As we head into the 2016 budget process in earnest, with today’s rate supported budget launch, I want to look back to a couple weeks in February earlier this year. The 2015 budget had just been finalized and Mayor Tory gave a speech talking about that and looking ahead to his plans for the 2016 budget, this one that’s now upon us. A week later, the mayor delivered words upon the kick-off of poverty reduction initiatives that resulted in the delivery this week of TO Prosperity: Poverty Reduction Strategy which Mayor Tory hailed as ‘one of the most important decisions, one of the most important commitments’ city council was going to have to make this term.
Compare and contrast these 2 speeches. Are they in any way compatible? One, the ardent cost-cutter. The other, investing in the health of the city, and the people of this city.
Which Mayor Tory is going to preside over the 2016 budget deliberations? It can’t be both. They’re working at cross-purposes. Just how important will his commitment to poverty reduction be when the rubber hits the road and he has to put actual dollars on the table?
Since taking office as mayor I have spoken often about the need for us to invest in the city to help ensure the health of the city itself, its economy and our people.
In our budget, this is demonstrated in particular by our unprecedented investment in public transit, so vital to the task of connecting people to jobs.
This year’s multi-million dollar investment will make it easier for families and working Torontonians to get around and will reverse some of the decisions of recent years which actually made doing that more difficult.
We have also proposed significant additional investments which try to address the needs of the homeless and while longer term solutions which see an increased supply of affordable housing are needed, these proposals represent sensible, sensitive shorter term measures for some of our most vulnerable people.
I believe it is also necessary for the short and long term health of our city that we also invest in people, with an early focus on those most vulnerable.
When I first took office, I indicated that I would appoint Councillor Pam McConnell as one of Toronto’s deputy mayors with a specific focus on developing a poverty reduction strategy previously called for by city council and endorsed by me as a candidate for mayor.
Deputy Mayor McConnell has done a very impressive amount of work in a very short period of time and that work continues with city wide consultations taking place this month.
With that strategy in development, I thought it would be right to set aside a substantial amount of new money in the 2015 budget to allow us to undertake some measures this year designed to address poverty in Toronto and I asked Deputy Mayor McConnell to make recommendations as to how to allocate that money.
Today, we are making those recommendations public, recognizing they now become part of the budget process, and thus subject to debate at the budget committee and ultimately to consideration by the full City Council.
While this allocation represents a beginning as opposed to any kind of final answer, I am struck by the fact that it includes support in a variety of areas, including student nutrition, employment assistance and helping seniors who often end up in dire circumstances.
I am especially happy about the expansion of the student nutrition program which these funds will support–some 27 new schools will be added to the list and I am absolutely convinced this will improve the learning experience for hundreds of kids in our city and thus help keep them in school.
Similarly, there has been a significant allocation recommended by Deputy Mayor McConnell to support initiatives which help people connect to jobs.
I have always believed the best poverty reduction strategy is to help ensure that people have good, secure jobs and this investment will help some harder to employ people to get a job.
My efforts to attract jobs and investment to Toronto will be stepped up in the months to come.
Seniors often find themselves alone and without resources and another investment in this package will help them with transportation to get to appointments, access services and participate in community events.
I believe it is a measure of our commitment to Canadian values and our desire to build a strong, prosperous and fair city to act now to invest in initiatives like these.
Making these kinds of investments to help our most vulnerable is not only good for the health of our economy and our citizens – it’s the right thing to do.
Once again I thank Deputy Mayor McConnell for all of her hard work on this, I thank all of those who she consulted and I look forward to consideration of these proposals by the budget committee and ultimately by City Council.
The events which brought us to today began in 2013 when the province decided to phase out longstanding support for social housing, years ahead of schedule.
As a result, when I took office, we were confronted with an $86 million shortfall in this year’s budget.
That shortfall imposed all at once, would severely limit our ability to invest in key services like the TTC while keeping taxes affordable for Toronto families, particularly those who are struggling.
Unfortunately, as you know, after lengthy discussions with the province, we were unable to come to a satisfactory resolution to smooth out the impact of their funding cuts and lessen the impact on the people of Toronto.
So, in consultation with the City Manager and Budget Chair, I made the decision that the right thing to do was for Toronto to deal with this challenge on our own.
We said we would take care of our own house.
I am here today to spell out how we plan to do so.
Working alongside the City Manager, City staff and Budget Chair Crawford, we have taken a hard look at the City’s finances.
Tomorrow, when the budget committee reconvenes, the City Manager and CFO will formally present the report you have before you to outline the City’s in-house financing proposal.
It includes a short term financing strategy to replace the loss of the provincial housing funding, and proposes immediate budgetary adjustments of $25 million to begin addressing the provincial cutback on a permanent basis.
On the short term financing, we will spread the effect of the cutback on the City over a period of four years. We will do so by temporarily reducing capital contributions from the Operating Budget by $130 million spread over a period of three years and borrowing that money from our own reserves to make up that capital funding.
While that financing is in place, we will go about the task of adjusting our budget to account for the provincial cutbacks, but we will do it over a four year period – as the original provincial schedule would have permitted us to do.
As one example of the kind of budget adjustments we will see for this year, we are proposing to eliminate five positions that have stood vacant since 2012 in Transportations Services.
Let’s be frank, if we haven’t needed to fill them by now, I think it is safe to say no one will miss them.
Social services is seeing lower caseload volumes, so we are proposing to adjust their budget to reflect the real costs, not inflated ones, and in the process, reduce the budget by $1.6 million.
By reflecting the significantly lower fuel costs in this budget, we will reduce the budget by an additional $2 million.
We have also asked both the TTC and the Toronto Police Service to find $5 million in savings each. City staff have highlighted some potential areas for reductions which will be addressed by the Police Services Board and the TTC board.
I thank both Andy Byford and Police Chief Blair for their willingness to work towards this goal.
I also want to emphasize this proposal is designed to have no impact on service levels.
I want to be clear that this is the beginning of a process where we will be scouring the City for real savings and efficiencies.
In the coming weeks I will be announcing the framework of a process that will help us achieve a target of 2 per cent savings across all City divisions and Agencies. That would yield around $80 million dollars by year’s end, and principally reflect itself in the 2016 budget.
The full details of the proposed financing approach and budget adjustments will be explained in detail by the City Manager at a technical briefing, but they represent a methodical, responsible approach to budgeting.
Confronted with a challenge, we have found a sensible way to give us time to meet it, including careful, considered reductions to this year’s budget, and a rational process to see us through the rest of this adjustment period.
While previous years have also presented challenges, we are committed to dealing with them in 2015 in a deliberate, sensible and sensitive way as to avoid the polarized chaos of the past.
Presented with a major provincial cutback, Councillor Gary Crawford and I chose neither to gut city services, nor to dramatically hike property taxes.
We chose instead to responsibly spread the impact of the provincial cuts over a few years by borrowing from ourselves, while we adjusted our budget.
This in turn allowed us to make vital investments in things like the TTC and keep the property tax increase below the rate of inflation.
Building the city, the transit, the housing, the support systems our people need in a financially responsible way, requires not rhetoric and a meat cleaver, but competence, common sense and discipline.
I think this proposed resolution to a problem created elsewhere reflects all competence, common sense and discipline.
I will now invite Councillor Crawford to say a few words.
— stumpedly submitted by Cityslikr