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Cast your mind back to when Rob Ford, then a candidate for mayor, ran on a platform of austerity and service cuts, highlighting a need for Toronto residents to sacrifice things like regular street cleaning, water fluoridation and snow-removal in order to maintain Toronto’s lowest-in-the-GTA property tax rates? Remember that?
You might not, because it never happened. Instead, Ford ran on a platform that called for an end to “gravy train” waste. He told voters he would be able to save them $230 million on the 2011 operating budget, and ultimately produce a $1.7 billion surplus over his first four years in office, all without cutting services. The city doesn’t have a revenue problem, he was fond of saying, but a spending problem. And he could fix that.
Today, the campaign-era theatrics and slogans all came crashing down, as the Rob Ford administration revealed the first phase of their Core Services Review report. The initial release relates to programs that fall under the purview of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee. It concludes that a full 96% of the services provided by these city departments are absolutely essential. Nearly all the potential avenues for savings are listed as “small.” They include things like cutting down on the frequency of street sweeping, changing our standards for snow-removal, setting less ambitious targets for recycling and green bin programs and discontinuing the practice of fluoridation for the city’s water supply.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Chair of the Public Works & Infrastructure committee, seemed to agree with media reports that claimed very few — basically none — of the report’s areas for consideration are actually plausible cuts, telling the Toronto Star’s David Rider and Paul Moloney that PWIC was not “a sweet spot” for easy savings. Which is decent enough logic, but if that was so obviously the case, why lead the multi-stage announcement of the Core Service Review reports with this document? Why not come out swinging with a report that highlights real areas for savings?
It might be because there is no such a report. This PWIC document identifies only $10 to $15 million worth of savings, which means the remaining seven reports — relating to committees like Economic Development, Parks & Environment, and Executive — need to contain considerations that average out to approximately $100 million in savings each to even begin to approach this year’s budget shortfall of $775 million.
As Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan points out, the most glaring failure of this report is that it doesn’t even address the fiscal efficiency of how services are delivered, but instead jumps right to listing things that could be cut:
Which is to say, the administration directed its consultants to look for which programs it was allowed to cut, and by how much, without ever asking it to look at how it could maintain service levels by delivering them more efficiently. The underlying message of today’s report: if we want to cut the size of the budget, it will be, in the first place and not as a last resort, by cutting the scope of government.
In other words: they’re skipping the gravy, and going right to the meat.