I'm just catching up on beefs and grievances today, and next up is Toronto Mayor David Miller. Globe and Mail columnist John Barber wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago discussing one of the big, unsung issues in the city: potholes. The challenge is sizeable: "When Mr. Miller took office in 2003, transportation officials calculated the unfunded cost of bringing city roads to an acceptable standard at $155-million. A year later, the backlog price tag had grown to $235-million. Faced with outrageous demands from the transit system, city hall abandoned a half-hearted attempt to pay it down in 2006. Today, officials report, Toronto roads need $320-million of maintenance for which there are neither plans nor money available." Barber sees the issues as potential political gold - a sure-fired winner for anyone challenging David Miller for the mayor's job: "The eventual winner will be the one who promises to spend real money to achieve real results." Ah, but where could that "real money" possibly come from? The city is broke and $320-million is real money so Barber's dream of a pothole free Toronto is just pie-in the sky, right? Well, exactly a year ago, Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan passed legislation that says if the province of Ontario runs a surplus greater than $800-million, $200-million of it goes to municipalities and $600 million to the province's debt. Any amounts over $800-million flows to Ontario municipalities. The only condition? The money has to be spent on infrastructure like "roads, bridges, transit and social housing." Last year, the Province of Ontario ran a surplus - perfect timing given the economic challenges we are all facing and spent it on critical infrastructure to help stimulate our local economy while fixing a critical problem like potholes. The city of Toronto's share? You guessed it, Toronto received $450-million last year from the province in one-time money - $238-million of it was the city's share of the province's surplus. So the dream lives? $238-million is a nice down-payment on fixing the city's roads, right? Guffaw - this is David Miller's Toronto. So did it go to transit instead? To social housing? Nope and nope. In fact, not a penny of the money the province gave Toronto to spend on infrastructure actually went towards, um, infrastructure. All of it - every penny of it - went towards this year's city operating budget. Boy, can't imagine why some people are a bit skeptical about giving the current mayor more "fiscal tools." But that was so last month and luckily people are a bit distracted these days. Today our not-so-perfect socialist mayor is calling for wage freezes for "non-unionized" staff. Never mind that unionized staff wages are increasing at 3 per cent annually, the city is hiring more than 1,400 new people and their budget has increased by 23 per cent in four years - oh, and the only way the city could balance its budget was by spending money intended for infrastructure that won't be there next year. Nope, our mayor is a man of the times and freezing wages for a few and bonuses for all proves it. Of course we still have our potholes.
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