The Gig’s Up

January 24, 2013

It’s impossible to accurately predict a turning point of an era, let’s call it, while still living in that particular time. seethefutureUnless of course you have planes flying into buildings. That kind of catastrophic plot point writes itself. But in a period of relative normalcy on a scale of one for placid calm and ten for, Run For Your Lives, Jesus Has Returned!, you can never be certain when things have taken a most definite turn.

But allow me to go on record as saying I think yesterday, January 23rd 2013, was a turning point of the Mayor Ford Era here in Toronto. Now, now. I know lots of you will quickly jump in and claim that there have been so many turning points over the course of the last couple years, how could I pick just this one. You would not be wrong. I just think yesterday all the air that remained came out of the hot air balloon that once carried Rob Ford aloft.behindthecurtain2

The prick (ha, ha) that did it?

Matt Elliott at Metro’s Ford For Toronto, Debunking Ford Nation’s favourite budget chart. I will take it one step further. Mr. Elliott’s article debunks the very platform upon which the Ford Nation was constructed. City Hall’s fiscal foundations were crumbling due to out-of-control spending by the Miller Administration. The Gravy Trains must be stopped. Councillor Rob Ford was the man to do it.

It was the flimsiest of canards, and not one used only by then candidate Ford. He just perfected it. Coincidentally, this week is the 3rd anniversary of Rocco Rossi announcing his mayoral run chickenlittle(h/t to the Toronto Star’s David Rider for sending a reminder out). He too was full of municipal spending/debt alarmism based on little more than pronouncements of big, scary numbers. “He [Rossi] is prepared to sell off assets such as Toronto Hydro,” Vanessa Lu wrote, “to put the city on a better financial footing by cutting the city’s debt, now hovering near $2.5 billion.”

George Smitherman wasn’t above such cheap politicking, talking about how the city was nickel and diming residents to death and ‘restoring Toronto’s financial credibility’. Not for nothing, Mayor Ford recently claimed (albeit in typical Fordian hyperbole) that 80% of voters in the 2010 election backed his mandate. Meaning, I guess, everyone who didn’t vote for Joe Pantalone.

And all of it was nonsense, baseless assertions that opened the door for the Ford administration to run amok and slash and burn which was their intention all along, notwithstanding a rock solid pledge that there’d be “No Cuts To Services, Guaranteed”. texaschainsawmassacreAn easy line to follow that fit perfectly on a t-shirt and bumper sticker. It doesn’t have to be true if it’s snappy.

This isn’t to say that all’s pollyannishly well and good. Toronto does face some financial hurdles. Reeling in overspending just doesn’t happen to be one of them. As Matt (and most other reasonable political minds around these parts) has pointed out over and over again, we can’t fix major problems like congestion and crumbling infrastructure by slicing away at our annual operating budgets or attacking unions or contracting out services or selling off assets or a combination of all those things. Those numbers simply don’t add up.

Reducing revenues won’t help out either. This Team Ford’s done by not only getting rid of the Vehicle Registration Tax but by also ensuring we keep our residential property taxes insufficiently low. A clear-eyed examination of the facts will reveal the mayor’s claim of over-zealous tax-and-spending of the previous administration to be outright misinformation based on de-contextualized charts and misleading graphs.

We haven’t been having a truthful conversation about this city’s finances for over three years now. All to our detriment. As we head into more uncertain territory over the next few months – Tnot just in terms of the outcome of Mayor Ford’s legal ups-and-downs but the Metrolinx forthcoming report on future transit funding – we really need to start dealing honestly and in an informed way with our current circumstances.

Hopefully Matt Elliott has finally put a stake through the heart of the Legend of Toronto’s Profligacy. It was never a thing. We need to get past it now and start working on the real problems we’re facing.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


We Won’t Pay. We Can Pay. But You Pay.

December 12, 2012

Just another quick thought after this week’s deputations at the Budget Committee. My magnum opus on the subject is coming tomorrow. onemorething(That’s what you call a self-imposed deadline, folks. Fear of a ‘What is this shit again? You promised something weighty today’ response.)

