In a campaign-style performance at the presentation of the city's proposed 2014 budget, Mayor Rob Ford claimed that the streets are running thick with gravy now that he has been sidelined by his council colleagues. Only if voters re-elect him next year can they save themselves from this glutinous flood. As his brother Doug put it, "They're going to have a choice in 2014 if they want this tax-and-spend council to continue with the gravy train or they want a responsible government that saved over a billion dollars for them."
But, as often happens with the mayor, the facts lined up against him. He told reporters that he had been led to believe for 11 months that the city could bring in a 1.75-per-cent tax increase for next year. So he insists he was shocked to see it come in at a proposed 2.5 per cent. "As soon as they take the powers away from me, you see what happens," he said.
In fact, it has been clear since city council approved a Scarborough subway extension this summer that 1.75 was not a given. Joe Pennachetti, the respected city manager, reminded everyone that he has always said that the 0.5-per-cent tax hike to pay for the subway was a special levy that would come on top of the usual annual increase. It was never contemplated that the city would find the money for the subway by looking for spare change in its back pocket. In fact, council passed two resolutions deliberately stating that the subway money should not come from cutting city services or drawing on the existing tax base, which is needed for other things.
Mr. Pennachetti also shot down the mayor's claim that the city has been overcome by a sudden compulsion to tax and spend since Mr. Ford was stripped of many of his powers by council last week. Budget deliberations have been under way for six months. The result of those deliberations is not a sudden spate of spending but a pretty tight budget that sees spending increase only moderately despite rising costs.
Mr. Ford is off base on the issue of the land-transfer tax, too. He promised to do away with it when he campaigned for office in 2010 and, when that proved impossible, said he hoped to trim it by 10 per cent. Now even that has failed to happen and "they assured me that they could do that," he told reporters.
No one gave any such assurance. To the contrary, officials from Mr. Pennachetti to former budget chief Mike Del Grande have been telling him that the city would have a hard time trimming the tax without cutting city services or raising other taxes to compensate.
Mr. Ford found himself refuted on one final claim. He asserts that he has saved more than a billion dollars since taking office. But to reach that figure he includes $200-million from his decision to kill the vehicle-registration tax. That may have saved taxpayers money, but it represents a cut in the city government's income, not its spending.
At the budget committee meeting, Doug Ford tried to get Mr. Pennachetti to "confirm once and for all" that the billion-dollar figure, including the $200-million, is correct. The city manager politely declined.
He says the $200-million can't properly be counted as a saving. Furthermore, he told a briefing for reporters later that only about half of the remaining roughly $800-million is made up of real cuts to existing expenditures. The other half comes from "adjusting investment revenues and that type of thing" – measures the city counts as savings but do not strictly qualify as spending reductions.
If Mr. Ford hopes to persuade voters a gravy flood is coming, he had better check his facts.