Liveblog: Municipal Budget 2015
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Liveblog: Municipal Budget 2015

Follow the 2015 budget debate as we liveblog the proceedings with analysis, fact-checks, and context. You can also follow the livestream.

On the 100th day of John Tory’s mayoralty, city council begins its debate over the city budget. Touted by the mayor as moderate and responsible, the budget has its controversy. The proposed budget borrows from reserves and capital budget to pay off a deficit in its operating budget, there will be significant fee increases to garbage rates, and there will likely be a debate over staffing levels for the city’s integrity commissioner and ombudsman.

Follow our liveblog and refresh the page frequently as we give you the context and analysis needed to make sense of city hall’s most important annual meeting.

8:09 PM: After shouts of “Thanks Joe,” the members on the floor of council applaud outgoing City Manager Pennachetti, who just completed his 14th and final City of Toronto budget.

8:05 PM: The budget has passed! Our day is over! Only some minor amendments made it through, with the rest of the budget–the 3.2 per cent property tax revenue increase, the 8 per cent water rate increase, the questionable strategy for the City to borrow from itself to pay their operating shortfall–passing as expected. There was a also solution found for the accountability officers.

There was less drama than any budget since 2011, and that’s for the best.

7:51 PM: The integrity commissioner’s budget, which faced controversy after Berardinetti introduced a last-minute motion at budget committee to defund positions, passes 41-3.

7:40 PM: Perks passes his streetcar motion, making it more likely that the City will purchase an additional 60 streetcars from Bombardier so that service will not worsen.

7:14 PM: Doucette’s motion to support library security positions passes. Tory has been on the losing side of both of these votes.

7:12 PM: The Ford motions are over, which means we move on to ones that have a chance of passing. The first is Perks’ motion to fund one extra public health position related to climate change, which passes 29-15.

7:09 PM: One of Ford’s motions passes, 24-20. It’s a motion to ask staff to look into more detailed measurements of grants, which seems reasonable. What’s that they say about broken clocks?

6:54 PM: Ford continues to lose all of his motions by lopsided margins, like the most recent one to reduce the tree budget, which only three other councillors voted for.

6:51 PM: In a familiar result, council votes 43-1 against a Rob Ford motion. It had something to do with de-funding trails.

6:46 PM: And we’re voting on the capital and operating budgets! So far a compromise on staff for accountability officers has been reached, with the money coming from the TTC.

6:27 PM: Council is currently on recess, and will vote on its operating and capital budget motions when that ends. There’s a whole suite of them–Ford alone has 30–and it will probably take about an hour to complete all the votes. The current over/under on when it will end is 7:45 p.m.

6:12 PM: David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) uses his budget speech as a sort-of roast for outgoing City Manager Joe Pennachetti.

5:37 PM: Cesar Palacio mentions the so-called St. Clair Disaster—although not by name—and everyone clears a space on their City Hall bingo card.

5:27 PM: Layton caps off his speech by turning directly to a camera, and, affecting a Frank Underwood/Foghorn Leghorn accent, implores the City not to base its budgeting on a house of cards.

5:21 PM: Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport), in a clear shot at Ford, says that you can’t claim to represent and defend TCHC residents and then vote against funding their needs in the budget.

5:16 PM: John Filion (Ward 23, Willowdale), a left wing councillor who supported Tory in the election, refers to this budget process as having the least acrimony he can remember.

5:05 PM: In one sentence, Pasternak uses three mixed metaphors.

4:32 PM: Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) has introudced a motion to re-instate the Vehicle Registration Tax, with the money going towards both road infrastructure and paying for the TTC’s accessibility requirements.

It is highly unlikely that this motion passes, but you can’t fault Wong-Tam for not living up to her rhetoric.

4:26 PM: The councillor for Ward 2 has introduced 30 motions. He doesn’t like how the mayor spends money on his office, or how the City wants to plant trees, or spends money at security guards at the library, or fix up Yonge and 401. He also says he wants to widen the DVP. The bottom line folks, at the end of the day, is Rob Ford likes to say things, and he likes to be angry.

And we move on.

4:10 PM: Councillor Ford asks Tory why the mayor’s office budget has increased. Tory responds: “I am operating a staff who are running my office in a professional manner.”

Ford then says the mayor is not keeping his promise to maintain or reduce his salary and office budget.

Once again, the councillor for Ward 2 gives the mayor a chance to look better by contrast, as he says, “I think you’re mistaking me for your brother.”

3:34 PM: Pasternak questions the CFO about the city’s debt ceiling, which will be at capacity in 2020. Being worried about the debt ceiling is good. Opposing property taxes above inflation while supporting the Scarborough subway extension and an yearning for an unnecessary subway that goes through your own ward, like Pasternak does: bad.

