Evaluating Rob Ford's Budget Promises
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Evaluating Rob Ford’s Budget Promises

As Toronto braces for a possible mayoral by-election, would Rob Ford be able to run on his record?

During his 2010 mayoral campaign, Rob Ford promised more police officers. So far, he's delivered the opposite. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/piper09/4428997204/"}piper2009{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Depending on the result of Rob Ford’s conflict-of-interest appeal hearing, he may be running for re-election sooner rather than later, meaning he’ll need to sell his accomplishments to voters. Chief among his talking points is that the Ford administration has kept its word on fiscal matters, and that voters should continue to trust him rather than his pinko critics.

With this year’s budget process now underway, here’s a look at just how closely Ford has kept his budget promises.

Save Billions of Dollars

Phrases like the “gravy train” and “efficiencies, folks” were big hits for Ford on the campaign trail. His campaign promised to achieve $2.05 billion in net cost savings by 2013, without service cuts. (The city budget in 2010 was $9.2 billion, so this would represent a 22 per cent decrease.)

Lo and behold, there haven’t been billions of dollars in savings, after all. The proposed operating budget for 2013 is $9.4 billion, slightly higher than when David Miller was in office, albeit less than the rate of inflation.

Reinvest in Social Services

Ford pledged that 25 per cent of the money found during the gravy hunt would be reinvested in social services. According to his campaign’s Financial Plan Backgrounder, this would include spending on childcare, seniors’ services, and affordable housing.

In last year’s budget and discussions about social housing, you may remember proposed cuts to the following: childcare, seniors’ services, and affordable housing.

Subways, Subways, Subways?

Among the mayor’s many campaign promises was a subway to Scarborough, paid for by the private sector, and completed in time for the Pan American Games. That this fanciful Unicorn Express line will not happen is unsurprising; there was never a plan.

But Ford’s campaign budgeting went even further. The estimate was that, with the subway expansion, the City would get $1 billion in development revenue. This was baked into Ford’s plans for general City investment, paying down debt, and replenishing capital reserves.

At this point, it’s safe to say that Ford’s round number was little more than a mask for a hollow argument.

Eliminate the Land Transfer Tax

On the campaign trail, candidate Ford frequently repeated his vow to repeal Toronto’s land transfer tax, to much head-nodding from the Toronto Real Estate Board. Mayor Ford is still on his mission to reduce (if not eliminate) the tax, which brings in about $300 million annually. But it’s an uphill battle.

The 2013 budget contains no mention of a reduced land transfer tax, nor does it contain any mention of a reduction having been considered. In fact, when reporters asked senior City managers about the prospect of eliminating the tax, they stared back bug-eyed before one finally said, “we need that.” Even Ford’s budget chief, Mike Del Grande, has publicly stated that the land transfer tax needs to stay.

Ford’s administration seems to have learned that you can’t just wish away taxes—at least, not when the City has financial obligations to meet.

Add 100 Police Officers

One of the first things the mayor did upon taking office was reach a contract settlement with the Toronto Police. The agreement gave the police an 11 per cent raise over four years, and Ford later crowed about the deal on his weekly talk-radio extravaganza. However, 85 per cent of the police department’s costs are salary, so hiking officers’ pay makes future reductions difficult.

Sure enough, just a year later, the Ford administration asked the police to achieve a 10 per cent budget reduction. The service responded with a 0.6 per cent increase. This year’s police budget hasn’t been balanced, with a remaining $6 million to be found.

The upshot of all this wrangling is that the force is actually shrinking under Ford. TPS has gone from 5,546 employees in 2010 to a proposed 5,350 in 2013, while its overall costs have risen from $888 million to a projected $934 million.

In Summary

Rather than accomplishing his agenda on budget items, Rob Ford has missed the mark significantly on his biggest promises (even if that’s sometimes for the better). To be sure, he has privatized some garbage collection, repealed the vehicle registration tax, and reduced council salaries. However, given what he said he would accomplish and the context of a $9.4 billion budget, he doesn’t have much to brag about.

If Ford wants to win re-election, the differences between his goals and accomplishments are worth addressing. Will he be accountable for his failed promises? Does he have real plans that can be implemented? Or does Ford not really understand how what he says to voters relates to the reality of the City budget?