Respect for a certain kind of taxpayer

Chris Selley for the National Post, who I gather enjoys being a contrarian above all else, tries to put a positive spin on many of today’s budget-related announcements. Here he explains that the $60 per year cut to the personal vehicle tax is entirely unrelated to the $60 per year increase in transit costs for Metropass users:

Of course there are financial consequences to cutting the Personal Vehicle Tax, but the fare hike is no more a direct result of it than any other budgetary measure: cutting the tenant defence fund or the environment office in London, or closing the Toronto Public Libraries’ urban affairs branch at Metro Hall.

Selley is right, of course. That the vehicle registration tax numbers line up with the Metropass fare hike numbers is coincidental, a weird quirk in the budgetary process. The fare hike — which is still, I caution, unlikely to really happen — is instead a direct result of a 17 million dollar cut to the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. Which is a direct result of the need to constrain costs even further than would be necessary if not for the mayor’s pledge to freeze property taxes and, yes, cut the vehicle registration tax.

Everything is connected. What the fare hike and the VRT cut represent, taken together, is a statement of priorities. This is more important than that. Vehicles over transit. Respect for a certain kind of taxpayer.

Service cuts and fare increases are often necessary, especially in times of fiscal shortfall. What’s so frustrating about today’s budget is that Ford was presented with a fantastic starting point. Surpluses and provincial transfers, plus a modest property tax increase — something the mayor campaigned on — and, sure, some efficiencies, could have easily held the line. That would have given city departments, managers and council a year to discuss the mayor’s goal of budget reductions for 2012.

But that’s not what we got today. Too bad.

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