Tolling Smoke And Mirrors

hammeragoodideaOut of the fog of debate over the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway, Budget Committee member James Pasternak floated the idea of imposing a toll on non-residents using the city owned and maintained Don Valley and Gardiner expressways. “I think the mayor’s hybrid selection is the way to go, but at the same time, you really do need a secure, reliable source to fund it,” the councillor mused publicly yesterday.

While any talk of tolling roads should be warmly welcomed into the conversation, coming as this does in the service of the willfully misguided effort of Mayor Tory to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated, we have to simply shrug. It’s feels like little more than a dodge, frankly. An attempt to offset the cost argument against the hybrid option, and serving to deflect from the real issue at hand: the hybrid option is a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible idea.

Besides, the mayor has no time for toll talk. Att least, ever since re-running for mayor. There was time when he held a different view. Of course.

Now as mayor of Toronto, money is no object for John Tory when it comes to dealing with his beloved Gardiner expressway. There’s just a secret stash of it, tucked away somewhere apparently, whenever he’s looking to gussy or speed it up and burnish his pro-car image.

Without mayoral support for the idea, it’s hard to imagine Councillor Pasternak’s toll item garnering much support, consigned surely to the trash bin at the next Executive Committee if it gets even that far along. The right place for it, if for the wrong reason. I mean, why would the councillor stop at tolling non-residents, aside from the fact they can’t vote in a municipal election in Toronto, freeing him of facing any electoral ire? It can’t be just that crass an idea, can it?

No, no. It’s a question of fairness. trashbinCouncillor Pasternak told Matt Galloway on Metro Morning yesterday [segment not yet archived] that Toronto residents pay to maintain the Gardiner and DVP from their property taxes. Why should outsiders get to freeload on our roads, paid for by our hard-earned property taxes?

But how about extending that sense of fairness a little further? Why should I, a resident of Toronto who helps pay for those expressways I rarely use, be forking over the same amount of cash as someone using them on a daily basis? That hardly seems fair, if we’re introducing the concept of road use/pay fairness.

Another member of the Budget Committee, Councillor John Campbell agrees. “I don’t see why all residents and all users of the highway shouldn’t be paying for it. Basically the TTC is a user-pay system. 80% of the funding for the TTC comes out of the fare box. Why shouldn’t our roads be the same?”

That’s just the tip of the inane iceberg of Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea, a half-baked measure with a full on helping of self-interest. letmecorrectitThe expense of co-ordinating the whole thing would immediately bite into any money made to throw at road maintenance. Fellow Budget Committee member (and former Budget Chief) Shelley Carroll said tolls had been discussed extensively, back in 2006 and the introduction of the City of Toronto Act. “What my colleague is proposing is ridiculously expensive,” she tweeted in response to Councillor Pasternak’s toll idea.

“You can’t collect from ‘outsiders only’ without use of transponder system or Tech ‘Road Pricing’ technology of some sort. Would need to be GTA wide, therefore, not just Gardiner. Would cost minimum $300/400 million to install. $30+million a year to operate. All of this would earn about $20/30 million net to Toronto because we would have to partner with GTA & Province.

Despite the fact the Gardiner and DVP are ours to pay for and maintain, in yet another example of the paternalistic relationship we have with Queen’s Park, we’d have to go to the province for permission to toll them even if it was economically feasible which it isn’t. In other words, Councillor Pasternak is just making noise in an attempt to sound as if he’s put a lick of thought into his idea.

But wait. There’s more from the councillor.

Maybe we should just upload responsibilities for these two expressways to the province, as if it were as easy as wishing. toshredsCiting a ‘historical imbalance’, Councillor Pasternak pointed out that other GTA municipalities don’t have to directly financially support their expressways, the QEW, 401, 404, 407. (Did I miss any?) Why should Torontonians have to bear the burden of the Gardiner and DVP alone?

I hate to break it to him but the Gardiner and DVP have always been ours. Aside from the strip of the Gardiner from the Humber to the 427 which the Harris government downloaded onto the city (h/t to Sean Marshall for that bit of info), these 2 urban expressways were Toronto’s from the outset, birthed and raised into being by the 1st chair of Metro council, Fred “Big Daddy” Gardiner, inspired as he was by the city building prowess of New York City “construction coordinator” Robert Moses. We’ve been maintaining them for some 50 years now. Why suddenly should the province feel compelled to start bearing that burden?

There’s nothing wrong with having a discussion about utilizing road tolls in order to raise revenue to pay for transportation infrastructure. facethemusicIt’s being done throughout the world. We wouldn’t be breaking any new ground there.

But let’s have a realistic discussion on the subject instead of something floated like a lead balloon for no other reason than to divert attention away from an equally politically loaded topic like what to do with the crumbling eastern section of the Gardiner expressway. Councillor Pasternak should be working on answering why we need to throw money to ‘retain and drag’ such an antiquated beast, why exactly is the hybrid option the way to go, not how do we pay to do that. The answer would be much simpler.

