Shelley Carroll speaking at the Board of Trade. Photo by Hamutal Dotan/Torontoist.
In a breakfast speech delivered at the Board of Trade this morning, budget chief, city councillor, and prospective mayoral candidate Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) did not pull her punches. Her bottom-line message: there are no easy fixes for Toronto’s financial woes, and anyone who says otherwise is either misguided or misleading you.
Your tax dollars at work. Chart is part of the City of Toronto’s 2010 Operating Budget presentation [PDF].
To the Board of Trade, which recently released a report [PDF] that (among other things) called for a curb on expenditures, Carroll pointed out that much of the increase in spending is due to the City’s obligation to deliver provincially mandated services, and thus is no proof that spending is out of control or can readily and significantly be cut back. (The McGuinty government has been better than its predecessor at transferring money to the City to help pay for the programs and services it requires the City to deliver, and the demand for these services has been growing. The City’s expenditures have gone up to reflect the increased funding and the increased demand.)
To City boards and agencies, many of which defied a request a couple of months ago to provide budgets that reflected a 5% spending cut for 2010, Carroll said that they needed to start working to find efficiencies rather than perpetually fighting against them. Carroll singled out the Toronto Police Service and the TTC specifically when talking to reporters after her speech, and emphasized that they needed to be far more willing to work with the City, and go line-by-line through their budgets to find non-service-related cuts.
And to the province, which has long refused requests to upload what it has downloaded (though that has started to improve with this budget cycle) and to restore an operating subsidy for the TTC (which after having been reduced for years was finally eliminated under Mike Harris in 1996), Carroll said that Toronto was simply about to run up against a brick wall: if Toronto is to continue to be the economic engine of the province it must be afforded the means to run the requisite transit system and other necessary services. “Between now and twenty years from now, something has got to give,” Carroll said adamantly, after her speech. “Between now and twenty years from now we will hit a point where we are of a population [such] that we are the only city in the world that is still relying on property taxes to run itself.” Carroll also pointed out that there was a period of time when the Board of Trade had in fact endorsed provincial cost-sharing of transit operations, and called upon them to do so again.
The reaction to a speech is almost always as important as the speech itself. If Carroll is mulling a run for mayor, today’s remarks likely served (in addition to a defence of the current budget) as a trial balloon for various aspects of her campaign platform, the most prominent of which is reconfiguring the City’s relationship with the province. It’s not a new thought, but as the budget chief who balanced the books this year without a special infusion of cash from Queen’s Park, and as a councillor who is most often described as a pragmatist, Carroll may have greater credibility than most to make it. It certainly would give her a ready-made challenge to George Smitherman, who recently left Queen’s Park and who, she can point out, did nothing to remedy this structural problem with the City’s budget while he was there.
And, in the meantime, there is still a budget to pass, which Council will do at a special meeting devoted to the task on April 15 and 16.