. Tough decisions talk.
While Mayor Tory and his budget team may be attempting to give him a little working distance with their talk of a ‘staff-generated budget’, what we’ll be hearing this morning will be simply staff recommendations. During the next 6 weeks or so, the mayor and council will be making the ultimate call on what gets paid for and how. When they’re through, make no mistake, it will be Mayor Tory’s budget.
What I’ll be watching for is how the mayor navigates the treacherous waters of fulfilling his campaign promises while coping with the reality of the numbers presented to him. He’s already taken one on the chin yesterday, announcing a TTC fare hike to help pay for serious and much needed service enhancements. On the campaign trail last year, Tory ill-advisedly vowed (along with his two main opponents, it should be added) to freeze TTC fares. Ooops!
The mayor fell back on the old trope of not realizing how bad things were when he made that promise. After all, he was just a radio talk show host commenting on municipal affairs as well the CEO of an organization that made transit and the fight against congestion a priority. How was to possibly know the sorry state of transit in the city?
Look. I’ll cut Mayor Tory some slack and even give him some very reluctant credit for accepting the inevitable and pushing ahead with the transit improvements. Should it come largely on the backs of TTC users? That’s going to be part of the budget debate but it should be pointed out (it has been pointed out) that regular riders on the system, those using a Metropass, will have paid over $500 more by the end of 2015 than they did in 2011 in return for 2010 levels of service. The better way indeed.
Still, the mayor seems unprepared to apply the same logic – improved service means more money — to the overall operating budget as he has to the TTC. At the press conference announcing the TTC news, he remained adamant that any property tax increase would remain at or below the rate of inflation. Without new sources of revenue (and the fare increase does not appear to be enough to cover the service bump), that campaign promise can only result in service reductions elsewhere. It certainly won’t lead to any type of expansion of services or programs. The numbers don’t add up.
If this is truly a Joe Pennachetti budget, as the Star’s Daniel Dale suggested, new revenue would be flowing into city coffers. For a couple years now, the city manager has been telling anyone and everyone who’s been listening that as it is, Toronto’s future fiscal health is unsustainable if we continue to ignore the need for new revenues. The mayor’s going to keep any property tax increase to no more than the rate of inflation? Barring new money from the other levels of government, expect more user fees and the like or just start expecting less from the city.
Taking the most generous assessment of inflation, 2.7% for the city of Toronto, add an additional .5% for the Scarborough subway, the 2015 property tax increase has to come in at 3.2%. Anything less, anything, will mean cuts somewhere in services and programs. Even at just 3.2%, without other revenue sources, reductions will have to happen in order to pay for the increased spending like on the TTC Mayor Tory has already committed to.
Today’s budget recommendations mark the end of the 2014 municipal campaign. The time for hedging and hair-splitting has ended. The mayor will try his best to convince us that his hands are tied, that he’s just responding to situation not of his making. While there’s a grain of truth to that, come the middle of March, the city budget will be his to wear like the chain of office he also inherited.
— watchfully submitted by Cityslikr