At committee end yesterday, councillors split into their respective camps over the proposed 2013 budget, not coincidentally, the visiting ones largely on the ‘nay’ side while the mayor’s men, committee members, lining up in formation in the ‘yea’ aisle. To Take On More Debt Or Not To Take On More Debt. That was the question.

For a much more in-depth explanation of this budgetary divide, you need to read Matt Elliott’s analysis, Budget 101. But the gist of it is, some elected officials see debt as a useful tool in building and maintaining stuff a city needs like, say, basic infrastructure. Sewers, roads and sidewalks, transit. Others see debt and soil themselves.

Yeah. I think that about sums it up. Self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives want to run a government nothing like they would their households or businesses even while proclaiming that’s exactly what they’re trying to do. And they’re the ones who keep bringing that analogy up. Funny, that.

Never mind how Councillor Doug Ford used his three minutes to sum up the budget direction. Nonsense and hyperbole largely. Just a rehash of his greatest hits. Everything we’ve heard before, signifying nothing. womanscream(More Shakespearean allusions to give this thing some heft.)

Councillor Peter Milczyn piped in saying this budget and this administration he’s been an integral part of has done nothing more radical than reverse the Miller years’ habit of ‘spending money we didn’t have’, I believe is how he put it. Note to self: email councillor_milczyn@toronto.ca and ask how exactly he bought his house or car for that matter.

I know, I know.

I hate having to go to that well all the time but how else do you respond to such inane views of public sector financing? Seriously? I’m asking because I’ve tapped it dry and politicians like Councillor Milczyn never seem to tire of making such ridiculous claims.

Councillor John Parker took a more intriguing angle on the debt question. Citing the entirely self-imposed 15% debt level of the city’s property tax revenues, he suggested council shouldn’t aim for it simply because it was there. How’d he put it exactly? You don’t put canaries down a coal mine just to kill them. As if councillors want to mount that entirely artificial debt ceiling simply because it’s there and not because there’s pressing shit the city has to build and repair. But for the likes of Councillor Parker – a one-term member of the Mike Harris government, it should be noted regularly, a player on the team who kick-started us down this path of fiscal instability – debt ceilings, even ones as entirely manufactured as this one is, are there to be feared and trembled before, shied away from at all costs.

And make no mistake, there will be costs to such debt fear, there have been costs already (*A-hem, A-hem* TCHC repair backlog. The crumbling Gardiner. *A-hem, A-hem*). bleakfutureThose proclaiming that, at the end of the day, these are the times we live in, have played a major part in getting us here. In these times. At the end of the day. Catchphrases devoid of any real meaning, replacing real argument.

It seems perfectly acceptable and fiscally upright to defend our children and grandchildren from a future weighed down by financial debt. Yet somehow handing them the baton of decrepit infrastructure is hunky dory. Yes, kids. We could’ve helped you out, paid for some of this when interest rates were low and the costs less but instead, we saved ourselves a few bucks and left you to it. You’re welcome.

That’s what you call fiscal conservatism in these days we live in.

matter-of-factly submitted by Cityslikr


John Sewell: Yesterday’s Man

December 10, 2012

Maybe it’s the holiday spirit slowly seeping into this empty, cold soul of mine but I gotta say, goofybastardsI love this big sprawling mess of a megacity and each and every one of its goofy bastard inhabitants. Except maybe one right now. John Sewell. In fact, I’m going to say something that very few people outside of maybe the Toronto Police Services have said before.

Fuck John Sewell. Fuck him and his rethinking the Toronto megacity article last week in the Globe and Mail. He couldn’t be more wrong-headed, and his attitude reflects the worst of our elitist downtown-ccentric thinking. As if everything was fine and dandy before the Mike Harris government unceremoniously ignored our collective municipal wishes and lumped us together with our suburban bumpkin cousins.

Here’s a fact that Mr. Sewell seems to conveniently overlook.

