Feb 12

Council revives Transit City as opponents run out of fresh arguments

Transit City Opponent Bingo

Transit City’s back.

TTC Chair Karen Stintz has announced that a majority of councillors will submit a petition to the City Clerk this morning asking for a special council meeting. At that meeting — which should happen Wednesday — at least 24 councillors will overrule the mayor’s self-proclaimed “mandate” and request that Metrolinx move forward with an agreement for “LRTs on Eglinton, Sheppard East and Finch West.”

This is far more significant than originally thought. Instead of embracing a transit compromise, council will willfully overturn Rob Ford’s day-one directive that unilaterally killed Transit City. Where the Port Lands compromise and Josh Colle’s budget amendment at least allowed the mayor to claim some control over the narrative, this will be a total and complete rebuke of the mayor’s agenda.

This kind of thing is unprecedented in several different ways and it should serve to emphasize the question people have been asking since the budget vote: what do you call a mayor who can’t control council?

How we got to the LRT

Momentum has been building for weeks on the transit file. Things came to a crescendo yesterday when urban experts like Paul Bedford and Ken Greenberg released an open letter demanding council back away from Ford’s all-underground dream. Even Nick Kouvalis, the mayor’s former chief of staff, acknowledged that Rob Ford would lose a vote on transit.

At the same time, arguments against changing the current plan for the Eglinton LRT have been soundly beaten to death. Writing for The Grid, David Hains put together an all-star takedown of Councillor Norm Kelly’s circulated talking points. Ed Keenan and the Toronto Star’s Tess Kalinowski have also contributed great fact-check pieces.

The tired chorus of anti-LRT rhetoric is so predictable and cliché — also, apparently, impotent — that we might as well have fun with it. Feel free to take the BINGO card at the top of this post and use it whenever certain Ford-friendly councillors or pundits are discussing transit — if they use enough of the listed arguments to cover a line of spaces, yell “BINGO!” And then refuse to explain yourself.

The Next Station

Council will send a strong message with their vote this week, but uncertainty and doubt will linger. The city will have a transit position that the sitting mayor opposes. That kind of situation just isn’t very stable.

As much as it would be fantastic if Metrolinx and the TTC could just get to work with the shovelling and the building — free from political meddling — I fear we’ve still got some hand-wringing ahead of us. We can’t even be confident that Metrolinx and the province will want to move forward with a plan endorsed only by a slim majority of councillors. And if Ford decides to seek reelection in 2014, he very well could seek a renewed mandate for all-underground transit. That’ll only open the door for other politicians, who could attempt to put their own stamp on “Transit City”, again throwing things off track.

So, yeah, we’re probably not done with this conversation yet. But at least the debate isn’t being buried.

Jan 12

That damn streetcar purchase: how Rob Ford made transit a budget scapegoat

The mayor, in his “Weekly Update” message, sent out the Friday before last week’s budget vote:

We are also going to take this year’s $154 million surplus and invest it vehicles for the TTC.

As I have said – the previous administration placed a $700 million order for TTC vehicles [new streetcars] with no money set aside to pay for them. That was irresponsible.

The $154 million surplus must go towards paying that $700 million debt as the bills come in. This is the responsible thing to do.

via My Weekly Report – week ending January 13, 2012 | Rob Ford’s Facebook.

This streetcar gambit was the second strategy the mayor’s team tried as part of their attempt to take back control of the 2012 budget narrative. In the face of an almost $200 million surplus, the whole “we’ve got to make a lot of cuts!” thing required some finesse. Their first idea was to frame any notion of using one-time “windfall” funds to maintain programs as totally and completely irresponsible. The kind of thing dumb consumers do.

That quickly fell apart, though, because the 2012 operating budget was always going to include so-called “one-time” funds. From the very moment Rob Ford stood at the podium and endorsed the staff-recommended budget, there was $80 million in non-sustainable reserve funds built right in. What became challenging for the mayor and his allies, then, was defending using some one-time funding but not any more than that.

They set an arbitrary line at $80 million but quickly realized they weren’t standing on solid ground. And so: streetcars.

Pointing to the streetcar purchase as part of the budget process was actually a shrewd move. It took something a lot of Ford opponents are passionate about — transit infrastructure — and dangled it precariously over a fiscal edge. The notion that the city might not be able to pay for its new transit vehicles if it didn’t devote more money to its capital budget at least had some logic to it. It gave proposed service cuts more legitimacy than they would have had otherwise in a budgetary surplus environment. We’re not cutting because we love cutting, they could say. We’re cutting to save transit.

All of this, of course, was mostly baseless scaremongering.

A brief history of Toronto’s streetcar purchase

Council Scorecard: New Streetcar Purcahse

David Miller's council voted to buy new streetcars twice. The first time, it was with the understanding that the federal government would cover a third of the costs. The second vote came after the federal government said no.

PART ONE: Having looked at various options for rebuilding the current fleet of Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs), the TTC decides that the best course of action is to replace the entire fleet with new streetcars. As an added bonus, the new vehicles can be made low-floor so they’re more accessible, theoretically lessening some of the demand on WheelTrans.

Leading into a design and tender process, the TTC includes 204 new streetcars in their capital budget request to council in 2008. The full cost is about $1.2 billion and the wording in the budget indicates that council’s approval is contingent on both the provincial and federal governments each paying one-third of that figure — about $400 million each. The City’s portion is to be funded with debt.

No one passes any amendments objecting to the purchase of new streetcars. (Though Rob Ford does attempt to pass amendments eliminating both 311 and Toronto’s bike plan.) The capital budget as a whole passes 29-11.

PART TWO: There’s no delicate way to say this: the federal government — through Conservative MP John Baird –, upon receiving Toronto’s request for streetcar funding as part of the 2009 federal stimulus package, literally tells Toronto to “fuck off.”

Yes, despite the province tabling no objections to funding its share of the vehicle purchase under its stimulus program, the federal government objects to paying for the purchase on a technicality and sends Toronto scrambling. At this point, the contract for the new vehicles has already been awarded to Bombardier and the clock is ticking before their bid — significantly lower than a comparable bid from Siemens — is to expire.

PART THREE: Council holds another vote to preserve Bombardier’s streetcar bid and keep things on schedule. The plan is to cover the federal government’s portion of the purchase price through debt financing. Room is made in the capital budget by deferring items like the Eglinton Bus Terminal replacement, the station modernization program and other capital projects. By doing things this way, the City is able to finance the purchase without increasing its net debt beyond what was originally planned and approved.

Council votes overwhelmingly to continue with the streetcar purchase, making the necessary changes to the TTC’s capital budget. The contract is signed with the first new streetcar set to debut in the city sometime in the next year or so.

Where we are today

As of this year’s capital budget, the streetcar purchase is still on the books, part of the ongoing capital plan that was approved by council last week. The only change is that the number of streetcars ordered was reduced from 204 to 189 as part of some cost-saving measures this past summer. The plan to use debt to finance the purchase won’t result in any kind of doom scenario, as the capital plan on the books keeps debt service charges below council’s self-mandated 15% limit. Even working from the almost stupidly conservative assumption that there will be no future surplus money or revenue from asset sales to devote to capital payments, the city has a fiscal strategy to meet its capital obligations.

That’s not to pretend that there aren’t serious issues related to TTC funding, however. Yes, the TTC has many capital needs beyond the limits of the approved capital budget. And, yes, they could absolutely use more funding to provide infrastructure to improve service across the city. There continues to be a need for all levels of government to sit down and figure out a long-term solution for transit infrastructure in this city.

But never in this budget process  — or in any other — was the city’s ability to pay for its new streetcars threatened. Following tales of $774 million deficits and 35% property tax increases, this was just yet another example of a mayor who tends to use fear as a means to build support for his agenda.

The streetcars we desire roll on.

Dec 11

Notes on Rob Ford’s budget, written as it starts to fall apart

The Toronto Star’s Royson James:

The budget committee meets Tuesday to vote on motions aimed at avoiding a showdown on kids’ programs. Will the torrent of complaints from Toronto residents derail the so-called “gravy train”? And is Ford on a course correction?

His council opponents are in a holding pattern. Both Gord Perks and Adam Vaughan said Monday they won’t table any budget changes until the mayor plays his hand and outlines his fixes.

“There’s no need to start making deals yet. We need the third-quarter report (on the surplus, assessment growth and investment incomes, for example), we need to see the changes from the budget committee and the executive committee,” Perks said.

When the budget deals are negotiated, expect a big push to save TTC routes earmarked for service reductions, and protection of the Wheel-Trans service for ambulatory dialysis patients.

“It’s the mayor’s budget. He doesn’t have the votes. He will have to fix it,” said Vaughan.

via James: Councillors push back against flawed budget | Toronto Star.

Rob Ford’s first real budget as mayor is gradually falling to pieces. Every indication is that the budget passed by council in February will look very different from the one Rob Ford first presented a few weeks back.

This will be a significant shift from the way things have traditionally been done. While there has always been a bit of public give-and-take with city budgets — a tweak here, a shift there — never before has a post-amalgamation mayor faced such strong opposition from council. Just as Ford has blazed a new trail by being a mayor who routinely and sometimes overwhelmingly loses council votes, this mayor will also break new ground should he prove to be a mayor who loses complete control of the budget narrative in February.

This is, of course, mostly a good thing, especially because the other alternative is going down a road where important programs get cut for essentially no reason. But there’s a ring of sadness around it. Because this is a time in Toronto where political energy and engaged residents should be focused on the way forward. On building and growing and making things great.

But instead, we’re actually having public arguments about whether the city should continue putting $600,000 per year toward cost-shared programs that provide breakfast for kids who need it. It’s hard not to feel like this whole process is, in the long-term, a big waste of our collective civic time.

We can’t solve systemic capital budget issues by nickel-and-diming the operating budget

Most of the rationale we’re hearing from the mayor and his allies surrounding the 2012 budget is overly-simplistic: we need to cut the budget because the budget is too big. But beyond that, I have heard a slightly more compelling narrative from the budget chief and former chief-of-staff Nick Kouvalis, who hung around for the last hour of this week’s episode of The City with Josh Matlow and expressed this view repeatedly.

To paraphrase, the rationale goes like this: we have to drastically cut the operating budget to increase our debt payments so we can then pay for capital projects and eliminate all our debt and then, I guess, enjoy a happy fiscally-conservative utopia.

There is, at least, some sense to this. Our debt payments have been mounting. We’ll spend $400 million of property tax revenues on debt payments and interest alone in 2012. Our capital obligations total a ridiculously huge number going forward,and very little of that total is nice-to-have items like new parks and arenas. Most of it is the cost of simply keeping things from falling over.

But, ultimately, trying to work our way out of a capital budget crunch by pruning the operating budget is a losing battle. It’s like trying to dig your way out of a deep hole with a spoon. Our capital budget problems aren’t self-made. Despite what some on council will try to tell you, David Miller didn’t push for that new streetcar order because he loved spending money: he did it because the only alternatives were an expensive and risky rebuild of the current streetcar fleet to extend their lives, or a move away from streetcars toward buses, which probably would have cost more in the long-term. (And rightly pissed off a lot of people, who still remember the last time the government tried to kill streetcars.)

In fact, the bulk of necessary spending over the next decade relates to costs associated with maintaining and (ever so slightly) expanding the TTC. We’re facing these problems entirely because the province shirked its responsibilities and has been slow to come back to them.

And to those who will say provincial funding is impossible because the Ontario government is facing its own significant debt and deficit crisis, you’re letting them off the hook too easily. The province has budgeting techniques and revenue tools at its disposal that the city can only dream of. And transit is not one of those things that the province gets to defund when the economy goes bad. Because transit is a critical part of that economy.

But, still, maybe you’re cynical enough to believe that the provincial government will never understand that, and never come to the table. Even then, we’re still facing an issue that cannot be solved by shaving dollars off the operating budget and plowing the savings into capital. We can’t  fund the long-term capital needs of one of North America’s largest transit systems solely on a property tax base that brings in about 4 billion a year. It doesn’t work and it will never work. If the province won’t play ball, then we need to start looking at new revenues — road tolls and sales taxes — that can pay for the kind of transit Toronto needs.

Jul 11

Cutting through 2012: Ten places the Fords might look for savings

There are 194 budget considerations — not recommendations — in the KPMG Core Service Review reports, commissioned by Council to help us fix our budget shortfall. A shortfall that, we’re told again and again, totals $774 million this year. Though it’s impossible to get an accurate estimate of how much would be saved if all of KPMG’s considerations were taken and implemented, some shoddy-guesswork-mixed-with-math puts the total at more than $2 billion.

So, problem solved, right?

That figure really is nonsense, of course. In fact, any attempt to put a dollar value on these budget considerations will inevitably be complete nonsense. Because KPMG lists “detailed articulation of cost savings” as out of scope. They weren’t hired to tell us how much money we could save. Instead, all they’ve done is taken a stab at guessing whether each of their considerations will yield small (5% or less), medium (20% or less) or large (more than 20%) reductions in overall department budgets.

But I don’t want to dismiss the study process outright. KPMG’s work would actually have value if it was presented as only a first step in a long line of studies and planning that will, over many years, yield efficiencies in government. Looking at it like that, this is good data. But, unfortunately, we’re supposed to believe that these documents will serve as the shining star that leads all of us through the 2012 budget crisis and into the promised land.

So let’s look at 2012 — and only 2012 –, because that’s what the mayor seems to be doing. Let’s throw out the 109 KPMG budget considerations that won’t produce savings in the 2012 fiscal year, and instead focus only on the remaining 85 that could possibly produce results within the next year. Of those, only about a dozen look like they could yield savings amounting to more than a few million dollars off the gross budget. (On the net budget, once user fees are other revenues are accounted for, the savings are even smaller.)

The small stuff for 2012 — Riverdale Farm and the Centreville Petting Zoo at $1.4m; Heritage Toronto at $900K; Community Enviroment Days at $500K, and so on —  is important, of course, and may still face the axe of the overzealous administration at City Hall, but it’s not going to amount to much in the face of that $774 million figure we keep hearing about.

So let’s stick with the big stuff. Below are ten of the biggest cuts or “efficiencies” for 2012, as identified for consideration by KPMG.

10. TTC & Other Agencies: Integrate administrative services with the City

This is a good one to start with, because it’s one of the many places where KPMG has actually identified something kind of reasonable. They say there might be duplication of administrative services across the City’s departments and its boards and agencies. Finding a way to share administrative staff might provide a cost savings without impacting services. This is a legit efficiency that’s worth pursuing.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Efficiency.

How much could it save? Just looking at the TTC as an example, KPMG projects up to 5% savings off a gross budget of $264m, which works out to $13.6m in the best case. In actuality, though, given the administrative needs of the TTC — one of the largest transit corporations in the world — and the complexity of integrating things with the City, it’s unlikely you could just flip a switch and see immediate savings at that level.

Will Council go for it? This isn’t an angle that’s gotten much press throughout this process — it’s kind of boring when compared to, for example, selling the zoo — but it may well come up. Administrative, HR, Payroll and other such functions probably could stand to be better integrated and shared. It’s an idea worth considering.

9. Community Development & Recreation: Cut some Recreational Programs

The City offers a variety of recreational programs, including arts programs, summer camps and fitness & wellness programs. They also offer subsidized access — some based on income — to athletic facilities, including pools, rinks and golf courses. Offering these programs costs $68.2 million gross, though when user fees are taken into accounts, the net cost drops to $38.8 million.

KPMG is detailed in their analysis of this item, asking that we consider questions like, “Should taxpayers pay $2 an hour to have a child figure skate or play hockey? How about an adult? Should it provide extra support for children who can’t afford fees? For adults? Can clear targets be set, and used to evaluate programs, supporting those that provide good value, and changing or terminating those that cost more than they are worth?”

Service Cut or Efficiency: Service Cut.

How much could it save? KPMG says it could be a Low-to-Medium savings, putting it somewhere between 5 and 20%. If we work off their high estimate, that’d be about $13 million.

Will Council go for it? The Ford administration cut access to recreational programs in the 2011 budget, when they removed free access to community centres in the city’s priority neighbourhoods. Odds are good that we’ll see continued cuts to subsidies through an increase in user fees for these programs. Eliminating some programs outright would also be a way to quickly slash the operating budget.

8. Childcare: Reduce funding & subsidies

The goal here would be to reduce the childcare spaces that are funded 100% by the City. Most of the cost behind childcare spaces in Toronto are shared at an 80/20 split with the Provincial and Municipal Governments. But there are some 2,000 such spaces this year — with another 700 set to be added next year — that the province doesn’t provide funding for. These spaces, and maybe even others, could be eliminated.

Keep in mind that there are almost 20,000 children on the waiting list for subsidized childcare in Toronto.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut. Anything that means a net reduction in the number of childcare spaces has to be considered a service cut.

