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It’s time to invest in the city we want

Local 79 President Tim Maguire today told the City’s Executive Committee about several ways Toronto can improve its financial position.  Watch his deputation; read his comments; or take a look at Local 79’s recommendation in the briefing note below.

Today, Toronto’s Executive Committee will be considering the City Manager’s report on the City’s long-term financial direction, which brings the stark reality of the City’s money problem into sharp relief. The focus on controlling costs over the last few years has worked. With the exception of full-cost recovered programs like water, Toronto’s spending per person has dropped by 7% since 2010. And still, we face yearly budget gaps of hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Recent patterns of savings and efficiencies are nearing practical limits without service changes or other direction from Council,” states the report. Translation – either cut services or raise more revenue, because the cupboards are bare.
Yet, the report acknowledges, there seems little appetite in the city or at Council for service cuts. Instead, City Council has promised to invest in the good jobs, affordable housing, childcare and public transit deemed necessary to tackle the growing inequality that threatens to cripple our overall well-being. Toronto is now the most unequal city in Canada, yet these unfunded priorities remain orphans of a budget process focused largely on finding ways to cut costs.
It would seem the answer is clear, if we actually want the city we say we want, we have to pay for it. But this is where the report goes weak-kneed in a very dangerous way. Despite pages and pages of proof the cupboard is bare, and cost-cutting measures of the last few years have run their course, the report suggests we explore more efficiencies and cost reductions BEFORE any “additional financial burden to Toronto residents and business”.
Let’s be clear, the last six years of supposed “efficiencies” and “savings” have come with consequences.
While property taxes were kept at 4.8 percent below the rate of inflation over the last six years, user fees on everything from recreation programs to permits rose 9% above the rate of inflation. A city suffering from inequality should be looking to shift reliance away from user-fees, which place a greater burden on those with lower incomes, to more progressive revenue sources like property taxes. Instead, Mayor Tory is already promising that whatever the city does to fix its budget woes, it will not raise property taxes beyond inflation. He has been silent on the future of user fees.
Since 2010, staff vacancies have shot up as city divisions delay hiring to save money. Right now over 3000 jobs remain unfilled at the City and vacancy levels generally over the last six years have been double what they were before 2010. As a result, the quality of the services people depend on is slipping.
These are just two examples of how focusing on cost-cutting to keep taxes low and avoid the discussion about new revenue tools, a mantra that is disappointingly echoed in this report, has alr eady had damaging consequences.
City Council needs to make a choice: either seek new revenues to build the city we want –one with good jobs, affordable housing and childcare, and reliable public transit, or come clean on what services will be cut. Everything else is just a distraction.
Tim Maguire, President
P.S – Read our recommendations on the City’s financial direction here!



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