Toronto Sun-shiny Ways

July 8, 2016

No place reflects the petty, small-minded, tight-fisted, stadlerandwaldorfpublic ill-will slice of Toronto thinking more than the editorial and commentary pages of the Toronto Sun. And I’m not even going to be talking about the newspaper’s hypocritical Pride and Black Lives Matter coverage here! If you want to see the birthplace of Ford Nation, this is ground zero, the temple mount, the gravy crèche.

Last weekend, before falling into its lip-smacking Pride tizzy, we were gifted with a blasé editorial about City Hall money matters. Trimming city budget by 2.6% should be routine, the Sun “informed” its readers. Because, well, that just goes without saying.

It’s pretty much standard right wing, a priori reasoning based on the simple assumption that all government spending is too much spending, so the less of it, the better. There’s some straw man arguments thrown into the mix, quoting opponents, ‘the left’, with words no one has said, arguments no one’s made in order to sound reasonable or, at least, less stridently ideological. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even have read the tired mess except for a subsequent tweet that came across my time line.texaschainsawmassacre

An earlier Sun article by Daniel McKenzie reported that 20-25% of the subway cars on the Bloor-Danforth line would be without working air-conditioning this summer. The paper’s “Editor Emeritus”, whatever that is, an old horse unwilling to be put out to pasture? (surely you mean the glue factory – ed.), Lorrie Goldstein, was  presented with the consequences of the unrelenting demand for low taxes. Making do without those nice-to-haves like subway car air-conditioning. Mr. Goldstein’s retort? As classy and gracious as one might expect from the “Editor Emeritus” of the Toronto Sun.

Sorry, this is too stupid to even respond to. They have the money to fix them. They just haven’t been fixing them.

“Sorry, this is too stupid to even respond to,” yet Mr. Goldstein proceeds to respond, firmly establishing the Sun’s style page, as it were, for its stable of editorial and commentary writers. Two successive thoughts need not be connected. tinfoilhatJust type out words as they spring into your head. The angrier and more irrational the better.

As for the actual response?

On the level of quackery equal to those who tell us doctors and scientists have the cure to cancer but they’re keeping it to themselves because they don’t want to lose their jobs.

Mr. Goldstein is suggesting that the TTC has the money to fix the air-conditioning in its subway cars but is simply choosing not to. Why? He only had 140 characters to work with, so deeper conspiracy theories are more difficult to fully flesh out on the Twitter platform. Besides, he didn’t really want to respond at all in the first place. Such rank stupidity only deserves so much inane rambling.

(Here’s a better explanation for the lack of subway air-conditioning from Ben Spurr in the Toronto Star. IT’S STARVED FOR CASH! Uncomfortable commuters are down the list of TTC priorities right now.)

bloodfromastoneThat the “Editor Emeritus” of the Toronto Sun, a newspaper that’s part of a bigger media conglomeration mired in as dire financial straits as Postmedia is, still has a platform from which to pronounce on anything to do with fiscal fitness seems somehow apropos, I guess. A tired, disproven economic orthodoxy, clinging desperately to relevance as the ship slowly sinks. Unfortunately, you can still here echoes of the exhausted arguments in the words of some of our local decision makers.

That debate [new revenue tools] is coming and our position will be that any new taxes imposed by the city must be earmarked for specific projects, not just sent down the black hole of general revenues.

By the “black hole of general revenue”, the Sun must mean the operating budget. The one that paves our streets, pays for our emergency services, subsidizes public transit, maintains our public library and public health, etc., etc. That black hole. beancounterSo, the editors of the Sun can be persuaded to consider new taxes as long as they’re dedicated to building things but not actually running them.

Mayor John Tory has expressed similar sentiments. He’s made it perfectly clear this week to both the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star that he’s ready and willing to talk turkey about new revenue tools but they must be dedicated to infrastructure needs. As for the day-to-day operations of the city? They can do perfectly well with less. (See: Tales from the TTC, above).

Of course, for the Toronto Sun, the mayor and the mayor’s council allies, any serious talk of additional revenues can be had only under one condition:

… the idea council would consider imposing any new taxes, levies and fees beyond its existing revenue streams, without first insuring the city budget is being run as efficiently as possible, is fiscally irresponsible and reckless.

