Rocco Rossi Goes Underground

May 5, 2010

So now Rocco Rossi’s going to build us subways. Two kilometers of track and one stop per year for the next ten years. Once we get that albatross Toronto Hydro from around our necks, the world will be our oyster! Get cheque. Go to the bank. Pay off debt. And the money will start rolling in.

Monetization of public assets. It’s so simple that it’s amazing no one else has ever thought of that before.

Oh, wait. They have. Margaret Thatcher. Ronald Reagan’s President’s Commission on Privatization in 1987. Our very own Mike Harris. Remember the 407? (Hey! There’s a snappy campaign catch phrase. Remember the 407! Reminiscent of the defiant battle cry, Remember the Alamo! It’s open for public use. Maybe you want to use it, Councillor Pantalone. A little bump to help you step up and get involved in the conversation.) How about the recent long term lease deal/debacle in Chicago where they outsourced the revenue for parking meters and lots into private hands?

What I’d like to know before we go all weak in the knees over Mr. Rossi’s plan to trade Toronto Hydro for subways is does it make an economic sense? With more than a few substantive examples of privatization plans gone awry, where are the positive illustrations of asset monetization? One? Any? I’m all ears here.

Even in the Fraser Institute’s call to privatization arms, the to-the-point article entitled Time to privatize, there’s talk of the tremendous benefits of “sweeping privatization” backed by overwhelming research in academic literature. The results have shown that privatized firms increased profitability, efficiency and dividends while reducing debt ratios. OK, but what about any benefits to the public purse? What does the public gain from monetizing assets?

Errr… well, a better run, more profitable company will help increase economic growth overall. More money, more tax revenue. So we’re counting on that old trickle down theory that conservative groups like the Fraser Institute love so much. There’s also the possibility of an increased amount of capital investment which would also stimulate overall economic growth, taking us back to trickle down again.

There seems to be a much more robust argument against privatization coming from people like Dexter Whitfield and the Municipal Services Project. Mr. Whitfield summarizes the crux of his recent book, Global Auction of Public Assets: Public Sector Alternatives to the Infrastructure Market and Public Private Partnerships, in a post at Truthout. His view seems to be that the public is better served by directly investing in infrastructure without relying on the private sector. Real life examples seem to back his argument up.

Examining Mr. Rossi’s plan specifically, things just don’t seem to add up. If I understand correctly, the city of Toronto garners more equity annually from it’s ownership of Toronto Hydro than it spends on servicing the debt. In selling Toronto Hydro, we pay down some of the debt thereby decreasing the amount of interest we pay per year. But after the one time payday, we get no further revenue from Toronto Hydro. So unless Mr. Rossi plans on paying off the debt entirely, we’re still in a negative cash flow situation as opposed to a slightly positive one if we keep revenue coming in from our ownership of Toronto Hydro.

And he plans to build 2 kilometres of subway track and one station per year at roughly $200-300 million a pop? How? Where’s the money going to come from?

Yet this announcement was made to great fanfare yesterday morning. What has Rocco Rossi done to earn himself such a free ride? Serious candidates should have serious plans not simply the hocus-pocus of you want subways? I’ll give you subways. Just don’t look behind the curtain.

Rossi’s announcement is the latest in a trend from our conservative candidates of shameless pandering that was best summed up in the Tweet-o-sphere yesterday by Graphic Matt. Look at me! I’m a right-wing candidate for Mayor of Toronto. Here is my proposal: subways! Here is how I will pay for them: magic!

— head scratchingly submitted by Cityslikr


NYC Postmortem

April 28, 2010

So I step in after my colleague’s hard crash, like a child coming back down hard to earth after a mad sugar rush, he could be out for days by the look of it, to wrap up our New York City sojourn.

As any good trip away should, we return home with a heightened appreciation of where we live. At least, most of us do. Acaphlegmic went missing Monday night, staying aboard the uptown bound N train as the two of us hopped off at our stop. He had a plan, he said, that did not include us. With that, he was gone, destined for the upper regions of Manhattan or, quite possibly, Queens.

In terms of vibrancy and self-assurance, there really is no other place that compares to New York. It is the centre of the known universe and is well aware of that fact. To bask in its aura even for just a few days, is to acquire a taste, ever so fleetingly, of what it is like to wield true power.

That’s fun for awhile but the responsibility becomes a bit much for us mere mortals to bear. We make our way back home with the knowledge that we are not, ultimately, made of the sterner stuff needed to survive a serious go in such an unforgiving environment. Failure is not an option, as the movies tell us, so we retreat to our slightly more humble surroundings.

Where we have a little more space. A little more tranquility. Where the food is just as good and less pricey and precious. Where we have long since abandoned the idea of building subways.

Did you know that New York City is still building subways? How is that possible? I thought our American neighbours took it in the economic cojones much harder than we did. Especially at ground zero of the meltdown, home to your Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. So how are they going about such extensive public transit infrastructure spending while we fiddle and fart over extending LRTs?

Then I came across this little tidbit in the Wall Street Journal yesterday at the airport:

Top New York real-estate executives and the City Council speaker will make an 11th-hour push Wednesday to persuade the White House to back federal funding for a second subway station as part of the extension of the No. 7 line in Manhattan.

Officials from the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn will meet in Washington with Vice President Joe Biden’s staff in hopes of securing hundreds of millions of dollars to build a station at 10th Avenue and 41st Street.

What’s that then?! A New York City councillor and some members of the real estate association have an audience with the US Vice-President, the second most powerful man in the world, trying to secure federal funding for one subway station!? I mean, wasn’t he just over in Israel trying to kick start peace in the Middle East? Remember when Toronto was trying to secure some federal infrastructure money last summer and were told by the Honourable John Baird, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to go fuck ourselves because we hadn’t crossed our Ts and dotted our Is to their satisfaction?

