Nov 11

Sorry Mr. Budget Chief, Rob Ford doesn’t have a mandate for a ‘tough medicine’ budget

Writing for his pals at the Toronto Sun, here’s city budget chief and Scarborough councillor Mike Del Grande:

Our mayor was elected because voters perceived him as a simple guy, the people’s mayor, who would clean up City Hall.

But last year’s election is clearly not over for news outlets like the Star and CBC.

Apparently they cannot stand to think changes in the way City Hall operates are imminent, and they will do all they can, not to offer any alternative, but to derail them, simply for the pleasure of saying, “I told you so”.

We have a “tough medicine” budget coming and I expect more of the same conduct from them.

via Anti-Mayor Ford agenda is clear | Columnists | Opinion | Toronto Sun.

I praised Del Grande last week for taking the right stand on the shark fin soup issue. His vote came packaged with a nice speech that I thought showed a sincere commitment to the environment. I also praised the budget chief earlier this year when he took a bit of a stand — albeit by excusing himself, instead of voting ‘no’ — when his allies at council attempted to repeal a ban on the sale of bottled water at city facilities.

Unlike some Ford allies who seem driven by a gleeful desire to spitefully tear down all things associated with David Miller, Del Grande strikes me as a rather back-to-basics fiscal conservative. His attitude toward the 2012 budget has been relatively consistent: he thinks we should take the pain of significant cuts, fix the structural deficit, and move on from there.

I disagree with him, of course. Trying to fix a structural shortfall — one that we’ve had to deal with for more than a decade — in a single budget cycle is insane and also unnecessary. It’s insanely unnecessary. There’s no reason to do things this way.

But that’s my perspective. The budget chief has his. We disagree. That’s okay.

But here’s what gets me about his editorial, and it’s something I see from a lot of the crowd that still clings to the Rob Ford steamship: Rob Ford is not some paragon of austerity and old school conservative thinking. That wasn’t his platform last year and it doesn’t seem to be his position now. Instead, the mayor clings to some rather dubious magical thinking about gravy and how he’ll cut it and save us billions of dollars.

If Mike Del Grande wanted a mayor with a mandate to pass ‘tough medicine’ budgets, he should have run for the office himself. As much as he might want to project his principles onto the guy in the mayor’s chair, it doesn’t hold up. Because the guy in the mayor’s chair said there would be no cuts.

He assured us.

Del Grande’s Budget Notes

While we’re on the subject, Del Grande’s office recently posted some “budget notes in brief” on the councillor’s appropriately austere blog. They also were included in the fall newsletter.

I’d take issue with a couple of his points.

The first is the off-hand reference to capital debt “caused by the previous mayor’s spending.” Capital spending did increase over the David Miller years, but I would challenge people to look at that spending and identify high-ticket items that shouldn’t have been bought. Like it or not, this municipality bears responsibility for one of the largest transit systems in North America. Replacing end-of-life subway trains and streetcars, coupled with a continued emphasis on state of good repair projects after that incident where people died in a train crash, make for the brunt of our capital debt challenge.

Second, there’s the continued spectre of large property tax increases. Simplifying this complex budget debate down to alarmist concerns about 30+% tax increases is a dumb strategy. It just ends up making Del Grande and company look like they have no strategy, no ideas and no direction. The city has had years where they faced much larger opening pressures — bigger, yes, than $774 million — and council was able to find a way to balance them without double-digit increases in residential property tax rates.

Enough with the fear mongering. Show us your plan.