How much could it save? KPMG pegs this as a ‘Medium’ cost-saver. Childcare costs the City $78 million on its gross budget, but a lot of that is balanced by provincial funding, with the net cost coming out to only $11 million.

Will City Council go for it? I don’t think a reduction in the number of childcare spaces is workable. Even the most cold-hearted councillor will have balk at putting “eliminated spaces for children” on their political résumé. Still, though, the mayor has appointed Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to head up a task force on childcare in the City, which means we’ll probably get some kind of ridiculous suggestion on this file as part of the overall 2012 budget discussion.

7. Library: Reduce hours & days of operation

KPMG points out that the Toronto Public Library has the highest number of library holdings per capita of all the comparable municipalities they looked at, along with a “high rate of library use.” Our cost-per-library-use is only slightly above the median figure, despite much higher usage.

If this sounds like an efficient service that probably doesn’t need to be cut, too bad. Cuts to library service hours is an easy cost-saver that doesn’t require a lot of administrative upheaval. Even David Miller once tried to close some libraries on Sunday as a cost-saving gambit.

Service Cut or Efficiency: By definition, less hours of operation means less service. A Service Cut.

How much could it save? TPL’s budget for collection use is $87 million gross, which levels out to $78 million net when you account for revenues from late fees, etc. KPMG identifies reduction in service hours as a low-to-medium savings, which pegs it around $17 million at the extreme high end.

Will Council go for it? Cuts to libraries are politically challenging, but we could see a scenario similar to last year’s closing of the Urban Affairs library, where suburban councillors argued that the downtown facility was redundant given its proximity to other branches. No one wants to vote to close or reduce hours at branches in their own ward, but targeting branches in places that are decidedly not part of ‘Ford Nation’ is a possibility. If councillors can deal with the public outcry and the hurdles posed by the existing collective agreement, library cuts are surely on the table for next year.

6. Toronto Fire: Reduce the number of calls

The National Post’s Megan O’Toole has a very well-done look at the ongoing turf war between Fire Services and EMS in this city, which explains the issue better than I ever could. But, in short: the number of fires is down, yet Fire Services is often sent out on calls that they are not fully equipped to deal with. They often then just have to wait until EMS arrives. Changing the system such that Fire doesn’t so often show up at medical calls could result in efficiencies and cost savings.

Service Cut or Efficiency? As long as overall response time doesn’t take a hit, this would be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? KPMG says it’d be a small savings (5%) off the Fire Department’s very large operating budget of $335 million. Though I have to wonder if some or all of the projected savings would be offset by a necessary increase in funding for EMS. (KPMG also has floated the idea of merging EMS and Fire Services, but that couldn’t happen until 2014.)

Will Council go for it? Maybe, but it’s a delicate operation. No councillor wants to open the door to the bad press storm that would arise should a serious incident happen shortly after they’ve voted to make a cut to Emergency Services. Merging EMS and Fire in 2014 probably has a better chance of happening, if the political will is there.

5. Toronto Zoo: Get other levels of government to help

This one’s easy. KPMG says the City could off-load some of its costs for managing the zoo to other levels of government. But we all know that other levels of government are unlikely to go for it, so this isn’t going to happen.

Selling the zoo, something the mayor brought up in his infamous CP24 interview last week, is a move that KPMG says probably could not happen until 2014.

Service Cut or Efficiency? If they could get a government to provide funding that would maintain service levels, this would be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? If another government were to pick up, say, half of the Zoo’s operating budget, that would take $23 million off the city’s gross operating budget. Though when you consider that the Zoo only requires a $12 million subsidy when revenues are factored in, the numbers start to look substantially smaller.

Will Council go for it? They would, sure, but other levels of government are unlikely to come running.

4. TTC: Reduce or eliminate service

TTC ridership is at an all-time-high following the Ridership Growth Strategy introduced in 2003. Therefore, I guess, it’s as good a time as any to cut back on service. Cuts to bus service in 2012 would likely come paired with a fare increase for a double whammy of suck.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut.

How much would it save? KPMG pegs reductions in the amount of service as bring in ‘Small’ savings, but even 5% of the TTC’s $573 million budget for operating conventional transit is significant.

Will Council go for it? I’d bet heavily that we’ll see a reduction of TTC service in 2012. The Mayor’s Office showed their hand with their push to eliminate late-night and Sunday service on several bus routes in the 2011 budget. It’s worth noting, however, that they had to sell these service cuts as ‘reallocations’, meant to improve transit service on other routes. Even then, they met with enough resistance that they had to publicly revise their plan.

