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


Attention All Pillagers

September 12, 2011

So, you say you’re feeling a little entrepreneurial and on the lookout for new and exciting business adventures? You like animals, perhaps. Wouldn’t it be cool to own a zoo? Who hasn’t always wanted to own a zoo? You could ride your own panda and nobody would say no.

Or maybe you’re more partial to old people. Grandma once took care of you and now you want to give something back. What better way than running your own senior citizens’ home?

Or how about kids? Those tousled-haired little rug rats, they kind of pull at your heart strings. Imagine overseeing thousands of them with your own string of day care centres.

Huh? Huh?

Too touchie-feelie, emotionally cloying for you? How about the razzle-dazzle, bright lights and broken dreams on offer as a high-flying theatrical impresario? You too could adapt a movie into the next big stage musical sensation. I got two words for you. Two words followed by a colon followed by two more words. The Godfather: The Opera. Have your people call my people.

Hold on a second, I hear you saying. Even if I do want to buy a zoo/retirement home/child care centre/theatre where does one go about finding such things? Besides, those are pretty big enterprises. What if my pocketbook doesn’t match the size of my dreams?

Listen, have I got a deal(s) for you…

EVERYTHING (NOT NAILED DOWN) MUST GO! WE’RE MOVING (TO THE SUBURBS) SALE! NO REASONABLE OFFER REFUSED! (AND WE’RE NOT RULING OUT THE HIGHEST UNREASONABLE OFFER EITHER!)

A fire sale’s going on down in old T.O. and there’s never been a better time than now to swoop in, vulture like, and get yourself a zoo at a cut rate price. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just some chintzy, late night commercial, Oliver Russell-like sales pitch, fronting an actual solid business plan. I know, I know. The mayor and his councillor-brother Doug are always talking up their business savvy. The budget chief will tell anyone who listens that he is a chartered accountant. As much as they claim they want government to be run like a business, they would never run a business like they’re trying to run this city.

Publicly devalue it? Signal serious desperation before negotiations even begin? Make like the fiscal straits you’re facing are much worse than they actually are?

Surely the Ford Bros. did not learn that at their daddy’s knee when climbing the ranks at Deco Tags and Lables. If that’s what they’re teaching at whatever business school/chartered accountant chop shop the budget chief got his diploma/certificate from, I’d be asking for my money back. No. These guys aren’t intending to run City Hall like a business. They’re looking to put it out of business.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, prospective zoo/retirement home/child care centre/theatre buyer. (And I really shouldn’t. They could take away my licence for this. But since the sellers have been so naked in their intentions, so lacking in circumspection, I can hardly be accused of talking out of school. BTW, if you’re looking to buy a school, I think we might have a few of those for sale too.) These guys don’t want to maximize value. They don’t really want to plug budget holes, now or ever. They want to get rid of government. They want to shrink it down small enough so they can drown it in the bathtrub. Just like Grover Norquist bid all conservative politicians to do.

So yeah, this is on the up and up. Everything must go and prices will be more than negotiable. These guys aren’t just motivated sellers. They’re very, very motivated.

Get in and get out while the going is good. If you’ve long had your eye on city assets there will never be time like now to give it a whirl. It is truly a buyer’s market. No one’s made more sure of that than the current administration at City Hall.

pitchmanly submitted by Cityslikr


I Resemble That

March 23, 2011

It’s standard operating procedure for those over on the right side of the political spectrum to rail about how we non-rightists are always messing with free speech, monitoring what they say with our PC-o-meter. “What do you mean I can’t call the man ‘coloured’? He is coloured! Look. Compare our arms.” Or. “Saying something’s ‘gay’ is not derogatory. It just means ‘different’, ‘odd’, ‘abnormal’. I am not implying homosexuality when I call something ‘gay’. So stop your politically correct clucking.”

Note the tone of umbrage. While we PCers may cluck, the right takes umbrage like nobody’s business. Umbrage, from the French, I believe, meaning, how dare you, sir and well, I never! Umbrage. Beautifully onomatopoetic. Umbrage umbrage umbrage. Umbrageumbrageumbrage.