Who measures that, ‘as efficiently as possible’? Back in 2012, the audit firm KPMG concluded that, all things considered, the city was pretty tightly run. isaacnewtonTwo successive city managers, neither considered to be part of the lunatic left the Sun loves to lash out at, have said similar things. Yes, there are ways to continue containing costs, even decreasing them in some cases. But nowhere near enough to build and pay for the things a growing city needs.

That’s the argument, not some concocted fairy tale of self-serving left wingers making claims about absolute efficiency at City Hall. It’s just that the Sun and Mayor Tory and every other penny-pinching fiscal “conservative” member of council wants you to believe that if there’s any example of waste they can find, then there’s no need for any new revenue. And, in an organization as big and complex as the city of Toronto, there will always examples of inefficiency. The notion of a perfectly running system died with Isaac Newton.

Too bad for us equally as dated ideas and beliefs haven’t been similarly discarded. But I guess the Toronto Sun isn’t in the business of discarding dated ideas and beliefs. In fact, since 1971, it’s been championing them, tub thumping for them, stubborn1bearing the standard for them. Because too many of us have been listening to their anti-government screeds for too long, we find ourselves in the state we’re currently in. Loudly demanding easy answers to complicated problems, and feeling put upon to fully contribute to the public good, convinced we’re getting less from it than we’re giving.

A constantly outraged sense of grievance, our strength. The Toronto Sun way.

brightly submitted by Cityslikr


Show Us The Efficiencies!

June 27, 2016

So, I’m having a quiet conversation the other day with a painter friend of mine, Donald… actually, my friend’s not a painter and his name isn’t Donald. quietconversationBut we were having a quiet conversation the other day.

I bring this up just to establish a time line of my thought process, to let you know I was thinking about this before reading David Nickle’s article yesterday, Toronto’s past public finance practices have experienced its own form of Brexit. It’s this latest broad side fired at the fiscal policies pursued for the better part of a decade at City Hall. “Folly. Pure populist folly,” Nickle calls it.

City councillors have been pretending to practice austerity and delivering at-or-below inflationary property tax increases for about a decade, while roughly maintaining services. They’ve increased some revenues, mostly through fees like transit fares. But otherwise, they’ve relied on the booming real estate market and finite help from the provincial government to keep things going.

Mayor Tory and his council allies are also continuing to trot out the shop worn claim that taxes and other revenue streams are unnecessary or unbecoming, even, until we bear down and squeeze out every last drop of inefficiency there is to be found especially in the operating budget. nostoneunturnedUntil such a time as there is shown to be absolutely no waste, or gravy as the previous guy called it, talk of new revenue will remain theoretical. This, of course, is an impossibly high goal to set which, as we’ve probably suggested before, may well be the whole point of such a futile exercise.

Bringing me to my quiet conversation with my friend the other day.

Of course there are still efficiencies to be found. No one has ever said otherwise. Here’s an example right here in a Toronto Star article from Thursday by David Rider, Audit finds waste in City of Toronto cleaning services. “Hundreds of thousands of dollars down the drain a year,” according to the Auditor General.

There you go. Although, I must point out that it’s also not good news for champions of contracting out services, like Mayor Tory, who like to tell us that the private sector, by its very nature, brings about efficiencies and automatically saves us money. Still. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. moarGet ‘er done.

Now, here’s the meat of the conversation between my not-Donald-the-painter friend of mine and me. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Hell, let’s call it a million bucks. Unless the auditor general or whoever else finds 50, 75, 100, 200 of those kind of examples of waste and inefficiencies, we still won’t have enough money to maintain the current services and programs we have, never mind anything new. This is what Mayor Tory’s been told by two consecutive city managers now. Efficiencies for sure but not just efficiencies. It’s not going to be enough.

Moreover, I said to my friend, I said, It’s put up or shut up time for these efficiencies fiends. You claim there’s still lots of efficiencies to be found, find them. Find them and bring them to the budget table. No more vague generalities and focus grouped catchphrases involving sides and dressings.

Anyone who’s followed along with the budget process the last 6 years or so will recognize the approach of the various self-proclaimed fiscal hawks we elect to city council. showmethemoneyPre-determine the property tax rate to give yourself a pretty good idea of what that year’s operating budget will be and then force anyone proposing new spending to make a deduction somewhere else in the budget. An offset, it’s called. This is how much we’re spending. It’s all zero sum after that.

