It’s Why He’s Called Dorg

Here’s how I saw it.perspective

At Friday’s Budget Committee meeting, during the discussion of the final 2013 operating variance report, which contained a $168.1 million dollar surplus, Councillor Doug Ford had a plan. But first he had to actually read the report, skim it maybe.

From where I sat in the room, he hadn’t. This is the vice-chair of the committee, wanting to play with the numbers, who appeared not to have done his homework. He scrambled to find the pages, assisted by the city’s Chief Financial Officer, Robert Rossini, sitting beside him. The item located, the councillor flipped through it. You could almost hear him mumbling the words as he read them.

Now, if I’m wrong in these observations, I’ll happily retract them. It just struck me as a very on-the-fly process, heightened by the fact, Councillor Ford began scribbling out what would be a motion to amend the item. totallyunpreparedHe urged other committee members to take the opportunity to speak to give him time to finish writing his motion. Everyone waited. Staff. His colleagues at the table.

“This one’s going to flatten the City Manager,” Councillor Ford warned, glibly. Or something to that affect. Here comes a patented Fordian haymaker, folks.

Nothing like blind-siding the city’s top bureaucrat as a stable and judicious form of governance. Hey, Joe. Watch this. I’m going completely fuck with the city’s budget and established protocol. That’s how we roll in the private sector.

It isn’t, of course. One would hope Councillor Ford’s cavalier approach to monkeying around with the budget numbers is anything but sound business practice. I’m just spitballing here, folks. Haven’t put a lick of thought into this but what do you think about…

His motion?

Use 20% of the surplus to give a tax refund to the taxpayers. “It’s their money not ours,” the councillor said breezily, outoftheblueas if it made any kind of sense whatsoever. Put a little less money in the rainy day reserve funds. Pay down a little less of the capital debt. Give people back their money. It’s not as if the city has any pressing need for it.

Unsurprisingly, Councillor Ford’s motion was ruled out of order by the Budget Committee chair, Frank Di Giorgio. Any tax refund would change the property tax rate set by city council earlier this year. Only city council could re-open that matter. It couldn’t be done at the committee level.

“Just cut everybody a cheque,” Councillor Frances Nunziata chimed in, as if the room wasn’t already filled to bursting with the dumb.

Councillor Ford was having none of it. He challenged the ruling of the chair. A majority of the committee members voted against the challenge.

“I’d rather see the money go to filling in potholes,” Councillor Nunziata said as she voted along with Councillor Ford, bullinachinashopchallenging the chair’s ruling.

Well, why are you voting in favour of the challenge in order to bring about a motion that would refund some of the surplus, councillor, rather than have it go back into filling those pot–oh, never mind.

It’s not so much the crass, disruptive grandstanding from Councillor Ford that’s so tiresome and predictable. The tax refund motion was simply a variation of his peeling off $20 bills to give to strangers. It’s the sheer laziness of it.

The year-end variance came as no surprise to anyone who pays even the scantest of attention to city operation. Amounts differ. Some years the surplus is bigger than others. fordnation1But you can always count on some sort of surplus.

Councillor Ford has seen it happen during his time at City Hall four straight times yet he bulls into the meeting as if it’s some sort of newsflash, as if he’s too busy toiling away on other parts of his job to have had the time to read through the report, jot a few ideas down. Neither one of those possibilities is true. Councillor Ford is a half-assed municipal politician whose ignorance of how the city functions is only surpassed by his refusal to take the time to actually learn about it.

The blind leads the willful into a state of total incompetence.

In one sentence, pretty much summing up the Ford administration.

— repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr

Budget Surplus. What?!

Truthfully, I don’t know what to make of this week’s announcement by the city of their $275 million surplus. At first glance it’s like, whoah! (Keanu Reeves reference #1.) That’s a big number. More than half of what the council needs to cover its $500+ million budget ‘gap’ next year. Although, just how much credence we should give to that projected number, I’m not sure, given the regular ‘surprise’ surplus announcements over the course of the past year, $100 million, $180 million, $275 million.

Then again, I try not to be swayed too much by the power of big numbers. Yes, 275 million is substantial. It could fund a lot of programs, maybe build one subway stop, pay down some debt. But in the scheme of a $9.2 billion budget, well, it comes out to about 3% of it, .03.* In fact, the latest adjustment from $180 million up to $275 million represents a little over 1% of the total operating budget. So not an unreasonable accounting revision when talking billions of dollars.

At which point I realize that we’re talking about a fucking budget surplus! Why did we just throw away the last 10 months or so on an election campaign railing about out of control spending, gravy trains, retirement parties, plant watering, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah? It seems that, in fact, just the opposite was true. That in these dire economic times, our City Hall was fiscally managing matters very, very competently. Prudently, even.