In a few weeks’ at the end of this year, amalgamation will be fifteen years old. During that time, we will have had a mayor from the former inner suburbs eight years and a mayor from the old downtown city seven. David Miller, at least until the outside workers strike in 2009, proved that issues could resonate beyond the 416 core. Mel Lastman was not without a base in downtown Toronto. megacityWhile perhaps representing the most extreme of the supposed divide, Rob Ford voters weren’t scarce in some old Toronto wards.

As easy as it is to write up the narrative of Rob Ford’s rise to power as nothing more than the face of inchoate suburban rage, looking to extract some sort of populist revenge upon the highfalutin elites, the truth is much more complicated. Rob Ford was a phenomenon of 2010, surfing a wave that broke perfectly for him

An unnerved population still reeling from a global economic freefall and looking for someone to blame for their uncertainty. Palpable anger in the air at municipal workers who were portrayed as lazy, shiftless fat cats always demanding a bigger chunk of the public purse. Outgoing politicians giving themselves a gold plated send off. Terrible candidates who either ran similar but much less effective anti-incumbent campaigns or who just couldn’t convey the good the Miller administration had undertaken or connect viscerally with voters.

Lightning in a bottle in other words. Something that will be much more difficult to pull off a second time. Recent polls certainly indicate as much.

There’s no question there are different attitudes between former municipalities that linger on. “Everyone recognizes that human behaviour is very much influenced by built form,” Sewell writes, “and that’s where the two cultures come in.” headinsandYes, Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York and York are still more car dependent, say, than parts of Toronto and East York. At least the areas that remain under-serviced by public transit are. But that would be less to do with built form than adaptation to new realities, wouldn’t it?

Mr. Sewell seems to believe that the die is cast. Something built sixty-years ago cannot ever change. Let’s just all accept that and stop pretending otherwise.

You know who else thinks along those lines? Mayor Rob Ford. Somehow he’s the backward thinking, knuckle-dragging stick in the mud but John Sewell’s the enlightened voice of downtowners everywhere who just doesn’t want to get his hands dirty making this shit work.

Look, amalgamation was poorly implemented, perhaps deliberately so. But the concept isn’t inherently bad. A few specifics were.

For starters, the savings from efficiencies that Queen’s Park promised would happen just didn’t materialize. Creating one big institute of some 2.5 million people from six smaller ones detonated a critical mass instead of generating economies of scale that would heap savings upon us. squarepeg1Streamlining never proved to be as easy as all that as we now know a decade and a half on.

And I seem to remember something about amalgamation being revenue neutral. The province would download some services and programs and upload others, specifically our educational system. We wouldn’t notice a thing.

That too didn’t quite turn out to be true. As Matt Elliott points out in his 2013 budget analysis, the megacity is still waiting for the province to reclaim some $400 million in costs the Harris government placed on Toronto’s ledger. This year we’re being relieved of about $14 million of that. A rate which, if continued as is, should eliminate the imbalance in just another 30 years. Combine that with the fact two successive provincial governments have shirked their duty to pay half of the TTC’s annual operating costs and you might conclude that this whole amalgamation could’ve gone a whole smoother if the city hadn’t been left fighting over the crumbs left on the table by Queen’s Park.

I will, however, agree with John Sewell that the yoinking of the Metro level of government in the amalgamation process also has contributed mightily to our currents woes. Having only one elected official representing the entire city can lead to some sort of binary dynamic. If a mayor doesn’t possess something of a broader view of things, then it’s simply about pitting councillors’ interests against each other and herding until you get 22 of them on side. It’s not about reaching a consensus as much as it is pounding square pegs into round holes until they sort of fit.

A wider, broader and longer perspective is needed. That’s not going to be accomplished by de-amalgamating. turtleinshellThe city needs to recreate a metro like body with more councillors elected on a city-wide basis, free from simply ward-by-ward interests. Exactly what that make-up would be is for another post entirely. Suffice to say, there are better ways to build bridges in this city then re-fracturing in a vain attempt to recapture past magic.

