Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here's The Sound of Toronto City Council Blinking...

Unlike CRFB morning man Bill Carroll - who is breaking out the champagne to celebrate Toronto City Council's decision to defer the a $300M tax hike until after the election - I have different views.

Don't get me wrong - City Council does NOT have to raise taxes. They lost me when they announced that the $300M would only cover a part of the $600M+ shortfall they expect in next year's budget. There are a number of options Miller and his cabal have to bring Toronto on to firm financial footing besides saddling home and car owners with more fees. No one is saying that Toronto is in a tough financial situation; and yes - part of that is due to the downloading of provincially-mandated services and the decision to move away from big-ticket cpaital spending on things like subway lines (yep, that was my boy Mike Harris).

However, if Miller had the sticks (and the brains it seems) for it, he could get us out of this mess. Try reading this book, for one. Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith decided to open up his city to competition. But instead on making it about "contracting out", he encouraged the unions to bid as well. Because after all - who knows how to do the job better than they do? And guess what? 80% of the time they won the contract - albeit with a streamlined crew (who were deployed elsewhere) and at less cost.

And why do the cuts have to be swimming pools for kids? How about this program? Or this navel gazing exercise? Or this whole mess? Miller is completely within his rights to say "Sorry, guys. Lovely idea, but we have no money and we just can't do it."

Why, for the love of all that's holy, are the choices either closing libraries or 12% tax increases? That's a total shell game and we can't fall for it. So, were those proposed tax increases necessary? Hell, no. Am I glad they were shelved? You betcha.


Another side of me is saddened to see Toronto City Council squander an opportunity to become an "adult" level of government. They were the first municipality in Ontario to be given new taxing powers. The argument went: "Look, we're not a 'child' of the province. Give us responsibility and we'll do our own thing." I am completely in favour of that sentiment. Cities are the future - 85% of the population live in them. But in Ontario (and Canada), cities have always been the red-headed stepchild of the provincial government: "Sit in the corner and behave."

I give McGiggles and his government their due - they said they are willing to let Toronto take on responsibility and make tough choices. Those new taxes were a tough choice. But Miller, to his credit, was willing to step up to the plate and take the heat. And what did Council do? Defer the discussion and ask each provincial political party to come up with a plan on how to bail out Toronto.

That's not leadership. Its once again trying to pass the buck to your provincial mama and not live with your own choices. These guys took the absolute coward's way out and they should be ashamed of themselves. They have clearly told the province that they are not ready to be treated like adults.

While Toronto taxpayers revel in last night's reprieve from tax increases, they must also understand that cities in general just took a HUGE step backward. Most of the problems we will face in the next 10-20 years will be urban ones (infrastructure, gridlock, jobs, trade, competition, etc). Surely we all understand that it makes no more sense to let let the federal or provincial governments make decisions on local issues than it does for Toronto to weigh in on national defense (God help us!).

Congrats to the Canadian Taxpayers Coalition and their allies for a spirited defense of the average homeowner and taxpayer. But this is a silver lining on a very dark cloud.

POSTSCRIPT: So, to celebrate defering the tax hike to the provincial election to await the province's plan on how to bail Toronto out of their fiscal mess, they went and spent $1.2M on a money pit theatre. Every personal financial planner will note that if you're in tough financial straits, the key to reducing your household debt is to buy a big screen TV. Just think of it as an "investment" in your future entertainment.

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