How be this time around, anyone coming to the budget proceedings saying we have to find efficiencies, needs to bring said efficiencies to the table. You don’t want to raise the property tax rate above the rate of inflation? Find the efficiency offset. 1% property tax increase equals roughly $24 million for the city. Before you start talking about 2% or 4% or 5% cuts to budgets, you need to show some $48 or $96 or $120 million in efficiencies found.

Because across the board budget cuts are not the same thing as finding efficiencies. If we’re going to start talking about ‘unprecedented’ and ‘devastating’ cuts, texaschainsawmassacreas Nickle suggests some might be, the onus needs to be placed squarely on those pushing them under the banner of finding efficiencies. We must demand specifics, details down to the penny. Show us the efficiencies found, show us the money.

Otherwise, you’re just proposing cuts for cutting’s sake, and that’s something else entirely. That’s just ideology. That’s a completely different conversation.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Simple Truth

June 23, 2016

For the second time in about five years, the audit/advisory/consultant thingie, KPMG, was asked to answer the burning question: Does Toronto have a spending or revenue problem? tellmewhatiwanttohearFor the second time in five years, KPMG has reported back: All things considered, there’s more of a revenue problem at work than spending. The city’s pretty tightly run. To avoid seriously cutting essential and even mandated services and programs, City Hall should look at accessing increased revenues.

Oddly though, what many of our elected local representatives, including Mayor John Tory have heard and concluded is: Right. Just like I thought. We need to cut spending. Tighten our belts. To the efficiency-mobile, Batman!

Some urban legends die hard, it seems, if at all, when they run contrary to the political ideology of right wing, small government politicians. There is always more fat to be trimmed, gravy to be drained, excess to excise before we can start talking about revenue. We must learn to live within our means. There’s always money in the banana stand.

This sentiment is so strong with enough of our city council that it’s more than a little surprising that KPMG was called upon to deliver a revenue tools report at all.deaf It was and it did, the City of Toronto Revenue Options Study coming out earlier this week. A boatload of suggestions for raising revenue, some immediately in the city’s purview, others it would have to get provincial permission to implement.

I want to focus on one section of the report, 17, pages 165-170. (A PDF I cannot figure out for the life of me how to load up on this page here, so you’ll just have to follow along via this link). Property Tax Analysis.

This is another shibboleth our mayor and his council allies, and the administration before it, and pretty much every small-minded member of council since at least amalgamation, has taken and spouted as gospel truth. We pay too much in property taxes, dammit! Homeowners (as if it’s just those owning their homes pay property taxes) are already stretched to the max. They cannot afford any more hikes in their property taxes. Seniors will be chased out into the streets…

Similarly, the information presented above suggests that residential property tax rates levied by the City of Toronto and the implied burden on households, expressed both in dollar terms and as a percentage of household income, are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities. This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities reviewed, while also considering that Toronto is the only city in the sample that also applies MLTT.

What’s that, you say? By almost any measure, Toronto’s property tax rates “are lower than those in the majority of other GTHA municipalities”? That simply can’t be. If it were, our local politicians wouldn’t be pretending otherwise. “This indicates that there may be an opportunity to increase property tax rates and still maintain burdens that are below the average of the municipalities…” youdontsay1So, why all this ‘at or below the rate of inflation’ insistence Mayor Tory’s pursuing?

Now, I get all the property tax caveats. It’s not a tax that accurately reflects or benefits from current economic realities. The city is too dependent on it and needs to diversify its revenue sources more. There are people who are house rich but cash poor, and property tax increases could jeopardize their ability to own. Toronto does have access to another form of property taxation, the Municipal Land Transfer tax, that other municipalities don’t.

All these can be addressed but the point I’m trying to make here is this determined pursuit of at or below the rate of inflation property tax rate increase simply does not measure up to reality. parrotToronto property tax payers are not already overburdened like the mayor claims, just like his predecessor had trumpeted. As Matt Elliott pointed out last month after City Manager Peter Wallace’s Long Term Financial Report came out, “Since 2010, when adjusted for inflation, the city’s overall take from property taxes has gone down by 4.8%. Homeowners have gotten a break.”

Property taxes have contributed less to the city’s budget over the past 6 years, and even keeping rate hikes at the rate of inflation will further reduce them since costs will inevitably rise higher than that. 5%, I believe the city manager told the budget committee yesterday in its initial meeting about the 2017 budget. If so, other sources of revenue will be needed to help balance the operating budget or further cuts to spending which is already down in terms of per capita numbers since 2010, as Elliott also pointed out.

