|A First Look at Toronto's Budget Plan|
On Friday, the city administration introduced their plan for the 2004 Toronto budget. I haven't been able to pay as much attention to this as I'd like. I'm in Vancouver and my Super Bowl Sunday was busy playing ball hockey with 5-year-olds -- I'm having too good a time to focus on my home city's budget difficulties.
Nevertheless, here's a bit of what I have been able to find out tonight. In the City's press release, they lay out the problem we are facing, and explain that there is only one viable solution:
As the city has been required to do for the past several years since amalgamation, the budget plan calls for the shortfall of $344 million to be addressed through a combination of one-time strategies that are not sustainable year-to-year. Funding city services by severely limiting required capital spending, drawing down valuable city assets such as Toronto Hydro and asking the province for one time relief only provides short-term fixes for chronic funding issues.
The City is asking the province for immediate assistance to resolve 2004 budget issues such as transit, homelessness and the needs of the City's aging infrastructure. The City also continues to seek a permanent solution. Year-to-year funding has not provided the tools the City needs to manage growth and maintain City assets.
"There is a great deal the province and the federal government can do to assist our City close the gap," said Councillor David Soknacki, Chair of the Budget Advisory Committee. "The City will continue to work with the province to resolve the issue - but we need a down payment on the new deal now. The province can change Bill 140 and give Toronto access to the entire tax-base, removing the burden of placing any increases solely on the residential taxpayer."
The City has put together an interesting 60-page presentation (in PDF) that discusses the budget plan in overview and detail. On slide 16 you can read how Toronto council hopes to close the $344 million gap. They rely (among other things) on $120 million in cash from the province, a $20 million deferral or forgiveness of a provincial loan (given to the City to help it through an earlier post-amalgamation budget crunch), and an additional $53 million in non-residential property taxes that will only be accessible if Queen's Park changes Bill 140.
The Globe and Mail wrote about it on Saturday.