We don’t. It’s time to bring the fucker down.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr

Carefully Picking Sides

Earlier this year I attended a Ward 10 York Centre community town hall meeting hosted by Councillor James Pasternak. townhallIt was just pre-2014 city budget and post-ugly holiday season ice storm. Despite the timing, the atmosphere wasn’t hostile or toxic, at least, not initially.

Unsurprisingly, the hot topic was the storm clean-up which, like in many parts of the city, wasn’t happening quickly enough for most folks in the room. Even more than 3 weeks after the weather bomb, swaths of the local area remained unnavigable because of fallen and uncollected foliage. Some branches still hung dangerously from trees.

Transit, traffic and congestion ran a close second, however. While not evenly split certainly, there was a respectful representation from among the attendees of those asking thoughtful and reasonable questions about public transit. Frequency, capacity and route ideas were part of the discussion. These were offset, of course, by demands to widen Bathurst Street for another lane of cars or the possibility of opening a local cemetery road to make it a neighbourhood thoroughfare.

But things didn’t really get out and out zany until about hour three. No elected official should be expected to endure a 3 hour Q and A session. None of us are made of such hardy stuff. It’s too much. anymorequestionToo, too much.

A lady, who earlier in the evening had been gently subdued after her time at the microphone, waving a 3 year old issue of NOW magazine with a nearly nude Rob Ford Photoshopped on its cover, regained control of the floor and began reading from the provincial health act, I believe it was. I’m sure there was a reason for it but it slips my mind at the moment. Suffice to say, it was beyond the jurisdiction of Councillor Pasternak.

That just kicked open the door to crazy. Without the aid of the mic, a gentleman began berating the councillor, accusing him of hording TTC tokens before a fare increase. The man had been fairly aggressive in questioning Councillor Pasternak a couple hours prior but this was just flat out lunacy, as he ended up yelling at anybody approaching him until a poor young staff member of the community centre had to guide him to the exit. “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me or I’ll have you charged!!”

The meeting petered out after that. I felt compelled to approach the councillor to shake his hand and offer condolences of a sort. Before you run around slagging a city councillor, you really should go to a town hall meeting they hold, see what they have to put up with.

Besides, I personally, as a Ward 10 non-constituent, can think of far bigger issues to yell at Councillor Pasternak about than just making up nutty stuff like token hording.angrymob

Three things stand out for from his time at City Hall since 2010. None of them particularly good or inspiring.

One: re-opening (and opening again) the whole Queers United Against Israeli Apartheid marching at Pride hullaballo. Not only was the councillor on the wrong side of a free speech issue, city staff had firmly held that there was nothing hate speech-y involved in the expression and nothing wrong with the group participating in Pride, he helped provide cover for the homophobia the new mayor and the likes of Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti like to indulge in. Why do you want to defund Pride? Because QUAIA. Why won’t you march in the Pride parade? Because QUAIA (and other things).

Two: He possesses a remarkable tone deafness and ward-ccentric view of public transit. What about the North York Relief Line he asked again, just last week. Wondering why everyone running for mayor was stumping for the DRL. What about the North York Relief Line?

What about it, councillor? I don’t even know what it is. Oh right. Connecting the under-used Sheppard subway, from the Yonge Line west to the University-Spadina line. beatingadeadhorseNobody else thinks it’s necessary at this time, councillor. It’s a parochial distraction. Stop it.

And thirdly, Councillor Pasternak is awfully demanding of city services and programs while towing a fairly fiscal conservative line. By ‘fiscal conservative’, I mean Ford fiscal conservative. Keeping revenues down, low property taxes, eliminate other streams like the VRT, requesting a report for reducing the Land Transfer Tax, all the while not being averse to spending money, most times on very admirable and necessary items. The councillor recently expressed displeasure at possibly losing a priority designation for a neighbourhood in his ward in the proposed staff reshuffling of newly designated Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

You gotta pay for the things you want, Councillor Pasternak. A strong city isn’t built on the cheap.

I guess it’s going to depend on what residents of Ward 10 prioritize in the upcoming election that will determine Councillor Paternak’s political fate in October. He was in one of the tightest races in 2010 in an open ward to replace long time council member, pickasideofthefenceMike Feldman, winning by under 400 votes with less than 20% of the popular vote. Will voters see his name as a tax fighter or a protector of services and programs they want in their neighbourhoods?

A jaded eye might view the councillor as making sure all the bases were covered. You have to wonder if that’s spread him out too thinly, made him not enough of anything to really have made much of a lasting impression.

gruelly submitted by Cityslikr

We Have Enough

“We have enough.”

And with that, Mayor Rob Ford solved the city’s inequality and social disparity. werefinethankyouJust like that. Just three words. We have enough.

The mayor was speaking about the city staff’s report on expanding what used to be referred to as Priority Neighbourhoods and now re-dubbed Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. If OK’d by city council, they’d also grow in number from the current 13 to 31. In short, it means increased investment directed at neighbourhoods, targeting various social, economic and infrastructure factors that contribute (or don’t, as the case may be) to inequities throughout the city.