The reality we need to accept right now is that amalgamation signalled the province no longer wanted to work as anything resembling equal partners with this city. They wanted a pliable entity that would fight amongst itself, fight with the wider region and not cause too much trouble politically. How else to explain Ontario Liberal leadership hopeful Sandra Pupatello’s ‘too Toronto’ Canadian Club comment?

In one fell swoop, she took a pot shot at the entire GTA and threw Niagra into the mix. I mean, who else aside from Sandra Pupatello sees PC leader Tim Hudak as ‘too Toronto’? “… there’s a whole big province out there,” she said, almost as if it were a threat.

Such obstreperousness from the province will not effectively be countered by reverting back to smaller, pre-amalgamated entities. onecityIn fact, we need to be looking much broader in order to defend our interests. This is no longer simply about East York versus North York. No, no, no, no. It’s not even urban versus suburban now.

This is about city building on a regional level. That can’t be done by popping our heads back into our shells, hoping this has all been some horrible fifteen year nightmare, a socio-political experiment gone wrong. It’s the future, baby. Let’s embrace it and figure out a way to make it work to our collective advantage.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Bad Mojo Rising

November 5, 2012

How much weight is too much for even the strongest of Mayor Ford supporters on city council to bear?

I ask as the Executive Committee goes in to session today, dealing with such matters as a casino, property taxes, capital budgets and Mayor Ford’s bogged down in yet another football coaching related controversy, his ability to lead once again hampered by questions of bad judgement. Where’s the tipping point when even members of his own Executive Committee decide the city’s future, as well as their political fortunes, will be irrevocably harmed by a continued enabling of the Ford administration? When will good governance trump crass politics?

Now maybe everyone’s hoping that once the high school football season ends in a couple weeks or so, the mayor will re-focus his attention on the job he’s actually paid to do. But unless he vows to dial back on his involvement next fall and the fall after that, it will be on ongoing item of contention. (Could it be he’s all in now, working toward a championship season so that he can announce his temporary retirement and go out a winner? Stay tuned, Don Bosco Eagles’ fans).

But I think it’s safe to say that the mayor’s troubles aren’t really seasonal and the rate of such incidences is hardly declining as he gets more comfortable in his role. Sure, they’ve spiked this fall but it’s not like they return to an acceptable level of competency. It is truly a regression to the mean in the case of Mayor Ford’s ongoing transgressions.

Councillor Jaye Robinson announced earlier this year that she’s leaving the Executive Committee at the end of 2012. There are similar rumblings from Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. Councillor David Shiner is on the outs with the mayor after his motion to ban plastic bags made it through city council. Although highly unlikely to jump ship, councillors Milczyn, Minnan-Wong and Thompson have all been openly critical of Mayor Ford on various issues over the last couple months.

This is a leaky boat that can only keep afloat if the mayor stops punching holes in it. Mayoral clout is as effective as the power that wields it. The bully possesses strength through fear and intimidation. If Mayor Ford continues to piss away base support with these ridiculously preventable missteps and abuses of position, what’s to fear or be intimidated by? Sure, he can remove you as chair of a committee or boot you from Executive but so what? As his reputation sinks, there’s less and less upside for councillors to hitch their wagons to him.

This is go time for Team Ford. The debate over the 2013 operating and capital budgets is just starting and will not only determine the direction going forward but may define his term in office. (The 2014 budgets will be seen as little more than a campaign document.) If the mayor squanders this opportunity, either through an obstinate adherence to bad policy ideas or bad behaviour, he might not be able to reassume even the appearance of council leadership. That would leave him, going into the next election campaign looking like an out of control (gravy) train wreck.

 

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Ford-V-Vaughan

July 9, 2012

Nothing it seems is capable of stirring the somnolent, summer-dazed state of the Ford Administration like a broadside delivered its way by Councillor Adam Vaughan. Like a dopey, grumpy bear kicked in the slats while still in hibernation mode – wait for it, I’m going for a seasonal grand slam here – Team Ford wakes with a roar of indignation whenever it sniffs a slight emanating from the direction of Ward 20. Springing into fight mode and shedding its leaves of inaction (Nailed it!), Ford Nation dons the magical Cloak of Victimhood and goes full on DefCon 2 when alerted to a Vaughanian attack.

