The intransigence of some city staff and councillors is making Toronto's annual budget chicanery a whole lot more contentious. Excess spending must be cut, and those who put in for budget increases, despite a request for a 5-per-cent cut from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, do themselves or the people they claim to represent few favours by setting the stage for a political showdown. And the intransigence has already had two politically damaging consequences.
The staff-proposed budget has few real savings. Only $57-million, or 8 per cent, of the $706-million needed to bring the budget to balance comes from efficiencies and service changes. The good fortune coming from recent windfalls will not easily be repeated.
And now consider the budget requests. The Toronto Police Service, the city's largest cost centre, asked for a 3-per-cent increase. The Toronto Public Library, 2 per cent; Shelter, Support and Housing Administration, 13 per cent (due largely to a projected cut in revenues).
If these departments and agencies were looking to goad Mr. Ford, they succeeded. His reaction was entirely predictable - he intimated he would fire the lot of them - and largely justified. Mr. Ford was elected on a clear mandate to deliver efficiencies, and few are on offer.
And if councillors who sit on the boards of agencies, or the senior managers of departments, think they have the power, they should think again. The city's budget committee is made up overwhelmingly of Ford supporters, and the Mayor has significant powers of appointment and de-appointment.
In addition to the possibility of staff upheaval, the failure to find efficiencies means less sensible measures will be necessary.
One is imminent. A proposed 10-cent per ride, $5 per Metropass fare increase for the Toronto Transit Commission would net just $24-million, and, in combination with the proposed service cuts, would create a further deterrence to ride public transit.
Transit, by whatever means, is a city's lifeblood. Users require an affordable and wide-ranging system. Public transit should not bear an unreasonable burden because other departments could not contain their appetites.
Given that the police department was one of the worst offenders in this process, this isn't a matter of right versus left. Nor is it about car users benefiting at the expense of other city dwellers. This is about a clear political mandate to constrain spending. It's time for the city's officials and recalcitrant councillors to heed that mandate.
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