As the Toronto mayoralty race pulls into its home stretch, the three front-running candidates have spent months outlining their respective visions for Toronto.
But if residents are hoping to base their vote in part on which candidate will be the best watchdog of taxes and spending, nagging questions remain about the fiscal plans of all three front-runners, with Doug Ford and John Tory remaining especially vague about funding for proposed multibillion-dollar projects.
The City of Toronto's operating budget for 2014 is $9.6-billion.
It is difficult to evaluate the spending plans of all three major candidates fully because none has issued a prospective budget. None has proposed specific cuts to any big-ticket item such as the TTC, which takes up 17.8 per cent of annual spending; Employment and Social Services (12.2 per cent); or Toronto Police Services (11.3 per cent).
All three say there are potential efficiencies.
On the spending side, Olivia Chow says she could restrain the growth of the police budget and perhaps even find cuts to that $1.09-billion piece of the pie. For revenue, she would raise about $20-million per year with an increase in the rate of the municipal land transfer tax on homes selling for more than $2-million, from 2 per cent to 3 per cent. She would use that extra money to increase spending on programs such as child nutrition, as well as the borrowing and principal repayment costs for her capital programs.
Mr. Tory has pledged to "cut waste at city hall and focus on improving city services."
Building on his brother's success in contracting out garbage collection west of Yonge Street, Mr. Ford said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail that "early estimates suggest that we can save up to $97-million by contracting out garbage collection East of Yonge Street." He did not specify how many years it would take to reach that amount. A city spokesperson said savings from contracting out garbage collection west of Yonge Street amount to about $11.5-million a year. This week, David Soknacki, who was chair of the city's budget committee for three years under David Miller (and dropped out of the mayoral race last month), told The Globe similar savings could be expected east of Yonge Street.
The city's capital budget and plan for 2014-2023 call for $18.6-billion in spending. The three candidates are far apart on the shape of their capital spending plans and the specifics of funding them.
Ms. Chow would add $406-million to the plan to pay for new TTC buses, a bus garage, initial work on the downtown subway relief line and some new childcare spaces. She has outlined precisely how she would pay back the principal as well as interest through a combination of the increased land-transfer tax on homes sold over $2-million and other small targeted charges on some businesses.
Mr. Tory's flagship transit plan, SmartTrack, depends on a controversial mechanism known as tax-increment financing (TIF): money would be borrowed and paid back over 30 years out of the additional tax revenues from the boost in development expected from the extra transit. Mr. Tory puts the total cost of SmartTrack at $8-billion, of which he says the provincial and federal governments would pay two-thirds and the city one third ($2.7-billion).
But critics have raised nagging questions about Mr. Tory's reliance on TIF. Last week, Ms. Chow's campaign released perhaps the most damning critique yet, a detailed analysis by Mitchell Rothman, a former chief economist of Ontario Hydro, that calculated TIF would raise only 35 per cent of the necessary funds.
Mr. Tory's campaign dismissed the analysis, calling Mr. Rothman "a long-standing member of the NDP and a long-time friend of Olivia Chow."
Mr. Tory's campaign declined a Globe request to provide a comprehensive model for his financial projections that might fully counter Mr. Rothman's analysis.
The reliance on TIF also means the city would divert funds for the next 30 years from its operating budget, where the money would have otherwise gone, to paying back the SmartTrack debt. This could mean the city would need other means of raising that revenue to pay for programs.
Mr. Ford's plan would add 32 kilometres of subways, which he says would cost $9-billion. The provincial and federal governments, he says, would contribute two-thirds, or $6-billion. Repeatedly criticizing Mr. Tory's dependence on TIF funding, Mr. Ford has listed in his campaign literature eight additional revenue tools he might use, including development charges, the sale of air rights above subways stations, TIF, future assessment growth, "public-private partnerships," a sale of city properties along proposed transit corridors, and a sale of other city-owned real estate.
That would leave $3-billion for Mr. Ford to find from city revenues. He says he would raise $2-billion by cancelling the Sheppard and Finch LRT projects (in favour of subways along those routes); the other $1-billion, he says, could come from among his proposed revenue tools. This week, his spokesman Amin Massoudi told The Globe: "They could raise much more than that."
But the campaign has never outlined how much it expects might come from each funding mechanism. When pressed on the issue, Mr. Massoudi demurred: "That's all we have to say, and if that's not sufficient, I'm sorry. We've been quite clear that these are nine funding options that will take the onus off of property taxpayers to build 32 kilometres of subways, and that's quite clear."