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
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)
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”)
Mayor of Toronto
— submitted by Cityslikr