Arrows heading in a different direction than the one Mayor Tory wants us to believe.

There will be new revenue tools introduced, though very likely not in time for the 2017 budget. texaschainsawmassacreThe mayor, however, has made a point of saying for capital spending which explains his spate of transit announcements this week. Softening the public up for new taxes or fees, dedicated to building all this new stuff the city wants and needs while the operating budget will continue to be squeezed.

Or, as Councillor Mike Layton quoted the city manager telling the budget committee, heading toward “direct austerity” and “smaller government”.

As the KPMG revenue options study suggests, that will be a choice Mayor Tory and his council allies will make not one made out of necessity.

factually submitted by Cityslikr


We Pledge Our Allegiance To Ford Nation

June 21, 2016

texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe in order to keep from descending into daily bouts of screaming madness following along with local politics in this burg, one needs to step back and accept the fact that a majority of voters in this city are small c conservatives. They expect very little from City Hall and believe (erroneously in most cases) they make very few demands upon it. Keep our taxes low, streets clean and safe and get the garbage picked up, and we’ll get along just fine.

Rob Ford’s biggest mistake as mayor wasn’t his loutish and illicit behaviour, at least not directly. The faux pas he committed was exposing us as the bumpkins we truly are in supporting such a character in the first place, the miserliness at our civic core. David Miller’s time in office was an outlier. He tried dragging us into the 21st-century and we didn’t care for it one little bit. John Tory has restored us to our natural state, explaining his continued popularity in spite of his continued mishandling of important files. No matter. As our friend John McGrath suggested earlier this year, “Toronto got exactly what it voted for in 2014: 85% of Rob Ford’s policies with 200% more syllables.”

Mayor Tory continues to dig in and boldly adhere to our traditional ways of municipal governance with his letter to the budget committee, laying out his ‘Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget’. Which are? High in aspiration, low in actually delivering anything other than keeping property taxes unsustainably low and further squeezing the life out of many city services and programs.

David Rider in the Toronto Star and David Nickle of Inside Toronto go into much more detail about what happens if the budget committee and, ultimately, city council follow the mayor’s lead with this. While he talks of new revenue discussions and finding savings from the biggest line item in the city’s budget, the police services, it’s hard to imagine any of that will be in place in time for this year. So in the meantime, Mayor Tory gets to shake every other tree at City Hall in the hopes of finding more low-hanging fruit despite the fact he’s been told repeatedly there’s very little left, none in some cases. Any further paring, so to speak, will only end up causing damage.

And we will cheer him on because that’s what we expect of our elected municipal officials to do. As little as possible, costing us as little as possible. If urban planner, Brent Toderian is correct when he says, “The truth about a city’s aspirations in its vision. It’s found in its budget,” what does that say about Toronto and its vision, its expectations, its aspirations? Mayor Tory’s letter to his budget committee would indicate that we remain, deep down, Ford Nation.

What other conclusion can we draw?

Below, is a copy of Mayor Tory’s letter to the budget committee with some editorial work of mine in red.

* * *

June 17, 2016

City Hall, 2nd floor

100 Queen Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M5H 2N2

To: Gary Crawford, Budget Chief, and Members of Budget Committee

Re: Mayor’s Priorities for the Development of the 2017 Budget

Toronto is a vibrant and growing city, but it is changing quickly. Our population is increasing and our demographics are shifting, bringing new pressures and expectations.

To compete in today’s global economy and maintain Toronto’s character as vibrant, affordable and liveable for all ages and income levels, the City must keep up with the pace of change and think differently about its role in people’s lives.

We must prioritize our investments and spend our money wisely, providing services with a direct, positive impact for the public.

To that end, this letter outlines my expectations of all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices for the 2017 operating and capital budgets:

The City’s tax-supported 2017 net operating budget target is zero percent over the 2016 net operating budget, meaning $3.97 billion; (No new money)

Inflationary pressures and negotiated wage increases should be absorbed within existing budgets; (In fact, even less money than last year)

Any new or enhanced services should be funded from within existing budgets; (You want to try or buy anything new? Get rid of some old stuff first)

Any new or enhanced services with a “net zero” funding impact should be reviewed for impact on staff time and planned service delivery; (Maybe your new or enhanced service isn’t “net zero” if it costs money for the city to implement and deliver. Did you ever think about that?)

