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Toronto Budget Passed

Late last night the Toronto City budget was passed, essentially unchanged from what Mayor Miller and Budget Chief Soknacki presented when council debate began.

I haven't seen the new budget yet, and none of the media coverage lays out the details in full, but I believe the previously famous $344-million shortfall in the budget was closed through a combination of:

  • $92-million from cashing in Toronto Hydro equity
  • $110-million from the province
  • $33-million in a "rate-of-inflation" 3% property tax hike for residents
  • $26-million in a 1.5% property tax hike for businesses
  • $26-million in GST relief from Ottawa
  • About $40-million in cuts
  • An extra $21.6-million in unexpected tax-base growth

It is good to see that this was done without any painful service cuts. But much of this money is "one-time" only, so unless there is a New Deal, we'll go through this same thing again next year.

There were many areas of the City that needed additional money, but that wasn't in the cards this year. Here are the positive achievements of the budget, as defined in the City's own press release:

  • Increased funding for the three emergency services - police, fire and emergency medical services, including the largest increase in police spending in the history of the City of Toronto
  • $2.6 million in funding for the Clean City / Beautiful City initiative. Combined with the efforts of residents and business, this program begins the process of cleaning up the City, enhancing the appearance of the city's public spaces and changing public behaviour in the long term
  • Freezing TTC fares, preserving the accessibility of public transit for city residents, and responding to the high priority Torontonians placed on transit during public consultation
  • A $2.3 million increase in grants to community, arts and culture organizations. This funding assists those living in neighbourhoods at risk by leveraging the work of community workers and volunteers to deliver the programs and services that residents need most
  • Maintaining recreation funding levels to ensure there will be no pool closures

Right-skewed 680 News called this "a victory for Mayor David Miller". I think that the victory began with the Listening to Toronto public hearings which went a long way in creating a sense of consensus between the Mayor, the Budget Chief, most other councillors, the public, and the media.

The remaining City Council opponents -- an ineffective rump of 5 or so individuals, notably Councillors Ootes, Ford, Mammoliti, Minnan-Wong, and Holyday -- didn't have much to go on. In this past week they suggested cuts and other changes. Most of them didn't get very far, but even if they had all been successful, they would have represented a microscopic portion of the budget. And much of those savings (if not more) would have been redirected back to the police.

The right wing's strategy in Toronto seems to be to paint David Miller as soft on the cops. The Star reports Mammoliti as calling council "anti-police", but that is hard to sell when the police have received the biggest increase ever, most of the new spending, and grew their share of the budget -- already the largest single item. What is also making this a tough sell is the increasing news coverage that suggests the police perhaps ought to have more scrutiny, not less.

In any case, the focus of the next year has to be working out a new deal with the provincial government, to ensure that municipalities have reliable access to the income they need to pay their own way. In an ideal world, the province would upload social services back to their level, where they would seem to belong. And if Ottawa comes through with additional money, that would be a nice bonus.



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