Of course, the mayor was having none of it. Priorities neighbourhoods are where you go to campaign and show that you’re always looking out for the little guy. As an elected official you don’t actually try and solve any of the problems. That’s what the private sector’s for. Government is just there, to sit back, stay out of the way and keep taxes low.

While Mayor Ford is the poster child on city council for this way of thinking, he’s far from alone. offendedMore than a few of his low tax, no spend colleagues represent wards in which these priority neighbourhoods are located and they resent the designation, believing it discourages investment because, I guess, business types don’t care for the poors. Way back in the early days of the Ford administration Matt Elliott summarized the move by the likes of councillors Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziati to try and rid their wards of the stigma of neediness designated by such a distasteful moniker.

End inequality by renaming it.

Even doing that, however, hasn’t placated Mayor Ford. Despite staff’s best intention to make their findings more thorough and robust, more inclusive to the hurdles people face living and working in this city, he shrugs it off in three easy-to-remember words. For him, calling it something else only expanded the numbers, made the problems seem worse.

What he refuses to accept, what every adherent to his low tax, spending not a revenue problem political philosophy refuses to accept is that it is this very approach that has exacerbated the problems. everythingsgreatChronic underfunding in both hard and soft services that go toward enhancing everyone’s ability to make the most of the opportunities available to them living in this city – from transit to housing, parks to daycare – have created the unhealthy and insecure situations giving rise to our ballooning priority neighbourhoods. There is no other alternative.

We’ve gone through the pretty much useless exercise of finding efficiencies that helped sweep Ford into power. Take whatever number he wants to throw at you as the number he’s saved while mayor, $400 million, a billion, it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing left to tap. It’s done. No more juice to squeeze.

Don’t believe me? Ask the fiscal hawk of a city manager who’s obediently followed the mayor’s instruction to stop the gravy train. “I believe we’ve gone as far as we can without impacting services,” Joe Pennachetti said in December. While some of us would argue services and programs have already been more than impacted, the statement still stands. We’ve gone as far as we can down this ruinous route of penny-pinching and cheapening of our civic life.

The complaint often heard during Rob Ford’s mayoral run in 2010 was that with all the spending going on under then mayor David Miller (who, it should be noted from the above article, Mr. Pennachetti applauded for beginning the fiscal reforms at City Hall) there was little to show for it. everythingsfineUntrue on a number of points especially with substantial increases in transit services to name one, it was entirely ridiculous to think that 7 years of increased spending was going to immediately reverse decades of under-spending. The first 3 years of property tax freezes under Mel Lastman. The actual costs of amalgamation and provincial downloading. Transformation was not going to happen overnight.

Not to mention the history of low tax and pay-as-you-go services and programs pursued by many of the former municipalities making up Toronto’s inner suburbs.

Now, I know there are multiple factors at play here. The concentration of wealth and businesses in the downtown core. A certain continued disregard emanating from there outward to the city’s perceived hinterlands.

newpriorityneighbourhoods

But look at the map. It cannot be a coincidence that many of the former priority neighbourhoods and many of the new additional Neighbourhood Improvement Areas sit in those former municipalities. Etobicoke, Scarborough, York. Traditional home to many of the city’s most anti-tax, small government zealots. Such zealotry continues to be represented on city council today.

The mayor, his brother, the afore-mentioned trio of Crisanti, Mammoliti and Nunziata. Throw in the budget chief, Frank Di Giorgio. The former budget chief, Mike Del Grande. Budget Committee members, councillors Gary Crawford and Ron Moeser.goodtothelastdrop

Councillor James Pasternak, also a member of the Budget Committee and fiscal hawk, bemoaned the loss of a priority neighbourhood, Westminster-Branson, in his ward in the new configuration. “This is not a time to cut back, when you make certain headway,” the councillor said. “You keep the funding to make sure there’s no sliding back.”

Yeah well, Councillor Pasternak. Maybe you should’ve thought about that when you fought to keep our property taxes low, tossed out the vehicle registration tax, put money toward a totally unnecessary subway. Didn’t you ask for a report exploring the possibility of reducing the Land Transfer Tax, another source of city revenue, next year?

So here we are, with the lowest property tax rate in the GTA, under-utilized and always under threat sources of possible revenue, staring at huge infrastructure needs and growing segments of the city woefully under-serviced, isolated and alienated. miserlyWe’ve tried scaling back our efforts and investment in the hopes of somehow, miraculously, turning things around. We haven’t and we won’t until we accept the fact and responsibility that improvement in our city’s physical environment and quality of life doesn’t just happen, doesn’t come for free or even on the cheap.

We have enough? How about, We’ve had enough? Respect for Taxpayers was a real nice, catchy slogan but it’s done fuck all for an increasing number of residents of this city. It’s time to stop pretending and accepting responsibility to make things better for all of us, not just some of us.

finally submitted by Cityslikr