It’s Miller Time! Again!

Ooops.

*** sigh. ***

Yes, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will admit to getting caught up in the hype and conjecture surrounding Mayor Miller’s Big Announcement this morning. Hopes were raised. Dreams dared to dream once more. The big dog was getting back in the race.

All for nought.

On the surface, what we were given amounted to nothing more than a budget update. Since last week, it seems, revised numbers uncovered an additional $100 million in the city coffers, some of which would be used to lower proposed property tax increases for the upcoming year. Another chunk of it would be set aside as a ‘property tax stabilization’ fund for use in future years to keep increases reasonable.

Most importantly for the mayor, what this meant was that not only did his administration deliver a balanced budget for Toronto this year but the opportunity was now in place for a balanced budget again next year as well. The contingency for that to happen is the province reassuming the obligation to pay its portion of the TTC operating cost which, to hear Premier McGuinty aka Dalton Empty Pockets, is not a done deal. But that’s a fight for the next mayor and council to engage in.

The response to Mayor Miller’s Big Announcement split into two camps. One: he told us to bring our satellite truck out for this? Two: another surplus after the first surplus they ‘discovered’ during the initial budgeting process? Clearly, an indication of massive financial mismanagement. (Prediction? Read all about it in Sue-Ann Levy’s next Toronto Sun column. And maybe Royson James in the Star as well.) How can you just ‘discover’ $100 million dollars?!

Let’s put that number into a little perspective. If my Google assisted math is correct, $100 million in terms of an overall $9.2 billion operating budget works out to about 1.1%. To put that in more tangible terms, that would be like you budgeting to make a $9 purchase and ‘discovering’ an extra dime in your pocket. As the mayor said in the press conference, every level of government revises their numbers regularly. Hell, businesses do it too. I was still receiving financial statements from companies last June, a full two months after my taxes were due.

Which takes us back to the first camp. What’s the big deal? Why all the fuss? So what?

Well, I think Mayor Miller hyped the proceedings in the hopes of going wide with this shot across the bow of the campaigns of the two men vying to succeed him. Combined with his pugnacious column in last week’s NOW magazine, Miller stepped into the void on the progressive side of electoral ledger, defending his legacy from the slings and arrows of the Smitherman and Rossi camps.

He defiantly challenged their numbers, claims and promises of solutions. During the press conference he trumpeted this as the start of a multi-year budget planning process (a demand of candidate Rocco Rossi, see Amanda Belzowski). The mayor stated simply that the city’s fiscal condition was in robust enough condition that there would be absolutely no reason to sell off any of Toronto’s assets. For the next mayor to do that would be a choice rather than a necessity.

While it’s great that finally somebody is standing up to the right wing, reactionary bluster of Smitherman and Rossi, it’s unfortunate that it’s the outgoing mayor who’s doing it. Clearly the left wing hasn’t recovered from the Adam Giambrone flameout. He appears to have been the anointed one and no one was prepared to step in and take his place. Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, who has spent much of his campaign so far trying to distance himself for the current administration, has been meek in his response to the Chicken Little antics coming from the front runners. Perhaps now Mayor Miller has paved the way for Pantalone to be more aggressive. Or maybe, he’s cleared the deck for another candidate to step up to the plate and proudly bear the flag. Budget Chief Shelley Carroll wasn’t too far from the podium at this morning’s press conference…

Either way, hopefully the Big Annoucement has altered the playing field of the campaign and made it that much more difficult for Smitherman and Rossi and all the other neo-conservative hysterics to tell us the place is going to hell in a handbasket. The bad news is, it won’t be Mayor David Miller capitalizing on that shift. For some of us, that was the news we were really hoping to hear.

somewhat dejectedly submitted by Cityslikr

Toronto Sun Hates Half Its Name

City begs province for more daycare cash, goes the title of a Toronto Sun story this past weekend. The city is going hat in hand to the province, the Sun continues, blah, blah, blah, followed, of course, by a litany of boneheaded comments from readers, who obviously, could’ve benefited themselves from a few years of early education.

**sigh**

If the Sun was trying to be factual with this, the article should’ve read: Cash strapped city demands province start paying its fair share of daycare funding. Using the word ‘beg’ and the phrase ‘going hat in hand’ denotes dissoluteness, irresponsibility, a lack of character and profligacy with money. Like that inveterate gambler of an uncle who uses his infrequent winnings to get drunk.

As city council begins the 2010 operating budget process next month, we’re going to be hearing a lot about possible cuts to services, increases in taxes and user fees, whopping great shortfalls. Already estimates are being made in the $300-500 million range. And yes, the province is going to be asked to chip in and contribute.

Wastefulness on the city’s part? A lack of having their financial house in order? Hardly.

You see, of the 3 levels of government we have plying their trade, only at the municipal level are they legally unable to run an annual operating budget deficit. Who mandated this? Their overlords in the provincial legislature, of course, who by my latest tabulations (sound of me slapping away on the keys of a calculator) projected a $14.1 billion deficit last year. “A deficit is not something that we take lightly,” said provincial finance minister Dwight Duncan in March. “It is, however, a necessity in these challenging times.

A case of do as I say not as I do, it seems; paternalism that lies at the heart of municipal-provincial relations. It is also your trickle down neo-liberalism on display. In order to clean up their books, top level of senior government cuts transfer payments to the next level of senior government. That level of senior government not only makes cuts of their own but then offloads services to the lowest level of government (municipalities if you’re having trouble following) minus the corresponding dollars to finance them. Without the regulatory or revenue powers to accommodate their new obligations (or to deficit spend when necessary), cities are left holding the bag to face an angry public with news of cuts in services and/or tax/user fee increases.

So yes, Toronto Sun, the city is begging the province with hat in hand for more money but maybe a little perspective is in order. Indulging in the family member analogy once more, the provincial government is like a deadbeat dad. After refusing to pay for their kid’s upbringing for nearly a decade, they’ve finally been forced to cough up some dough which they’ve done reluctantly and almost always with a patting of their pants pockets, a shrug and a dismissive we’re a bit strapped at the moment.

That’s unfortunate but what do we tell the children?

censoriously submitted by Cityslikr