The Mayor Belts Out His Numbers

After witnessing Mayor Ford’s budget launch of his Respect for The Taxpayer Tour, only one thing is certain. It all depends on what kind of taxpayer you are that’ll determine just how much respect’s coming to you over the next few years. The mayor assures us that we’re all in this austerity mode together but it certainly seems some will find the going more austere than others. While we got an inkling today of the lucky winners (and losers), all will be revealed at breakneck speed over the course of the next 7 weeks.

Some quick first impressions:

1) At this point what does seem clear is that the mayor and those helping him write the budget believe taxes are an entirely different beast than service fees. Paying to register your car with the city is a tax, so bad and now gone. Paying to ride the TTC is not, so it can be hiked although unhappily from the mayor’s perspective. (More on that shortly.) Property tax hikes have become an unbearable burden for homeowners but service fees to use some city services are less egregious. Taxes, bad. Service fees, ahhhh, what are you gonna do?

2) When the mayor, out on the campaign trail last year, assured voters and his opponents who accused him of having a hidden agenda of service cuts to accommodate his promise to lower or freeze taxes, he was, well, lying to everyone’s face. “No service cuts. Guaranteed.” is now “no major service cuts”, and just what exactly constitutes a “major” versus minor service cut is a fluid question whose answer all depends on who’s asking and when. It may be a library branch, but just a little, underused library branch or it could be a bus route, but an underused bus route. The mayor and his people are big on finding ‘efficiencies’ and ‘re-allocating’ resources in order to not be forced to say the word ‘cuts’.. unless it’s preceded with the word ‘tax’.

3) The profligacy of the David Miller administration which our current mayor railed on and on about while campaigning for the job is now going to help fund Mayor Ford’s 2011 operating budget with all its tax and service cuts. Yep, well over half of the proposed $700+ million of revenue is coming from the surpluses of the last two years. “A surprise surplus,” Miller foes screeched, “is just a sign of fiscal incompetence.” Burning through said surpluses to paste over tax and services cuts, though, is just the neo-conservative way and surest sign of being prudent fiscal managers.

4) The TTC is in a whole lot of fucking trouble and having such an avid anti-transit administration now in place overseeing it promises nothing but a continued downward spiral. Many capital projects remain unfunded including the mayor’s “Transportation City” subway plan. There’s a proposal already made to scale back many bus routes despite a recent uptick in the system’s ridership. The only thing the new administration seems to agree with its predecessor about is that our transit system needs substantially more funding help from senior levels of government like most other non-3rd World countries have. You know, the ones with much, much better transit than ours. What was kind of bitter joke during the campaign about Toronto having the best 1970s transit system in the 21st-century is now looking more and more like an entrenched reality.

All this as well as a 10 cent fare hike now on the table which both the mayor and TTC chair, Councillor Karen Stintz are none too happy about. But don’t worry, folks. I’ve got a good feeling that this is one being dimed to death we’re not going to face this year. The mayor and his faithful chair will beat it back over the course of the next 6 weeks or so and, conveniently, claim to have been looking out for the little guy just as other budget items are voted into place, full of fee increases and service decreases, many of which will have got lost in the rhetorical shuffle that always accompanies TTC fare increases.

5) This is the ‘easy’ budget. With all of its one-offs and ‘unsustainable sources’ of revenue (ie, the other guy’s surpluses), short of a miracle economic turnaround during the next year, it’s going to get a whole lot uglier. The mayor has left himself with very little wiggle room. On the plus side, with the new, expedited budget process, we’re going to find out about it much sooner and be able to warm up and get limber before we have to bend over, touch our toes and cough.

by the numbersly submitted by Cityslikr