Current service levels should be assessed to confirm their value for money and benefit to the public; (A nice-to-have or a need-to-have?)

Opportunities for efficiencies and alternative service delivery models should continue to be pursued, including contracting out; (See Ford, Rob, Mayor, 2010-2014) and,

Any property tax increase should be at or below the rate of inflation. (No new money. In fact, very likely, less.)

City Building Priorities

While our budget is under real strain (Self-imposed), we must continue to build the city we want (In theory). To that end, I have also identified strategic priorities to complete the mandate we have set out over the past two years.

(This following section is a house of cards built on the contradictory impulses expressed in the first sentence. All the stated intentions here are undermined by (a) the faultiness of the intentions themselves i.e. SmartTrack and/or (b) the budgetary constraints stated above. This is a zero sum game here. For any of this to happen, something else will have to be sacrificed somewhere else in the budget.)

It’s time to exert discipline and ramp up our efforts to build a modern city and an efficient, ambitious and effective government, through:

The ongoing planning, design and construction of our transit network expansion, including SmartTrack, the optimized Scarborough network and the Relief Line, which will take cars off the road, reduce overcrowding on existing transit lines and dramatically increase and improve service across the city, while protecting the existing new transit investments. This transit expansion must move forward efficiently, in order to capture the full value of the currently proposed federal infrastructure investments;

Continued investment in Toronto’s mobility network to provide safe, efficient and reliable ways to move around the city for those travelling by car, bike or on foot;

Continued implementation of TO Prosperity: Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy investments provided for in the 2017 work plan;

Further investment in affordable housing, through our Open Door program; and,

Continued investments in building on Toronto’s standing as one of the most liveable cities in the world through support for arts, culture and public realm projects across the city. (Hoo-rah! A whole bunch of empty cheerleading)

Government Modernization

In the last two years, we have taken some long overdue steps to confront the City’s real underlying pressures without just making arbitrary cuts. (Mayor Tory’s previous call for 5% across the board cuts belies this statement)

The real waste and inefficiency in our City government is found in outdated systems and services, unnecessary duplication and a slow embrace of technology. This is why, despite the declarations of victory made by some, I continue to believe there is much work to be done making large government operate much more efficiently. (No one I know has ever said there’s no more efficiencies. As the city manager has made very clear, there are simply not enough to pay for the stuff the mayor says he wants)

And so, to achieve further real progress, I would like to see an increased focus on digital solutions, measurement and analytics, as well as the expedited completion or implementation of the following reports and reviews:

The Real Estate Review, which will provide an up-to-date assessment of the City’s real estate holdings and create important city-building opportunities;

The Toronto Police Transformational Task Force, which will make recommendations to reduce the growing TPS budget through modernization;

Procurement Review, which is examining the City’s procurement process, especially related to technology solutions;

An immediate prioritization of work that transitions the City to a data-driven organization. All work by City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should be measured, tracked and analyzed so the City can make budget decisions based on sound analytics;

City Programs should also work to meet our Open Data Strategy and targets; and,  City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices should prioritize work that provides the people of Toronto with mobile friendly, technology enabled services. This efficiency will free up resources to offer direct services to those who cannot access this service on line.

There is no either/or choice between government efficiency and ambitious city building. (Again, nobody has said otherwise) We can and must contain spending and become more efficient while continuing to make strategic investments in transit, housing and vital infrastructure.

We can do this while maintaining the values and character that make Toronto great.

But it will require a new approach. (If by new approach, the mayor means the same one employed by the previous administration, then yes)

For too long, we have relied on property tax and MLTT revenues without introducing new ways to pay for the city building efforts we support. Alongside the 2017 Budget Process, we must have a serious conversation about new ways to raise revenues, especially to finance longer term capital investments like transit and housing, and we will. (Seems here the mayor is willing to talk about new revenue sources for capital spending, leaving the operating side of the equation dwindling under the weight of at or below the rate of inflation property tax increases)

In the meantime, we owe it to the public to spend their money wisely, before we ask them to contribute more. (**cough cough** Scarborough subway **cough cough** Gardiner East hybrid **cough cough** **cough cough**)

I encourage staff from all City Programs, Agencies, relevant Corporations, and Accountability Offices to help us build a truly modern city that is the envy of the world and to do it while keeping the interests of the people we serve, the residents of Toronto, first and foremost in our minds. (Define “interests”)

 

Sincerely,

John Tory

Mayor of Toronto

submitted by Cityslikr


Predetermining Outcomes

June 8, 2016

It has been my experience that someone who attempts to frame an opposing view in a dishonest, distorted manner has no intention of engaging in an honest, informative debate.

Exhibit A:

Mayor John Tory’s opening statement at yesterday’s city council meeting on Toronto’s long-term fiscal plan of action.

There are people who will say that we don’t have any problem with respect to expenditures, and my answer to that would only be to say that anybody who’s part of any multi-billion dollar organization that says they’ve found every single efficiency that there is to be found is either ill-informed or is trying to mislead.

The thing is, I’ve never heard anybody, inside or outside of the multi-billion dollar organization that is the city of Toronto, say anything remotely like that. How could they with a straight face? A quick glance in any direction will turn up misspent money and cost overruns. Renovations of Union Station, Nathan Phillips Square. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. The **cough, cough** Scarborough subway extension. Bunny suits and retirement parties. Remember those? Oldies but goodies.

It would be foolish to suggest none of that matters. That’s why very few people I know have ever said such a thing. texaschainsawmassacreThat’s not what this debate is about, no matter how much the mayor would like you to think it is.

What this city manager has been telling Mayor Tory, like the city manager before him said, like the KPMG report back in 2012 concluded, all of them, is that the city is pretty tightly run already, and much more cutting of budgets finding efficiencies will begin to negatively impact the delivery of services and programs. More to this particular aspect of the debate, City Manager Peter Wallace has been emphasizing the point that no amount of further efficiencies or selling off of city assets alone will generate the necessary revenue to a) continue funding the day-to-day operating budget, and b) or be enough to build the new infrastructure we want/require and rebuild the state of good repair of infrastructure we already have. We have to have the revenue tools discussion, boys and girls.

What the mayor heard, however, came straight out of a game of broken telephone. What do you mean there’s no more efficiencies to be found? (That’s not what I said.) What do you mean selling off city owned assets won’t generate revenue? (Again, that’s not what I said. Nowhere in my report did I write that.)

Mayor Tory has acknowledged that we will have to have an “honest” discussion about revenue tools. “I’m glad revenue tools are on the table,” admitted his budget chief, Councillor Gary Crawford. But…But…

The city must maintain a fundamental focus on responsible and effect expense management…We must continue to explore efficiencies and cost reduction in order to create resources for other investment opportunities…Once we get those correct, once we look at those, I think we can have the discussion on revenues.

To suggest that we have found everything is absolutely not responsible.

Again, nobody has ever suggested such a thing. Mayor Tory and his council allies are determined to distort the terms of this debate while at the same time attempting to establish impossible to meet standards in order to put off any sort of serious discussion about revenue tools. actingNo stone will be left unturned! No efficiency unwrung! This city must be a perfectly oiled, flawlessly operating machine. Until such a time – “Once we get those correct,” in the words of the budget chief – there will be no talk of new revenue tools.

At least, no serious discussion. We’ll get the pretense of a serious discussion, the theatre of an informed, honest debate. Mayor Tory will give the impression of earnestly grappling with our fiscal future. It’ll be just an act, though. Talk of good intentions masking no intention whatsoever to move beyond his preconceived, ideologically hidebound notions of how government should work. His own political rigidity reflected in how he’s attempting to paint opposing views in stark, rigid terms.

predictingly submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto’s Taxing Problem, Part Infinity

May 27, 2016

I was in New York City earlier this week when this city’s City Manager, Peter Wallace, read the fiscal riot act to city council via Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee in the boldest terms an unelected official could to his elected colleagues at City Hall. readtheriotact(Could I use the word ‘city’ and any of its derivations more times in one sentence? Probably. But, you know, overkill.)

What the mayor was told was the same thing the mayor and his predecessor have been told for pretty much 5 years now. Yes, there are probably more efficiencies to be found in the budget, efficiencies are always being found. Yes, the city can look at selling off monetizing some of its assets for a one time, payday infusion of cash. Yes, of course but… None of it will come close to narrowing the widening gap between the money coming in and money going out to pay for the services, programs and capital needs Toronto is responsible for. Not even close.

Mayor Tory was told all that but what he heard Jonathan Goldsbie highlights here in NOW. Essentially, the mayor heard what he wanted to hear. He heard what every self-serving, small-minded, pandering local politician hears when it comes to the city’s finances. Taxes bad. We already pay too much. Stretched to the limit. Hardworking homeowners. whatthecathearsNickel and dimed to death. Get off our lawns. Plow our streets.

A few years back, during a similar if not exact budget and fiscal discussion, I remember coming across a page listing the taxes and fees residents of other big cities throughout the world pay. For the life of me, I can’t find it now, and I’m too lazy and inept to actually track it down on the internetz but it did get me to thinking about a comparison I could probably present in a reasonable fashion. New York and Toronto.

I found this from 2009, a study of New York City’s taxation policy, funded by the Solomon Foundation, an off-shoot of the Solomon Company, a fairly substantial investment firm. Now, I offer it up with all the usual caveats. No comparison between cities is perfect, especially cities in different country and jurisdictions. This was from 7 years ago, so things might’ve changed. Moreover, I’m not much of numbers guy, my financial comprehension should be considered suspect and I am easily distracted.

That said…

Consider page 12, Exhibit 1, New York City Taxes and Other Revenue Sources.

NYCTaxes2009

Check out what I think could be called a laundry list of revenue sources the city taps into, taxes making up about 59% of all revenues. Personal income taxes, business taxes, sales tax, hotel tax, cigarette tax, beer, wine and liquor tax, horserace admission tax, vehicle tax, taxi tax. That’s before we even get to property taxes.

No wonder the city never sleeps! Everybody’s working 24/7 to pay all those taxes.

Now, look at this page [page 29], a pie chart from Toronto’s 2016 operating budget.

2016TOBudgetFinal

46% of our city’s revenues come from taxation, at least in name. Property tax, Land Transfer tax and something called “Supplementary Taxation”. Toronto already taxes residents and visitors to this city 13% less than New York did in 2009. So how is it that we’re overtaxed and “stretched to the limit” as the mayor claims we are, we being that mysterious group of “homeowners”?

And this is New York City we’re talking about here, not some zany, left-wing, socialist Scandinavian city. imbalanceThe Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, Tax Hating U.S. of A.

Mayor Tory and his allies do have a point, if they are trying to make a valid point that the city coffers are too dependent on property taxes to help pay the bills. Throwing in the Land Transfer tax, 44% of Toronto’s annual revenues come from property taxes. In 2009, “Real Estate Related Taxes” made up just 26.6% of New York’s revenues, 23.6% of that from straight up property taxes. So yes, especially given how we assess property taxes here, we probably rely too much on them to generate revenue.

So, let’s look for other sources of revenue then, shall we? Not just by selling off assets or ferreting out further efficiencies. The city manager, like the city manager before him, said that’s not going to do the trick.

We need to talk about revenue tools, taxes if you prefer. That’s not a bad word. notlisteningAt least, it isn’t in places that realize you have to pay for the things you want and need. Torontonians want, need and expect the city to provide these things. Somehow, if the words and deeds of many of the people we elect to represent us are any indication, we except to get all these things at impossibly low costs to us. Somebody else pay because I’m already paying too much!

It’s a tired line of argument, one with almost no factual merit. You get the kind of city you pay for. The bottom line is, we’re not paying for the city we say we want.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Zeros (10 Of Them, In Fact)

March 26, 2016

One of the things I can’t get my head around while winterly situated here in Los Angeles, on the city’s westside is, despite the area’s affluence, your nearby Beverly Hills, your Bel Airs, Brentwoods, Santa Monicas, waitingforthebusthe whole Westside scene, I’m living in a relative rapid transit desert. Lots of bus service, for sure, but the nearest LRT stop is the better part of a half-hour bus ride away, and the subway nearly an hour. It takes a long time to use public transit to get to almost anywhere else in the city from here.

This is pretty much the complete opposite from my regular place of residence in downtown-ish Toronto. While not as entirely upscale as this area in Los Angeles, it’s doing alright, thank you very much, and it is awash in access to public transit. Buses, streetcars, subways, you name it. You can get everywhere but to some of the farthest reaches of the city in a not entirely unacceptable period of time.