Maybe cities get the respect they deserve. As long as we continue to grovel at the feet of senior levels of government, begging them to pony up cash they took from us in the first place, we’ll continue to be second class citizens. By taking seriously would-be mayoral candidates who call financial negotiations with the province ‘going cap in hand’, Toronto is simply acknowledging the fact that we’re an after-thought, a voter rich zone with little actual power and zero influence.

I’m not proposing we be like New York. That’s impossible and undesirable. What I would like, however, is to occasionally strut like New York, swing some serious pipe like New York. To simply stop acting like we’re not worthy to be treated like a world class city by the very politicians we elect to serve us. I’m not alone in appreciating where I live. It’s time to demand our elected officials do the same.

stridently submitted by Urban Sophisticat


A Transit Solution Proposal

April 25, 2010

Generally speaking, the New York city subway system is not what you’d call beautiful. Very few fancy-schmancy, artistically rendered stops. Functional, turn of the last century, drab holes in the ground with newer vehicles running through a true maze of tunnels; occasionally idiosyncratic, rarely welcoming. It is a little confusing at first with your A-W, 1-8 trains, express or local runs, uptown, downtown, Rockaway bound mélange although not impossible to quickly learn how to navigate. Cleaner and freer of debris than the much less extensive moving far fewer people Toronto subway. 

But on a late morning on any day of the week, you can get from the upper west side of Manhattan to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in a matter of minutes for the low, low price of $2.25. No fuss, little bother. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, a subway is the best, most efficient way to move a mass of people throughout a densely populated area. About this there can be little argument. Except of course when it comes to cost. To build subways in this day and age is a pricey, pricey proposition. In most cases, prohibitively so. $300 million per stop is one estimate I have seen. So instead we talk up the benefits of LRT, environmentally friendly buses and the like. Poor second choices, runners up, consolation prize winners.

Here is another idea.

How be we take $1 billion, just over the cost of building 3 subway stops, and use the funds to develop a time machine? Hear me out, people, hear me out on this. We could then travel back in time to a low cost era – the early part of the 20th-century or just after World War II – where we would construct a much grander, wider ranging subway than we did at the time, forewarned as we would be with the knowledge of how big Toronto would get and how important public transit would be to our future well-being.

If that’s unrealistic due to a mere billion dollars not getting us that far back in time, we could spend less and return to a more recent era. Say just 25, 30 years ago before we started electing short-sighted, narrow-minded, parochial politicians who lacked the intestinal fortitude to do what was right for the health of our major urban areas. Aim for about 1980 or so when dim-witted, neo-liberalism became all the rage, ravaging good governance and sound future planning in its greedy gob.

It might work. Won’t know until we try.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Laschinger Gets His Man. Finally.

March 22, 2010

As news broke last week that John Laschinger would be assuming the chair of Joe Pantalone’s campaign team, the reality started to sink in for left wing and progressive voters that the Deputy Mayor was going to be their standard bearer in the upcoming election this October. Laschinger had guided David Miller to consecutive mayoral victories and was on board the Adam Giambrone Express that spectacularly derailed in lurid technicolour in almost record time. He then mused publicly about a possible run by budget chief Shelley Carroll.

But now he is in Pantalone’s corner and Laschinger’s status is such that it’s hard to imagine a credible candidate stepping in from the left-of-centre to mount a challenge. So it’s all Joe for Mayor in 2K10 and the excitement is, if not palpable, well… let’s just say it’s not palpable. Yet. Remember though, Laschinger took a much more obscure politician in David Miller in 2003 and helped elect him mayor of the city.

Joe Pantalone isn’t a bad candidate. He’s been a very effective councillor for almost 30 years, ably working with both sides of the political spectrum. For the last 6+ years, he’s been the deputy mayor, overseeing a massive reformation of the city as it has stumbled and lurched out of the darkness of the Harris and Lastman years towards a new, more forward looking post-amalgamation identity.

So far, however, Pantalone has been shockingly quiet on the campaign trail. Perhaps he was caught flat-footed by the virulent anti-incumbency atmosphere stirred up by rivals Smitherman and Rossi. Rather than standing up to the invective and insults hurled at the current administration – the administration he’s been an integral part of – Pantalone’s shrugged and bobbed a little, even mumbling thoughts of hiring freezes that only served to feed into his opponents narrative of a fiscally out-of-control City Hall.

It wasn’t until Mayor Miller stepped into the fray a couple weeks back, essentially calling Smitherman and Rossi liars for their deeply disingenuous representations of the city they sought to lead, that there was any perceivable pushback coming from the left. Maybe now, with Laschinger behind him, Pantalone will start being more aggressive in his own defense. He needs to re-invigorate the base who have been doubly sideswiped by Miller’s decision not to seek a third term and then the Giambrone debacle.

Nothing to do with post. Just been in the news lately.

What Pantalone can’t do, especially since it looks like he won’t have to seriously defend the centre-left terrain from another progressive candidate, is to take that vote for granted. It is a constituency that Pantalone must make sure comes out to vote on election day. Complacency is not an option especially with second tier outside candidates like Sarah Thomson lobbing grenades into the arena like she did last week with her proposals to bring in road tolls, replace LRTs with subways and a very elaborate plan for a dedicated bike lane system throughout the downtown core.

Workable or not, what Thomson’s gambit did was to reveal just how superficial and hollow the debate amongst the mayoral candidates has been so far. Sir Bitch-A-Lot and Dudley Do-Nothing have dictated the tone up until now and the razed ground they’ve created has made it difficult for capital I ideas to sprout up. Thomson has endeavoured to alter that. Joe Pantalone must follow suit or else be relegated to the category of Just Another Politician Without A Vision. Teaming up with John Laschinger may be a move in the right direction.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr