Not A Showdown So Much As A Show Off

January 29, 2014

The 2014 budget city council meets this week to iron out is shaping up to be the most madcap one yet under the Ford administration. madcapAnd that’s saying something, given last year, I believe it was, when Mayor Ford voted against his own budget, following the always reasonable Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti down the rabbit hole of a property tax freeze.

This ain’t a budget debate, Chuck! It’s college hijinx!

No doubt the extra splash of wacky sauce comes, in part, from the fact that it’s a campaign year budget. Nobody wants to be seen as a tax-and-non-spender. You’re going to wind up pissing off some constituency and handing a flaming torch to a willing challenger. Best to try and go unnoticed, quietly not upsetting the status quo.

Not possible, of course, with our very own raging bull, the braying mayor, Rob Ford, doing his very unleveled best to ring the alarm bells about the budget debate. This time around, he’s an absolute free agent when it comes to the budget process. It’s not his budget, he’ll tell anyone still willing to listen to him with any degree seriousness. bullinachinashopHe was stripped of all his powers back in November for no good and probably illegal reason. Stabbed in the back by both friend and foe alike.

Budget 2014 is all on these traitors. Mayor Ford’s hands are clean. Neutered as he was from reining in their tax-and-spend inclinations, this is what happens when he’s not allowed to single-handedly watch over every single dime.

Which is all kind of weird when you start looking more closely at it.

The proposed budget limped out of the Executive Committee with a 2.23% property tax increase attached, roughly the same as the Budget Committee had recommended earlier. Both were down from the 2.75% city staff had advised. Both were roundly criticized by the mayor.

The worst budget ever!” he bellowed.

exactlythesameHere’s the thing.

In 2012, when Mayor Ford was still in (never quite) full control of the budget process, he signed off on a 2.5% property tax hike. In line with this worst one ever but not including a .5% bump dedicated to the first stage of building a new subway. Or, as the mayor likes to claim, an already built subway.

So the mayor’s deriding a budget that, give or take a few million over nearly $10 billion in total, is essentially the same as one he was on board with two years earlier, but now with some new subway attached to it.

You can’t make this shit up, folks.

Making matters even more… what’s a word for nut job zany?… Mayor Ford insists he’s going to move motions that will amount to the tune of some $50 million in savings, therefore removing the need for over 2% of that property tax hike. Without… wait for it…wait for it…affecting services and programs enough that anyone will notice. Easy. Guaranteed.

What kind of cost savings is the mayor proposing? It’s a secret, he says. nottellingStrategically kept from all those back-stabbers who are just waiting to tear his motions to shreds. But don’t get too tied up in knots over his approach. Mayor Ford is sure everything he puts forward will get defeated. So it’ll be like the whole thing never happened.

The Budget and Executive Committees didn’t help the cause in fending off the mayor’s magical budget thinking, ignoring staff recommendations on both the revenue and spending sides of the ledger. In the end, the document going to full city council today reduced the property tax hike while adding additional expenditures, counting on a higher amount of revenue from the Land Transfer Tax than staff estimated. That darned staff. Always keeping their projections low. Fingers crossed, the good times keep on rolling!

As it stands, the members of the Executive Committee attempted a tricky optical manoeuvre, sucking-and-blowing at the same time, only less so than the mayor (although as of this writing, Councillor David Shiner is now singing the praises of yet another cheap stunt property tax freeze, going full out MammoFordie), insaneand we’re now facing what staff has called an unbalanced budget. An unbalanced operating budget is unnatural at the municipal level, unnatural and illegal by provincial statute.

So by the end of this, by hook or by crook, and likely with a little razzle dazzle and smoke and mirrors, someone has to step up and balance the books. But I’m sensing before we arrive at that place, unbalanced will be the order of the day(s). Unbalanced. Unhinged. Unglued.

That’s just how we roll these days.

maniacally submitted by Cityslikr

A Change Has Got To Come

January 25, 2014

I was going to declare Ward 44 Scarborough East an open ward in the 2014 municipal campaign since it’s largely been vacant since 2010. yougottobekiddingThere was no reason to think the current incumbent, Councillor Ron Moeser, would be running for re-election since there’s been some question about his health from the start of this term. He missed much of the first two years owing to illness and, while he’s returned on a more regular basis in the last year, I wouldn’t consider him exactly in the pink.