From the mayor’s standpoint, it’s entirely understandable. Hoping to re-channel the spirit of 2010, suburban-versus-urban mojo into another winning campaign, nobody better summons the loathing of downtown elitism more than Adam Vaughan except maybe Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam. Whip smart, smart-alecky and familiar with basic concepts of city building, Vaughan is everything Mayor Ford isn’t. And the mayor and his most ardent supporters despise him for that. Since anger serves as fuel for Ford Nation, an object for their ire is what primes the pump.

Thus, the Toronto Sun columnist and former Ford PR flack, Adrienne Batra, had to engage in some pretzelling of logic to refer to Councillor Vaughan’s latest criticism of the mayor as a personal attack. The point of the councillor’s comments as I read them, Ms. Batra, was that because of Mayor Ford’s absence in doing anything, well, mayoral, the space is filled with his off-the-field antics. Or, involvement “…in an inordinate amount of unusual situations”, as you refer to them.

So the story then becomes all about Councillor Vaughan instead of the underperformance of Mayor Ford. The councillor’s angry, still seething about Ford’s victory. He’s a spotlight seeker, constructing a platform for a run at the mayor’s office in 2014. It’s just personal, just politics. There’s nothing of substance to his criticisms. The mayor’s performance is beyond reproach except maybe of the friendliest type from the likes of Adrienne Batra. All else is simply cheap politicking.

The curious thing for me, though, in this on-going saga is the councillor’s motives in all this. As a former journalist, he must be well aware of the optics at work. He’s the bête noire of this administration and with each critical utterance toward it only becomes bête-er noire-er. It has to be an intentional stance he’s taking, this outspoken gadfly who receives as much enmity as accolades every time he takes aim at the mayor.

Any publicity is good publicity as they say. Keeping visible while in opposition. Grooming himself to be the most logical opponent to Mayor Ford in 2014.

It’d be foolish or naïve to rule the possibility out. As Matt Elliott wrote last week, Toronto’s downtown core and East York didn’t play an insignificant role in Rob Ford’s successful mayoral bid. Any major shift against him there could further dampen his re-election chances. So perhaps Councillor Vaughan believes that relentless, merciless slagging of the mayor will so diminish him in the eyes of urban voters that the inner suburbs will have to swing even harder toward the mayor in order for him to have a hope in hell for a second term. A trend which is not yet materializing.

It’s a strategy that comes with considerable risk for the councillor. For every downtown vote he swings away from Mayor Ford, there could be a suburban vote that hardens in the mayor’s favour. The numbers still favour the politician who can swing a majority of suburban votes their way. Besides—

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FUCKING 2014 ELECTION, FOLKS!

Why can’t we extend the same, I don’t know, courtesy toward Councillor Vaughan as we did then councillor Rob Ford, and assume not everything he says and does is about running for mayor? Maybe he’s just another straight shooting, telling it like is, Johnny that we all viewed Rob Ford to be back in the day. Maybe, like Rob Ford circa 2009, Adam Vaughan is just fucking angry with the current direction the mayor is trying to take the city and has trouble keeping a lid on it. Folks loved Rob Ford’s frankness. But somehow Adam Vaughan’s is smug, self-serving, angry vitriol?

But before I take the Rob-is-Adam, Adam-is-Rob, I Am the Walrus comparison too far, it’s worth pointing out that Rob Ford’s angry tirades have proven to be largely illusory which is the source of the doldrums the mayor currently finds himself in. The out of control, tax-and-spending Gravy Train was little more than the figment of his blinkered small government mindset. It was what we would crudely refer to as pissing into the wind.

