“It is the easy way out to say, let’s just have 3.0%, 4.0% more put on to property taxes…”
So began Mayor John Tory’s pitch to city council this week, presenting his maiden budget for their ultimate approval.
That this was in direct opposition to, well, reality, nobody much noticed. No, Mr. Mayor, in fact the easy way out is to campaign on an anti-tax platform, to assure voters that there were magical ways to fund city’s services and programs with a little left over for special pet projects. TIF. New money pouring in from senior levels of government. Efficiencies.
In other words, just what the previous administration told us minus the crack smoking and drunken stupors.
In my experience, it is far, far easier to pretend there’s no tough decisions to be made than to accept the unpleasant reality staring you directly in the face and deal with it. At least, initially. The bills do eventually come due, however, and very, very rarely do crossed fingers and a wish on a star provide much of a soft landing.
Oh but the sky is not falling, we were assured time and time again by the mayor, his budget chief, and ancient regime dinosaur, Councillor David Shiner, who told us every year that he’s been around (and that’s a lot of years), it’s been the same ol’ song. Predicted shortfalls and terrifying opening pressures amounting to millions and millions of dollars, only to be dutifully wrestled into submission, the operating budget balanced, as it always must be. The sun rises. The sun sets.
Never mind the ever growing state of good repairs elephant in the room, a To Do List backlog of infrastructure needs now somewhere in the neighbourhood of $7 billion. Social housing upkeep that, in some cases, if not done in the next few years will force the closure of units, sending some of our most vulnerable residents looking elsewhere for shelter. Transit. And transit. And transit.
But somehow, there’s no connection between that beast and the fact that since amalgamation, our property tax rate increases have not kept up with inflation meaning, in real dollars, there’s less money going to even core services and programs, let alone the items a municipality should not be paying for like, the aforementioned social housing or major transit infrastructure builds. Yes, cities are expected to do more with less but what do we think is going to happen when our response to that is to try and make do with even less? That’s what insisting on property tax rate increases below the rate of inflation does.
When Councillor Gord Perks introduced a motion on Tuesday to increase the property tax rate an additional 1.59%, bumping the total hike to over 5% in order to pay off the $86 million hole in the operating budget created by yet more provincial downloading, a hole the mayor is papering over by borrowing from the city’s investment portfolio, Councillor Josh Matlow rose to speak in opposition. While he understood the intentions of Councillor Perks’ motion, he couldn’t support it because that would let the province off the hook for its obligations. Once we established that precedent, what else would Queen’s Park expect us to start paying for?
A fair point, to be sure, but it leaves the lingering question: WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO IN THE MEANTIME? Oh, that’s right. Cross our fingers and wish upon a star.
It also ignores the fact that a 5+% property tax increase is not unheard of except here in amalgamated Toronto. Ask our GTA neighbours about their recent property tax hikes and see if you get any soothing words of comfort. Toronto has been shortchanging itself since 1998. So its demands for the other levels of government to live up to their responsibilities in funding cities, correct as they might be, ring a little hollow.
Rather than face up to that unpleasant truth, Mayor Tory chose instead to take the easy way out, referring to any such proposed tax increase as ‘through the roof’ and, therefore, out of the question. Neither was the mayor in any mood to discuss other forms of revenue at the city’s disposal. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to bring back the vehicle registration tax and dedicate it to fast-tracking accessibility redesigns for the remaining last half of the city’s 69 subway stations in order to comply with provincial legislation (more of those damned state of good repairs) was soundly defeated. Increasing revenue, in a John Tory administration, was simply not prudent.
Unless, of course, you use any of the city’s services, programs or facilities (not including roads). This budget continued to lean on increasing user fees. From garbage bins to sports fields, above the rate of inflation increases were in effect (except for roads). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that but it does lead to the question: Why there and not property taxes?
The simplest explanation is that Mayor Tory is playing to the same constituency Rob Ford sings for, both administrations deluding them (and themselves) that the city’s fiscal problems are not of their doing, and that somebody else will swoop in, all deus ex machina like, and pay the piper. We just need a little discipline and patience, cross our fingers and send our wishes skyward (which totally isn’t falling) and it’ll all work out fine.
Making it official in the process.
Toronto didn’t elect John Tory, the civic leader. We elected John Tory, the talk radio show host. So let’s stop expecting any sort of leadership from him and settle in for another 4 years of sound bites and simple solutions that will solve few of this city’s problems.
— heard-it-beforely submitted by Cityslikr