Yet, over the course of the past 10 day post-election period, we’ve attempted to explain away this discrepancy, pointing at maps and opining that the campaign as it played out was merely the manifestation of the anger out there, especially in the inner suburbs at their feelings of exclusion within the amalgamated city. OK, so why weren’t we talking about that directly then? Why was the election narrative railroaded into a simplistic, simple-minded package, easily spewed out by our simpleton mayor-elect and his zombie horde of followers? (Yeah, I called Rob Ford a ‘simpleton’. Winning this election doesn’t erase the past 10 years of buffoonery.) If we elected our mayor and council based on a lie, a mirage, what hope do we have of real issues and concerns being addressed by them?

Perception is reality, I keep reading. Tell the people what they want, and then give it to them. Yeah well, I’m just wondering when it was we took the blue pill and started living in the Matrix. (And the 2nd Keanu reference.) The reality is, our outgoing council and mayor were not fiscally irresponsible. Sputtering out tired examples of bunny suits and shifty sole-sourcing doesn’t change that fact. The inner suburbs think all their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent on the downtown core? Show me the numbers. Nothing I’ve seen so far indicate that. Scarborough councillor Norm Kelly commissioned a study to examine that claim. The numbers were inconclusive at best.

Just because we elected a new mayor and councillors based on lies and misinformation does not mean we have to allow them to govern likewise. Rather than looking for common ground and areas of compromise, those readying to stand in opposition (and those in the middle waiting to see which way the winds are blowing) to the new administration and its handful of allies need to remain firm in the face of what will clearly be a continued distortion of facts and reality. Letting them bullshit their way to power was a misstep. Enabling them to do so while in office will be tantamount to collaboration in their ongoing battle to keep this city divided and detrimentally parochial.

* My math is always suspect but, if anything, I’m over-estimating the surplus’s percentage of the operating budget. I think.

— dutifully submitted by Cityslikr

A Surplus Of Ill Will

Mayor David Miller. At this stage, you’re either with him or a’gin him. Never, it seems, shall the twain meet.

His big announcement this week of an additional $100 million surplus (on top of the $250 million surplus already in the books earlier in the budget process) had many in the press scratching their heads while others pulled their hair from it in outrage. “Mismanagement,” screeched the Toronto Sun’s Sue-Ann Levy during Wednesday’s press conference. ‘Overblown’ in the minds of some, and not worth the trip to City Hall. We thought it was going to be something really important like the mayor’s early resignation or re-entry into the race, seemed to be the only thing anyone could agree on.

The Toronto Star’s Royson James tried out the dichotomy of it being either good news or a cheap political stunt. But, I ask, why can’t it be both, Royson?

Mayor Miller and his minions on the budget committee aren’t the first politicians to play politics with budget information, dampening down expectations of good news or heightening worst case scenarios in the hopes of a soft landing when the budget finally arrives. Spinning, I believe it’s been referred to. Massaging the message.

Do I wish it wouldn’t happen? Absolutely. A straight forward and transparent rendering of the city’s revenues and expenditures would go along way to restoring the public’s confidence in their elected officials. Money monkey business gives the impression that we’re being played and elevates our resentment at paying taxes to contribute to the running of the city.

Still, why are we surprised by Miller’s moves or so irate at the fact that the city has more money at its disposal than it originally believed? It is good news, Royson James, and much, much better than the alternative of having less money than expected. Good news delivered in the form of purely partisan political theatre. That isn’t too difficult to get one’s head around if one really wants to.

But for James and all the other media type megaphones trumpeting the hymn from the right wing songbook about a financially out of control administration at City Hall, this pricks a hole in their balloon. In Thursday’s article, James does a little message massaging himself, pointing out that under Miller, spending has gone up by a billion dollars in the last two years. A billion dollars! That’s crazy. That’s out of control. That’s.. let’s see 1 billion of 9.2 billion is about.. just under 11% divided by 2, gives us a 5.5% increase/year in the last two years. During which, we had one of those, what do you call it… major recessions. A global economic meltdown the likes of which we hadn’t seen since the 1930s. Between bailouts and increases in social spending, all governments saw expenditure spikes, Royson. How about giving us that kind of perspective in your role as a member of the fourth estate?

Alas it seems, when it comes to covering Mayor David Miller these days, perspective is the last thing that we should expect. At least of the objective, just-the-facts-ma’am kind of perspective we need in able to make informed decisions.

unbiasedly submitted by Cityslikr