So far, nobody’s been able to prove Councillor Vaughan wrong on his anti-Ford administration screeds. There has been an appalling lack of leadership from the mayor’s office. Mayor Ford’s needed no help from Councillor Vaughan in having his antics overshadow his accomplishments in governance.  The mayor has only himself to blame for being sidelined and perhaps the only motivations in Councillor Vaughan’s continued verbal assault on him is to keep it that way. It’s just better for everyone concerned.

wonderingly submitted by Cityslikr


Fighting Entropy

June 11, 2012

It’s not as if city council voted to secede from Ontario and go it alone as a province. Or to institute sharia law. Or legalize pot. Or rid Yonge Street of all cars for all time.

Last Thursday, city council voted to ban plastic bags beginning January 2013. Political implications about our mayor’s relationship with council aside, it was no big deal. Get in line and join the club. Toronto is not the first municipality in Canada seeking to enact such a ban. Not even close.

Yet some who aren’t necessarily against the idea of banning plastic bags found the process with which council went about it detrimental, let’s call it. “Irresponsible,” Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman suggested. “There’s a real chance this move could prove to be a disaster,” Matt Elliott wrote for Metro’s Urban Compass.

Really, guys? Really?

I get that how the vote came to be was out of the ordinary. Oh yeah, I’ll admit that it was impulsive even. Items are traditionally studied before coming to council. Staff delivers reports. They are put through the committee wringer.

All for very good reasons. Councillors should have all the facts there are to have before them ahead of making decisions. To be as informed as possible in order to facilitate easy implementation.

I get it.

But strange times call for strange measures. There’s a gaping agenda hole that needs be filled. Mayor Ford seems intent on whiling away the next couple years campaigning and repealing much of what council achieved over the course of the Miller years. It’s legislative entropy. Without some pushback from the rest of council, the entire apparatus might collapse into itself.

It wasn’t as if it all came right out of the blue, out of left field. They weren’t talking bike lanes or economic development and – boom! – suddenly there’s two plastic bag ban motions. The mayor brought plastic bags to the table. He wanted to rescind the 5¢ fee retailers were supposed to charge for them. As the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale pointed out in his calm, even-handed article, “…once a proposal is brought to a meeting of the whole council, any councillor can propose an amendment to the policy in question — and have the amendment decided upon once and for all on that same day.”

Shit happens in other words. Mayor Ford came to council unprepared for any sort of possible curve in the road. Caught flat-footed by an audible called at the line of scrimmage, he had no back up game plan. It was a rear-guard fight he didn’t have the forces at his disposal to fend off.

This should come as no surprise. Since the bruising transit battle in the spring, the mayor has cast himself in the role of opposition. He’s reactive not proactive; rejecting not building. All with an eye toward finding that one thing that’ll get him in good with ‘taxpayers’ again, that one issue to re-ignite the ire of Ford Nation.

It’s a game of counter-punching now. Unless or until council seizes control of some of the key committees at midterm this fall, we should get used to legislation being made in an extemporaneous manner. As John McGrath wrote back in March, “Every. Single. Decision. From here on out everything the city does is going to be decided on an absurd, ad hoc basis…Toronto’s going to lurch from one battle to another as the two sides at council try to poach votes from the centre.”

But I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing or an institutional crisis. (Do I think our municipal governance needs some tweaking? Absolutely). This is simply a crisis of… no, let’s not use such catastrophic language… a failure of leadership. Up until the mayoralty of Rob Ford, the amalgamated city of Toronto admirably muddled through for 13 years. Our current cris—predicament is about one guy and the strictest of his ideological adherents.

And as Mr. Dale points out in his article, we’re not in uncharted waters with the plastic bag ban. “Unlike the federal and provincial legislatures, which take months to turn an idea into law,” Dale writes, “council regularly makes policy changes on the fly.” City staff will still write up a full report. If council’s smart, they’ll make time for public deputations. “Since the actual bylaw has not yet been approved, only a council motion,” Dale goes on to say, “the city could still hold public meetings or otherwise allow for corporate feedback. But spokesperson Wynna Brown said ‘it’s premature to speculate on next steps at this point.’”

