Let’s get fiscal

A CBC News article without a byline serves as a nice introduction to a couple of thoughts I have as we head into the city budget process this week:

Ford promised no new taxes during his election campaign, as well as getting rid of the $60 vehicle registration tax — which he delivered on in December.

He is already on record promising no spending increases and a property tax freeze for 2011, while at the same time promising no major service cuts.

“We’re going to have a zero per cent tax increase and we’re going to put more money in the taxpayer’s pocket,” Ford told CBC News in an interview in December.

via CBC News – Toronto – Toronto’s 2011 budget battle set to start.

First and foremost, this budget will be easy. There was a general surplus last year, plus a surplus at the TTC, which means that the pressure David Miller and his budget chief Shelley Carroll had to deal with in previous years is lessened his year, even with Ford’s cuts to revenue. The budget will balance without much effort.

The Ford administration is looking for a grand narrative to unfold over the next few weeks. One that says that his administration was able to unite a fractured council to deliver a budget — in record time, no less — that includes no tax increases and no “major” service cuts. Both Fords and their staff will attempt to spin this as a huge David-versus-Goliath victory, the culmination of the Ford-as-mythic-hero narrative. “The Gravy Train is Dead, see how easy that was?”

But it’ll be a one-time thing. Anyone watching the numbers know that he was left a gift by the outgoing administration: a one-time surplus that surely won’t be around come 2012.

The Left on council has to be careful not to help him with this narrative. Opposition for opposition’s sake won’t do anyone any good. The best tactic, I think, is to point to why the budget is so easy to balance this year: it’s because of the very same fiscal management of the previous council that Ford has spent months attacking.

Second: The big sticking point will be the definition of ‘major’ when talking about Ford’s pledge that there will be ‘no major service cuts.’ Some will argue that opposition councillors should just accept the ‘adjustments’ to various programs, cuts though they may be, as inevitabilities under the new regime.

But what this is about is honesty, a characteristic that Ford values highly. I’d understand and respect (but not vote for) an argument that called for service cuts in a bid to decrease government spending, but Ford hasn’t called for that. Instead, he’s promised that the city can restrict spending purely through efficiencies and cutting waste.

He should be held to that promise this week. Any admission that service cuts are necessary is an admission that he was wrong about the city’s finances.


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