Still, there’s been rumblings lately he might seek another term, and certainly no definitive announcement that he’s thinking of retiring. He even has his own Twitter account now! (No, not that one. This one.) So… I guess we’ll consider this a non-vacant ward to watch.

Which is unfortunate because, I think, if Councillor Moeser does intend to run again, he will really need to clear the air about just how physically capable he is to do the job. He went down early after winning the 2010 election, almost right off the bat. So quickly, in fact, that people probably should’ve been asking whether he was up to even running in the first place. questionsquestionsquestionsI don’t think it unkind or out of place to say that he’s been essentially an absentee councillor for most of the past 3 years.

Councillor Moeser really needs to put that issue to rest, front and centre, if he plans to keep going on city council.

For me though, perhaps even a bigger factor is his performance when he is on the job. As the mayor’s circle of willing allies shrunk to nearly unworkable levels, Councillor Moeser was foisted onto the budget committee upon his return to work, more or less full time. He seemed out of his depth. And on a committee featuring councillors Frances Nunziata, Vincent Crisanti, Doug Ford and Frank Di Giorgio sitting as chair, that’s saying something.

During this past budget season, Councillor Moeser seemed focussed purely on getting the staff recommended property tax increase down but singularly unable to come up with any suggestions on how to do that, where to find the necessary cuts. Granted, Mayor Ford exhibits similar difficulties with this concept but we shouldn’t really be setting the bar for other council members based on that lowly standard.

Now maybe this has nothing to do with Councillor Moeser’s health. Maybe he’s always been an anti-tax warrior with a tenuous grasp on city budgeting. overwhelmedIf so, who needs any more of those on city council?

Frankly put, Councillor Moeser has looked lost for most of the time I’ve been watching him. At budget committee, at city council meetings, he comes across as largely distracted, often times asking questions that others have already asked and had answered, or just putting forth plain, outright incomprehensibility. He’s tied in my mind with Councillor Vincent Crisanti (Ward 1 Etobicoke North) for having staff respond to his questions most often with, “I’m sorry, councillor. I don’t understand what you’re asking me.”

He’s been at this municipal government thing for a long time. Over 25 years now, dating back to his time on the city of Scarborough council minus the 3 years he sat out after being defeated in 2003. That’s a long time and, at this point, it doesn’t appear as if Councillor Moeser’s adapted to the massive changes this city has underground. He comes across as a grumpy old guy, more comfortable in those bucolic days when Scarborough was just some sleepy commuter burg where the biggest troublemakers were those loveable scamps, Wayne and Garth.

Councillor Ron Moeser has not had an easy time keeping Ward 44 since the 2000 election. He always involved in a tight electoral fight. gonegolfingThe last couple he defeated Diana Hall by a combined 350 votes.

If he’s not willing to accept the fact he’s no longer up to the task of representing his ward, it may be time for voters to give him more than just a scare in October. They need to give him a push. On your way, councillor. Thanks for your years of dedication to public service but it’s long since time for a change.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Cons Gone Mad

December 20, 2013

Conservatives have just given up trying to make any sense, haven’t they. crazycatWe’ve seen it for a while south of the border but up here they at least tried to make the appearance of seriousness and being thoughtful contributors to civic life and public discourse. Now? They’ve painted themselves into a politically philosophical corner with the only route out to climb the walls in pure barmy loonieness.

Believe us at your peril, folks. We’re making absolutely no fucking sense now.

Take the provincial Tories’ white paper thingie, dropped like a load on us yesterday. Please.

Paths To Prosperity: Building Great Cities.

Almost everything any urban thinker suggests not to do to build great cities, Tim Hudak and the gang are wholly embracing. Subways? Everywhere. More Roads? We’d be crazy not to. Sprawl? Fuck yeah.

And they promise to deliver all that (and more) without raising an extra cent in taxes. snakeoilHow? Well…

Prioritizing. You want to build all those shiny new subways and traffic inducing roads? The money’s going to have to come out of other capital projects. Maybe an aging water main or two bursts here and there every now and then. So be it as long as you can take a subway from Richmond Hill to Mississauga. As we know, capital expenditures are a zero sum game.

There are also plenty of government assets to self off. Did you know that the government of Ontario currently [some number here, pulled completely from context here] which would amount to [another number that only bears tangential relevance to the previous numbers used]? Wow! That’s a lot of money. Almost enough to build a couple subway stations once we’ve eliminated the deficit in x years although by which time today’s dollar figure will build significantly less.

And let’s not forget the private sector. Public-private partnerships. Pensions. Tap into those babies and watch the cash flow. freecashmoneyExactly the way it happened here in Toronto where, just like our mayor promised back in 2010, we extended the Sheppard subway all the way deep into Scarborough in time for the PanAm games in 2015. As has been shown the world over, the private sector just loves to pay for public infrastructure. If the current Liberal government at Queen’s Park wasn’t so distracted putting out scandal fires, they’d know this.

Not to be outdone on this magical mystery tour, Councillor Doug Ford, evidently with an eye still on a provincial seat in the legislature, has pledged his own brand of fiscal lunacy for today at budget committee. As vice-chair, he’s going to introduce 3 items to amend the staff proposed 2014 operating budget. Knock the property tax increase down from 2.5% to 1.75%. Propose the 5% reduction in the Land Transfer Tax. Knee cap the TTC fare increase.

If I’ve read it right, that’s $18m + $17m + $37m = $72 million the councillor wants to take from the revenue side of the city’s budget. How’s he going to make that up because, as we all know, the operating has to balance. Every year. Even every year before this administration came to power.

$72 million less in revenue means $72 million less in spending. Where’s Councillor Ford going to trim that from? showmethemoneyIt can’t be in service and program cuts because, as we all know, we were guaranteed no service cuts. Guaranteed.

See Paths To Prosperity: Building Great Cities, above.

Prioritize. Efficiencies. Fire sale of everything not nailed down. Adjustments and realignments. Everything is on the table except for cuts. Guaranteed.

It’s all bullshit, of course. (I write that a lot when I’m writing about conservative policy). As in every other aspect of our lives that conservatives like to preach to us about, there’s no such thing as a free ride. To try and spin a tale that we can build all our infrastructure needs and provide quality of life assistance to all our residents without it costing us more money individually is nothing but fiction. Cruel, twisted, fanciful fiction.

If conservatives were really being honest, they’d just come out and tell us that we’re not a collective society. abracapocus1That we’re just an amalgam of individuals, pursuing our own self-interest before all else. That we had everything sorted out just fine back in, say, the 1950s before, you know, everything changed. And if we’re just left to our own devices. If we just keep cutting taxes. If we just keep living where we want to live, driving where we want to drive. If everybody just keeps looking out for number one with little regard for anyone else, everybody will be better off, all of our needs will be met, the streets will be clean and safe, the garbage picked up.

Because… Magic.

sleight of handly submitted by Cityslikr

There’s Always A But

December 11, 2013

“I love the trees but…”ilovetrees

Councillor Doug Ford statement started yesterday at day one of the budget committee’s 2014 program review. It echoed similar sentiments that Councillor Vincent Crisanti made earlier in the meeting when he asked city staff when all the tree planting was going to end.

I love the trees but… I love nutritional programs for the kids but… I love extended library hours but…

It’s what follows the but (and my inner 10 year-old boy snickers) that’s important here. I love [fill in your program or service of preference here] but I don’t want to pay for it. Having stuff in the city is all fine and dandy but, please, stop reaching into my pocket where I keep my hard-earned dollars.

This, I think, is what’s referred to as the tragedy of the commons. The demand and use of public services and programs minus a willingness to pay for them. Or, the belief that, in fact, you more than pay your fair share. You want something else? It’s on your dime.

Which explains why, while the budget committee members are relatively comfortable (short a few notable exceptions) with a below the rate of inflation increase in property tax, minemineminethey’re totally cool about user fee increases far exceeding it. A whopping 6% (inflation plus 3.75%) in fact, on the various user fees discussed yesterday. We’re becoming a pay as you go city, folks. That’s respect for the tax not fee payers.

And, you know, if that’s your particular bent, so be it. I’d just say let’s be fair and apply that reasoning across the board. So we can bring back that vehicle registrations tax fee, right? Nickel and diming. Nickel and diming.

As it stands, the proposed budget is pretty much status quo given the last 3 years. Very few enhanced or new services and continued attrition and reductions around the horn. Certainly no noticeable overall improvements and the corrosion continues at an almost imperceptible pace.