Leave the speculation to Mayor Ford. That’s really all he’s got. For the rest of us, as the t-shirts and fridge magnets recommend, Stay Calm and Carry On. The wheels of municipal government must keep turning even if it’s unclear who’s at the wheel.

improvisationally submitted by Cityslikr


Budget Chief No

May 29, 2012

As we head into today’s abbreviated budget committee meeting with news of a $90 million surplus for the first 3 months of 2012, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande announces what any good, prudent, sane fiscal manager would. Hey, everybody! It’s party time! Let’s roll us back some sources of revenue. Woo-hoo!!

Or, as Elizabeth Church in the Globe and Mail phrases it: “He [budget chief] plans to push for a reduction of the land transfer tax in 5-per-cent increments beginning next year.”

Huh.

What?

Could you elaborate a little further, Mr. Budget Chief?

“He [budget chief] plans to push for a reduction of the land transfer tax in 5-per-cent increments beginning next year, arguing that the city cannot continue to rely on a revenue source that is tied to the fortunes of the real estate market…Mr. Del Grande says the city’s continued reliance on the tax will leave a ‘massive shortfall’ in its budget when the real estate market cools. ‘The land transfer tax is giving us a false sense of security’.”

O… K… Let me see if I follow the budget chief – who is a chartered accountant, don’t you know – follow his logic here. Because Toronto is experiencing a particularly hot real estate market, despite all the fear-mongering that the land transfer tax would kill people’s ability to buy a house, and is thus generating higher than expected revenues for city coffers, we need to start eliminating the source of revenue in order to wean ourselves off the LTT bounty in preparation for the time when we’re making less when the market cools? Sort of a voluntary reduction before the inevitable enforced one sets in?

Hmmm…

We really need to question Budget Chief Del Grande’s motivations. Or his competency.

Regardless of your position in life, whether a public sector budget chief, a private sector financial controller, an individual homeowner, in gazing into the future and spying a possible economic downturn on the horizon, who reacts with the suggestion to cut revenues? Batten down the hatches everyone! We need to start making less money now in order to be used to making less money later!

It makes no sense.

Don’t believe me?

Ask the city manager, Joe Pennachetti, himself a chartered accountant although, evidently, he secured his credentials at an entirely different school (of thought). In a talk delivered a couple weeks ago at the Munk School’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance and one we wrote about here and here, and Matt Elliott wrote here (yes, I do think it’s an important enough point to flog over and over until everyone knows it by rote), Mr. Pennachetti suggested that, while there were still efficiencies to be found, it was revenue generation that we needed to be talking about going forward. City building, whether infrastructure, transit, couldn’t be done through cuts or further efficiencies. Toronto, like every other city in this province, country, continent, needs new sources of revenue.

Of course, city building is not part of our current budget chief’s vernacular. I don’t think it too off the mark to suggest he’s more of the Grover Norquist/starve the beast type of politician. Taxation is bad. Therefore government spending is bad. Widows and orphans be damned.

Only hardcore right wing ideologues would suggest that, in this age of austerity, government look to reduce revenues.

Even if the budget chief demanded that any surplus be used to pay down capital debt, he’d gain some traction as trying to have a reasonable argument although not much of one. The city’s debt level is just fine, thank you very much. Credit rating agency Moody’s thinks so. The city manager thinks so (with one caveat: our social housing repair backlog). Any attempt to compare our situation to that of Greece automatically disqualifies you as a serious participant in this discussion.

Instead, Budget Chief Del Grande only raises the spectre of our capital investment debt to argue against both government revenue and spending. This year it’s: “Councillors who want to spend the surplus are forgetting the huge capital costs facing the city,” he [Del Grande] said, “including the multimillion-dollar tab for refurbishing the crumbling Gardiner Expressway.” Last year we had to cut services and programs in order to pay down the debt.

The budget chief needs to start coming clean with us and simply admit that he doesn’t think government should be in the business of governing. That way, we could cease pretending to have a rational debate on this point with him and get on with what we really should be discussing. Mike Del Grande’s unfitness to be overseeing our city’s finances.

fit of piquely submitted by Cityslikr