Ease of transit access with plenty of mobility options is a fairly standard characteristic of desirability in neighbourhoods and cities these days except when it’s not. waitingforthebus1Like on the westside of Los Angeles which has had history of fighting any invasion of rapid transit, from subways to bus lanes. But these places are more enclaves than neighbourhoods, existing outside or above the notion of city rather than as part of it.

Despite such resistance, however, rapid transit is continuing its slow march to the Pacific. In May, the Expo LRT line will open up an extension westward into Santa Monica. There are plans to continue burrowing the Purple Line subway under Wilshire Boulevard in order to eventually connect the woefully underserved UCLA Westwood campus and Ronald Reagan hospital complex. If, that is, the latest ballot initiative, a successor and extension of the 2008 Measure R, gets the thumbs-up from 2/3s of voters when it goes before them in November, to bump the L.A. County sales tax another half-a-cent which would raise $120 billion over the next 40 years, all dedicated to building transportation projects. waitingforthebus3Lots and lots of transportation projects.

The passage of this measure, finalized for consideration this June, would usher in yet another frenzy of transit building in Los Angeles, a city already something of a frenzied madhouse of transit building for a couple decades now. More than 3 dozen mass transit and highway improvements over the next 40 years, according to the LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson. Pretty much 40-in-40 if you can get your head around that degree of expansion.

“What we’ve been saying is, everyone is going to get something, and no one is going to get everything,” a Metro Transportation Agency representative said.

Fair enough, on the face of it. $120 billion is a lot of money, $3 billion a year over 40 years, but it is still a limited resource. Not everyone will be completely satisfied. Just how unhappy some are, however, will determine if this proposed measure passes muster in November.

Early indications are not particularly encouraging. waitingforthebus4For anyone familiar with the Toronto Scarborough subway dogfight, the downtown-suburban divide that’s emerged over what would get funded and when throughout the some 88 municipalities within L.A. County with the new money is a very familiar one. “The system is certainly stacked against (small) cities,” said [James] Ledford, the mayor of Palmdale [a city of about 160,000 residents, about 100 kilometres northeast of Los Angles]. … “The downtown interests are certainly being taken care of.”

Routine territorial resentment aside, there is some irony in that fact that the westside of the city which has long resisted subway expansion (albeit, a fight lead almost exclusively by the municipality of Beverly Hills) could get not one but two subway lines, projects that are sitting atop the proposed list. While the argument in favour of them is persuasive, a denser population area with job hubs and a natural transit locus at UCLA and nearby hospitals, should the rest of the county, waitingforthebus5step aside and wait their turn because the transit need here is, at least in part, self-inflicted?

It’s not like some of the westside cities are being particularly gracious about the arrival of rapid transit either. With the coming of the Expo Line LRT to Santa Monica in May, there’s a “slow-growth” group, Residocracy, attempting to raise funds and signatures for their own ballot initiative, Land Use Voter Empowerment (LUVE) that would put the development process firmly into residents’ NIMBY hands. Thanks for the rapid transit, L.A. Make sure your asses are on that last train out of here when you leave.

Transit planning is so political. That’s not a novel observation, not here in Los Angeles certainly. When they began the big transit build in earnest with the first subway back in the 90s, the Bus Riders Union formed and eventually won a landmark civil rights case against the transit agency for using funds to construct shiny, high-end projects at the expense of much needed bus service throughout the rest of the city, waitingforthebus6establishing the idea of transit equity, transit justice. Transit planning is so political, with a dash of class conflict thrown in.

Metro’s approach to contend with that reality this time around seems to be to overwhelm everyone with the sheer scale and number of projects that it would seem impossible for anyone to ask: What’s in it for me? The question the initiative’s proponents may have to answer, though, is: What’s in it for me before I die at a ripe old age? A 40 year horizon is pretty hard to see, to grasp, to pitch to your constituents. 2056?! That’s like the title of some sci-fi B-movie.

If this ambitious plan is to proceed, starting with winning enough votes in November, project priority may have to be reworked, based not on sound planning principles but political necessity, not to mention fairness and actual need. waitingforthebus7Where is the biggest captive transit ridership in the county? Probably not on the westside of Los Angeles.

In an ideal world…but that’s not where we live, is it. Transit planning isn’t ultimately about best practices. It, like almost every other aspect of politics, is rife with compromise. Getting things done right gets truncated to simply getting things done. You accept that and hope the difference between one word doesn’t translate into having got things wrong.

by-the-numbersly submitted by Cityslikr