Still that’s not enough for some on city council. The mayor and his brother have been very adamant about only wanting a 1.75% property tax increase as opposed to staff’s 2.5%. Seemingly out of the blue, budget committee member Councillor Ron Moeser wanted staff to go back and give him the numbers for a 2% property tax increase. texaschainsawmassacreTo his credit, Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio gently guided his colleague away from that line of questioning by pointing out, that staff had worked very, very hard for many, many months on this particular budget. The time for that kind of drastic ask had passed.

This was the same budget chief, however, who a little while later took a break from the meeting to meet with the mayor in front of the cameras to announce he’d be introducing a motion later on to reduce the Land Transfer Tax by 5% this year. That’s something like $17 million in lost revenue – poof! – just like that. Sorry about that hard working staff. Maybe we need to rethink that $14 million in new and enhanced services.

Because, technically speaking, cutting eliminating not introducing new or enhanced services is not a cut which this administration guaranteed it would not do. candyfromababyWe all love the new and enhanced services but…

For a group of people who spent an inordinate amount of time trying to ferret out the profligacy of providing breakfast and nutritional programs to children who may not actually need it, it’s obvious the only thing a majority of this particular budget committee really love is paying as little money as possible into the pot that we use to build a stronger, more vibrant, equitable and healthy city. The public good is for suckers. You want to make things better? Don’t look at me. I’ll just come along for the ride.

selfishly submitted by Cityslikr

Under The Microscope

December 10, 2013

Today the city begins the next stage of the 2014 budget with 4 days of program and service reviews. microscopeBasically a line by line breakdown of what and how City Hall is spending our money. Our hard-earned tax dollars.

The mayor, in his official capacity as visiting councillor, and his brother, the vice-chair of the budget committee, should both be present if for no other reason than to fully explain how they plan to cut the proposed staff budget in order to deliver on their 1.75% property tax increase (including a .5% for their beloved Scarborough subway). Exactly where is all this gravy that’s been leaking back onto the scene since council stripped the mayor of his power to find efficiencies and respect the taxpayers? Show us your work, gentlemen.

The chances of that happening, of course, are remote. Instead, any appearances the Fords may make will be intermittent at best with periods of heavy grandstanding. $18 million! robbingpeterSurely in a budget of nearly $10 billion we can find .0018 in efficiencies!

No doubt we could but the question this time around should be, should we, and if we do, how be we call them what they really are, cuts.

That’s the reality of even a 2.5% property tax increase with that half percent dedicated to the subway. Another budget below the rate of inflation, so there’s really no new money over all. Just a whole lot of robbing from Peter to pay Paul. For three years now, we’ve been running, grinding really, to a standstill. As this week will show, there really is no more meat to pick from the bones without threatening the vital organs.

Last week, deputant after deputant talked about the inadequacy of the city’s child care and nutritional programs. Our social housing portfolio has shown few signs of improvement. And transit. Well, transit.

It should be clear to anyone that we are not funding our city properly. We cannot, as some have claimed, cut back our way to prosperity. The rollback and freezing of revenues has resulted in reductions of services and programs the city provides. miserly(Ed Keenan shows just a few of the holes Mayor Ford has shot through his laughable 2010 campaign guarantee of no service cuts.)

And hey. If that’s the city you want to live in, where it’s pretty much everybody pay as they go with everything? Have it. Come clean and be up front about it.

I do not want to pay for that.

That should be a campaign platform, frankly.

I’m Not Paying For That.

Actually, that was pretty much what we heard in 2010. I’m not paying for retirement parties, bunny suits, councillor snacks or having plants watered. All stuff that didn’t amount to jack shit except for bad optics. Getting rid of it made no dent in anyone’s tax bills but it sure felt good. We showed those fat cats.

Let’s stop pretending it did anything other than that, however.

badmath1We have stalled in our ability to meet the city’s growing needs, both in terms of population and keeping pace with operational costs. Simply put, there are more of us and the cost of providing the services and programs we want has increased. We are not improving the quality of life for the average resident in Toronto. While there are always tough choices that need to be made, proper city building isn’t a zero sum game.

That should be the theme of this week’s budget program review. How we’re making do with less and somehow expecting better. The numbers simply don’t add up. You can’t have what you’re not willing to pay for. The question going forward is what is you’re willing to pay for?

profligately submitted by Cityslikr