Wednesday, January 29th Commentary
As we race toward a municipal election, the political shenanigans at Toronto city council will ramp up.
It'll begin in earnest at 9:30 this morning as councillors attempt to approve a new operating budget with the attendant increase in residential property taxes.
As you may know Mayor Rob Ford has been saying it’s possible to restrict the increase to 1-and-three-quarters percent including his add-on for the subway extension into Scarborough. The paid professionals at city hall say its not advisable based on what the budget committee and the executive committee have voted to keep in the budget.
Ford has been promising to offer up 50-million dollars-plus in savings to keep taxes from going up more than his target. His ideas have finally leaked out and while on the face of it some seem sensible, Ford knows full well that city council will reject most of them, if only because he waited until the last moment to introduce them and there's no time to consider the implications.
For example he wants city council's general expense budget cancelled to save 3.1-million dollars. What does that mean; all the councillors would have to shut down their constituency offices because that is the fund used.
He says the city can get an extra 3.1-million dollars in library fines collected if only Queen's Park would let the city tack on the unpaid fines to property taxes. Maybe if he'd asked for this a year ago, it might have been approved in time for this budget...but not now...not this late.
He's also saying the city could save 19-million dollars if the city could get sponsorship for the Pan Am Games celebrations. I would think that corporate sponsorship was a given....try to secure it if you can. If you can't...the city would have to eat it.
What I'm getting at is Rob Ford is playing a political game here, trying to paint himself as the only politician at city hall protecting taxpayers. He's not. He already knows most of the ideas will be shot down or at best, deferred for further study. It's crass political opportunism but that's what got Rob Ford elected mayor in the first place. The only issue is whether voters will fall for it again.
Councillor Josh Matlow has a motion to be debated this week about the Scarborough subway extension. To be clear, Matlow is one who wants this whole thing derailed but as a first step he'll ask council to strip out the 14-and-a-half million dollars earmarked for next year on the extension. If council said yes to that the property tax hike would be half a point lower. Matlow says we have to first understand the full implications of going down the subway path instead of reverting to a new above ground transit link.
And just in case the point is not clear, one of the contenders for the Mayor's job...former councillor and budget chief David Socknacki says "many people seem to think that a half-point increase in property taxes this year is all you'll have to pay to fund the subway extension. If that's your view, you're in for a nasty surprise in 2015 and 2016, and for the next 30 years in total.
It's a cumulative tax hike of 1.6 percent every year from 2017 to 2044 to service the subway debt of nearly a billion dollars.