The city is currently holding a series of budget consultation sessions in advance of a three million dollar “core service review” set to take place this summer. There’s also an online survey available. It’s structured such that you could, if you wanted, advocate that publicly-owned theatres are the only vital service the city provides, and also that fire services should be contracted out. Don’t do that, though. It’d be wrong.
I haven’t been to a session yet — I’m hoping to make it to the one taking place at City Hall on Saturday — but from what I hear they, like the survey, sort of play out like an elementary school brain teaser. As in: Oh no! The city’s former left-wing Mayor Goofus was addicted to spending and got us in a $774 million budget hole! Help the valiant new Mayor Gallant fix the problem by identifying services that could be cut!
There’s little about revenue generation strategies. Nothing about reinstating recently-cut taxes. Nothing about directing more of the tax money we pay to the provincial and federal governments toward urban initiatives like transit and housing. Instead, it’s a kind of civic Sophie’s Choice: pick the services you love least, because some of them are surely going to die.
Over at the Toronto Standard, Ivor Tossell sums things up nicely:
The whole thing is insane, in a relentlessly logical kind of way. It offers the solutions its framers want to pursue to a solve a crisis they had a hand in creating. Toronto! We may have to raise the taxes we just froze to replace the taxes we just axed to alleviate the apocalyptic financial shortfall we face every year that we just deliberately made worse! What shall we do? Feel free not to care!
Similarly, in this week’s NOW, Ellie Kirzner has a nice summary of one of the recent public consultations at Danforth CI. She highlights just how much more challenging Ford’s handling of the 2011 budget have made preparation for the coming year:
Gord Perks sums it up: if Rob Ford hadn’t frozen property taxes, ditched the vehicle registration fee and frittered away the surplus, “we would be in a position where property tax increases just over the rate of inflation could have kept the ship afloat. Now we face significant tax increases or cuts, not because services cost so much, but because Mayor Ford really blew it in his first budget.”
I would never deny that the city has financial problems, but it’s ridiculously short-sighted to think we’re a few service cuts away from a long-term solution. Toronto’s problems are complex and resulted largely from a series of moves from senior governments that dumped operational costs on the one level of government that is legally prohibited from running a year-to-year deficit. The path to fiscal sustainability for our city lies not in service cuts — though we must always be vigilant about the services offered and the efficiency with which they are delivered — but rather in coherent, strategic negotiations between levels of government, resulting in a fair deal for Toronto.