3. Police Service: Eliminate Paid Duty

This cut would target the practice — widely decried — of posting uniformed police officers at construction sites and special events. Council has already taken some steps to reform the policy, voting unanimously to develop “more effective criteria in delineating the need for paid duty policing in traffic control.”

Service Cut or Efficiency? Efficiency, mostly.

How much could it save? KPMG pegs it as a small saving — 5% or less — off the  Police Service’s $716 million gross operating budget. But when the item was debated at committee earlier this year, it was noted that the direct costs incurred by the city due to this program — from hiring police officers to stand guard at city-funded construction projects — stands at between $5 million and $8 million per year.

Will Council go for it? They seemingly already have, though it remains to be seen what the revised policy will look like.

2. Community Grants: Eliminate the Community Partnership & Investment Program

Rob Ford made direct reference to this $47 million program in his interview with Stephen LeDrew last week, indicating that he is unable to justify grants during a time when the city faces a budget shortfall. He has consistently voted against most of the grants covered by CPIP as a councillor, and continues to do so as mayor.

The program covers a variety of grants, from small amounts of money given to local artists under the Mural Program to funding for major events like Pride and Caribana.

Service Cut or Efficiency? Service Cut.

How much could it save? If the whole program was cut in 2012, it would save $47.4 million.

Will Council go for it? Cutting all grants would be challenging — though Rob Ford would seemingly support such a move, he did not find many allies when he voted against a round of community grants at the July Council meeting — but a significant reduction in the amount of grants given is a real possibility. The economic value of community grants is hard to quantify, but it’s generally acknowledged that they provide an economic benefit several times their cost. KPMG notes that every city they researched as part of this study also operates a community grant program.

1. Police Service: Reduce the number of officers and staff

Not much to explain here, as this is both a simple budget consideration and one that is very unlikely to go anywhere. The Toronto Police Service continues to add officers to its ranks despite a declining crime rate. KPMG points out that Toronto has a low arrests-per-officer ratio, but also notes that other cities — especially American cities — have more officers per capita.

Service Cut or Efficiency? It depends on how reductions in staff are achieved. If various crime rate indicators don’t rise as officers/staff are removed, this would probably be an Efficiency.

How much could it save? There’s a lot at play here, especially because the mayor recently inked a new deal with the Toronto Police Union that guarantees them substantial pay increases. Regardless, the Police Service is the biggest cost by far on Toronto residents’ property tax bill, costing nearly twice as much as the next biggest item, the TTC.

Will Council go for it? Layoffs seem very unlikely but the mayor did show a willingness to — quietly — reduce the number of police officers with his 2011 budget. That budget slowed hiring of new officers to replace those that retire. Still, any chance at achieving significant near-term savings on the police budget seem to have flown out the window when the new collective agreement was signed.

Total savings: not much

Let’s imagine a scenario: a new mayor gets elected in Toronto, swept into office on popular support calling for an era of smart fiscal management at City Hall. He’s said he can run a more efficient city, one that still delivers all the same services but with less bureaucratic bloat.

Due to low fuel costs, a mostly snow-free winter and a combination of various other pieces of good luck mixed with some decent planning on the part of the new mayor’s predecessor, the new council is blessed with a significant surplus going into their first budget. They opt to sock most of that surplus away, instead balancing the 2011 budget with a modest property tax increase — in line with inflation. They do cut the vehicle registration tax to $40-per-year, with an eye toward eliminating it completely when the books are in order.

With the 2011 books balanced and 2012 in decent shape due to the retained surplus and revenues, Council is now able to embark on a three-part Core Service Review aided by a consulting firm. First, they’ll identify which programs are mandatory and which are discretionary. Then, they’ll evaluate the value of all programs: both in terms of efficiency and economic/social benefit. Finally, they’ll detail a list of ways the city could save money, with a focus on savings that won’t significantly affect service levels.

Decent, right? But it didn’t happen. Instead, this administration is forcing us to look at a $774 million hole that they helped dig and telling us that we’ve got to throw libraries, community grants, recreational programs and transit service into the abyss to help fill the gap.

But the truth is there, in the very same reports the Fords and their allies keep telling us to look at: there aren’t enough potential cuts available to significantly reduce the 2012 budget shortfall.