The Umbrage King®™© of the Ford administration (although the mayor is no slouch himself) is Budget Chief Mike Del Grande. There seems to be nothing that can’t get him hot under the collar or put a bee in his bonnet. His default position to anything that he doesn’t agree with is to take offense with it. He’ll pick up his pad of paper prop, wave it around and demand his critics stop with all the complaining and give him answers. There’s a financial tsunami coming, people! What would you suggest we do?! Give me answers! I’ve been waiting! My pad of paper is blank! Umbrageumbrageumbrage.

Well, Councillor Del Grande, I for one wouldn’t have cut disastrously into the city’s revenue stream by jettisoning the VRT and freezing property taxes simply to cater to the mayor’s populist pandering in hopes of being invited to join Team Ford, thereby undercutting any claim I might have to having fiscal prudence. That’d be my first answer.

But I digress.

The Budget Chief was doing his schtick again on Monday at the Executive Committee meeting during discussions about restructuring the boards of the city’s various Agencies and Corporations. Noting the proposed reduction of councillor presence on city boards made by the City Manager, it was suggested that perhaps this was the first step in Mayor Ford’s bid to cut the council numbers in half. Cut back on their duties and render them superfluous.

Councillor Del Grande kicked into umbrage gear and started rifling through the papers in front of him (perhaps looking for his empty pad), grumbling about such unsubstantiated nonsense. Where’s that written? Who said anything about cutting council in half? Umbrageumbrageumbrage.

It was a similar tack taken by the administration during its bid to gut the board and management of the TCHC a couple weeks back, and install their man, Case Ootes. When accusations of privatization by stealth arose, they were brushed off as just empty fear-mongering, cheap politics. This is about accountability. Who said anything about privatizing or selling off assets? My notepad’s empty, people.

Except that, the mayor mused openly and often about privatizing the TCHC. His brother, Councillor Doug went on record saying, “Anything that isn’t nailed down we’re going to privatize.” Hell, during the budget debate earlier this year, Councillor Del Grande himself said that “everything is on the table” By everything, is it incorrect to assume privatizing and cutting council numbers in half are on the table?

The mayor, if anything, is a man of his word. Mostly. Some of the rough edges he showed while a councillor and on the campaign trail have been smoothed over. But you pretty well know where he stands. He is contemptuous toward the notion of government except maybe having a police force and, I imagine, if a good business case could be made for farming their services out, he’d be all over it. It is his political mission, his public service, to render the public sector extraneous. To, in the words of Grover Norquist “…reduce it [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” Mayor Ford’s pledge to Stop the Gravy Train is just a slight rhetorical twist, a more acceptable, family-friendly way of saying, Elect Me And I’ll Tear This Motherfucker Up!

We get it. We might not agree with it. But we get it.

So when the mayor says he’s thinking of privatizing this or that, or looking to cut the number of councillors in half, we believe him. He told us that’s what he wants to do. There’s no reason to believe otherwise. So, I think it fair to take the long view of whatever aspect of the mayor’s agenda is brought forth and ask questions. Is this the first step toward privatization? Is this the first step toward cutting the size of council in half?

Those who attempt to brush such questions off as merely fear-mongering or simply take umbrage, lack the courage of Mayor Ford’s political conviction. This isn’t about privatization, they’ll grumble. Who said anything about reducing the size of council? This is about money. We are living beyond our means. We. Can’t. Afford. It.

Stop hiding behind a manufactured financial crisis and man up. Be like the mayor and step forward and tell us what you really believe. Spare us the mock outrage, the umbrage, at suggestions that your high-mindedness and common sense is anything other than an anti-government crusade. The mayor’s embraced that stance. Why can’t you?

darenly submitted by Cityslikr


McGuinty Shows His Stripes

August 5, 2010

“Daddy, daddy! I thought you told me we killed all those dragons of the Common Sense Revolution?! That they were all dead and would never, ever come back again! That’s what you said, daddy. That’s what you told me!”

