A look back at Mike Del Grande and Sue-Ann Levy’s imaginary city budget

Via a comment on BlogTO, I came across this 2007 Sue-Ann Levy column, in which she details a fun weekend she spent with Councillor Mike Del Grande, currently the city’s Budget Chief. To summarize, they got together and used their imaginations to drastically slash the city’s budget. Councillor Del Grande liked the outcome so much he archived the article on his website:

So last week Del Grande and I spent two days looking for savings and our own revenue tools to replace the $356 million anticipated from the new land transfer and vehicle ownership taxes.

We found some $440.9 million — $419.4 million from what I’ve called the Big Ticket Items like wages and benefits. There was another $21.5 million from what the socialists like to call “chicken feed” — the small yet symbolic cuts to councillor office budgets, their wage hikes and free food, the city’s grants, special events, cultural and plant watering budgets that Coun. Rob Ford raises year after year.

via The Toronto Sun: City Hall.

The 440.9 million they “found” is similar to the amount Ford pledged to cut in his first year in office. And we know how that turned out – the 2011 budget is, in fact, bigger than the 2010 budget. Same as it ever was.

It’s interesting to look at the items Levy and Del Grande put on their mythic chopping block. A bunch of it is pure fantasy. They wanted to kill the city’s 100-year-old fair wage policy. Easier said than done. They suggested freezing wages for non-unionized staff, something that was actually done under Miller, but isn’t sustainable.

Then there’s the kind of stuff that, in retrospect, feels a lot like foreshadowing. They slashed office budgets to $30K and froze council salaries. They cut the free food and coffee and slashed travel budgets. They even proposed a cut to the Tenant Defence fund. All things that have been floated by the new administration in the mayor’s office.

Incredibly, Del Grande and Levy also snuck in a cut to the lobbyist registry. Which saves very little money and seems like a real loser of a proposal. But then, who needs oversight when you’ve vowed to be awesome and make no mistakes?

The most prescient thing about this whole exercise, which was surely meant to make David Miller look like a spending-addicted tax-ocrat, is that to find their half billion dollars in ‘savings’ Del Grande and Levy had to apply a series of ‘revenue fixes.’ They account increased revenues from new condo assessments and provincial uploading. They even proposed a property tax hike of 6%.

Of course none of this matters now, because council’s right-wing has decided the city doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. And magic privatization fairies will solve everything.

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