We need to talk about 2012

Megan O’Toole with the National Post details the totally bizarre part of yesterday’s council meeting, wherein any discussion about the implications of the 2011 budget on 2012 was ruled out of order:

At one point, Speaker Frances Nunziata (York South-Weston) opted to shut down discussion on the 2012 outlook, spurring a furious outburst from Councillor Janet Davis (Beaches-East York).

“That has never happened in this chamber,” Ms. Davis fumed later, noting the 2011 budget documents are rife with references to the following year’s outlook, meaning the topic should be free for discussion.

“If this Mayor thinks that this budget that’s passed today has no impact on next year, he is misleading the people of this city, and it’s totally outrageous,” she said.

via Fantastic day for taxpayers, mayor says | Posted Toronto | National Post.

Enough to make your head explode.

Here’s the thing about 2012 — I’ve written about this before — it’s become incredibly clear that there are very few ways for the mayor to handle next year’s budget and still maintain his populist, good-guy, I’m-saving-you-money image. The reports could not be more clear: either we see significant property tax increases — bigger than we saw in any of the David Miller years, I’d suspect — or incredibly painful service cuts.

There are other options, of course, and we’ll probably see a combination of games played to make things work. (Selling stuff is on the table, though not Toronto Hydro apparently.)

This report from city staff is clear that the real answer comes from improving relationships with the provincial government. Page 26 refers to “Sustainable provincial funding (50% transit operating funding)”, while Page 35 notes that the capital budget through to 2020 is manageable except for the TTC.

Real fiscal responsibility would call for the mayor to address this need head-on. But, again, under his direction council has essentially denied itself achievable revenues (property taxes, vehicle registration taxes) this year, putting itself in probably the worst possible position to negotiate with other levels of government.

David Miller was often derided by those in the media for going after new funds from the provincial government. He was “crying poor.” There were many CFRB-types who called for the city to go on a quixotic quest to get its own “fiscal house in order” before asking the provincial government for funding.

This always bothered me because it ignores recent history. It wasn’t until the mid-90s that the province shirked its responsibilities for funding transit in Toronto. And since that time, for a ton of different reasons, the city has never been able to find a way to stabilize its year-to-year finances. Is it so crazy to wonder if it’s simply impossible?

I don’t think it is. And I’d speculate that that is the same realization the mayor and those around him are coming to. They’d simply rather avoid that reality than talk about it.

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