“Well, son. It’s true. I did tell you that. I told you that because I thought it was true. I did think we’d killed all the monsters. But the truth is, some monsters just can’t be killed. You can wound them. You can hurt them very, very badly. It’s just some monsters, well son, they’re like a Hydra.”

“A hydra, daddy? You mean like a car?”

“No, no son. Not like a car. A hydra is a monster with many—actually. You know what some monsters are like? Like those bad guys you read in you comic books. First, they’re one thing but before you know it, they’re something else entirely.”

“You mean, like a shapeshifter, daddy?”

“Yes, like a shapeshifter, son. Changing shapes all the time but their essential being, their evil core is still the same…”

Or as the Who once sang, Meet the New Boss/Same As the Old Boss although, apparently, we can get fooled again.

If there was ever any question about the politics of the McGuinty Liberal government, their Bill 68, An Act to promote Ontario as open for business by amending or repealing certain Acts, should seal the deal. These guys are Liberal if you mean neoliberal, Tory in other words. And no old school Red Tory either. They are out-and-out Harper/Harrisites sporting red ties instead of blue, smiling broadly to mask what is nothing but a pro-business soul.

Ontario. Open For Business. If that doesn’t sound like a legs open welcome to the whorehouse, I don’t know what does. We will bend over backwards (or anyway you like it) for your business. Workers’ rights? What workers rights? Treat `em however you want. Smack `em around, a bit of the rough stuff. We’ll turn a blind eye. And if they want to complain about your behaviour, they’ll have to talk to you first before we’ll even pretend to listen to their whining.

Stop and think about that for a moment. When (not if) this bill becomes law workers in this province will first to have to “confront” their employers if they feel that they have money owed them for overtime, vacation pay or just plain old wages. Or if they feel working conditions aren’t up to snuff. Employers as the first line of defense against exploitation of employees. Yeah, uh, Mr. Fox? We’d really appreciate it if you would stop stealing all our eggs.

According to an article in Tuesday’s Toronto Star, the government claims that the “… changes are part of the province’s employment standards modernization strategy to reduce the 14,000 workers’ claims in backlog.” It’s almost as if the government is blaming the workers for creating the backlog. If they would just stop complaining, there wouldn’t be a backlog.

Am I wrong in assuming that if an employee has issues about unpaid wages or poor working conditions that they’d probably approach their employers first, asking to have the problem fixed, and ended up going to the government for redress only as a last resort? The backlog exists because worker exploitation is more pervasive than we might care to admit here in 21st-century Ontario? Putting the onus on workers to demand their rights and protections will do little to alleviate the problem — except on the official paperwork, where a similar law enacted by a similarly Liberal in name only government in B.C. saw workers’ complaints drop by 46%. Huzzah! Problem solved.

There is also another view about what created the backlog here in Ontario. In the Star article, Parkdale Community Legal Services’ Mary Gellatly said that back in 2006 the province closed claims-intake offices and squeezed enforcement resources. Ahh! There’s your old neoliberal economic system at work. Kneecap an agency or ministry by cutting money and personnel to the point where it can’t function properly and then use it as an example of government not working. See? Circular logic bringing about a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is straight out of the play book of the master, Grover Norquist, president of the lobby group Americans For Tax Reform. “I don’t want to abolish government,” he’s been quoted as saying. “I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

The mantra of neo-conservative/liberals everywhere. Killing government. Dalton McGuinty is clearly part of the vigilante group, intent on diminishing the role governments play in our lives and filling the void with free market fundamentals and taking the handcuffs from the Invisible Hand, blind to the damage it inflicts when left to its own devices.

The Common Sense Revolution did not end in 2003. Its ill-effects aren’t merely reverberating here in the cities, towns, schools and workplaces of Ontario. They are being perpetuated by a different gang under a different flag but with the same indifference and antagonism to the idea of good government. Don’t let the red tie fool you into thinking otherwise.

dispiritedly submitted by Cityslikr