The dissonance boggles.

3:32 PM: Karygiannis has hi-jacked the meeting. He angrily questions Byford about facilities being built in his ward that he says the community does not want. He then accuses Byford of wanting $42,000 dollars more from his community to pay for a freedom of information request—apparently Karygiannis has requested every email, memo, and post-it note possibly related to the project.

3:20 PM: Perks puts forward a motion to get the CEO of the TTC and the City Manager to report back prior to the 2016 budget on the need to purchase 60 additional streetcars from Bombardier. The rationale for ordering 60 more on top of the existing order of 204 is that streetcar ridership has grown “exponentially” (in the words of TTC CEO Andy Byford), so to maintain current levels of service, the City will have to increase their order.

3:03 PM: Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) asks about the capital repair backlog at the TTC, which is at least $2.3 billion. She also asks about TTC accessibility requirements, and how they are not on track to meet provincial requirements due to a lack of funding.

Does Torontoist have thorough explainers on these issues? Why, yes. Yes, we do.


Reading the Fine Print of the TTC’s 2015 Budget


Overlooked Election Issues: TTC Accessibility

2:55 PM: Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) is now up asking questions, and she’s curious about sports field fees (they’re going up), and the cost the City will pay to borrow from itself ($9 million in interest paid, and another $6 million in the opportunity cost of what they could have earned in interest on the money).

2:43 PM: The liveblog continues! Councillors have just started questions on the capital and operating budgets. They can ask staff questions, and then they will move on to their own motions and debate.

12:41 PM: The package of amendments passes, and the debate on the waste budget is over.

12:34 PM: Palacio’s motion to get a report from city staff on the feasibility of maintaining waste fees at 2014 rates in the 2016 budget PASSES 28-14.

12:33 PM: Holyday’s motion PASSES.

12:32 PM: Davis’ motion to send Holyday’s amendment to Pubic Works before budget committee PASSES 37-5.

12:31 PM: Mammoliti’s motion to establish a waste rebate program for neighbourhood improvement areas FAILS, 27-15.

12:14 PM: Ford moves a motion to freeze the garbage fees, but it has been ruled out of order by Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), who in prepared remarks says it should be debated as part of the operating budget. Ford challenges the Speaker’s ruling, and loses 37-4. Perruzza, Mammoliti, and Karygiannis are the only ones to support Ford.

11:47 AM: Something to consider with the resistance to garbage bin fee increases, which have not been increased since 2008, is that there are a lot of councillors who are willing to move towards cost recovery user fees for social programs and services, but are unwilling to come close for waste. This might say something about the priorities of those councillors.

11:35 AM: Mammoliti’s solution for waste is to have one-sized bin, and to not charge residents for it. Of course, this would be a prohibitive cost to the city, but what does the price matter next to Mammoliti’s principles?

11:32 AM: More context for the garbage fee decision: If council chose not to increase user fees, the equivalent residential property tax increase would be around 0.75 per cent.

11:25 AM: Mammoliti, on garbage fee increases: “I can speak for Ward 7, and if they could give you [council] the finger, they would.”

11:20 AM: The book John Tory is reading in council? It’s the “Places and Spaces” by Gord Hume, a “blueprint for livable, prosperous, and sustainable cities,” according the the book’s site. It was recommended to him by Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East).

11:12 AM: John Tory makes an argument that we need to make policy decisions that encourage people to change their behaviour when it comes to waste. But last night he voted against a motion that would increase water costs to the largest industrial polluters, arguing that the City should be worried about losing their business.

11:04 AM: After pointing out that Palacio has not produced a balanced budget proposal, he adds, “There’s a lot of confidence in this room in staff’s ability to manufacture money.”

11:01 AM: Cesar Palacio (Ward 17, Davenport) has put forward a motion to reduce waste rates, but only on single family homes. He does not propose a way to pay for his reduction that privileges single family homes.

10:51 AM: Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) introduces a motion to ask staff to re-visit the equity between the various bin sizes. He argues that the large bin is twice the size of the medium bin, but it’s three times the cost, and this is unfair. This misses the point of the pricing scheme to a certain extent. While pricing schemes usually encourage people to consume more and give them a discount for doing so, like the lower unit price for a large soda at the movie theatre, the City wants to accomplish the opposite for its waste diversion targets.

In order to encourage people to take the smaller bins, the unit pricing should skew downwards.

10:41 AM: Right now, councillors are questioning city staff on garbage rates. This budget sees a big proposed increase in the fees for household waste bins, as the City tries to move towards cost recovery for its waste management. Despite the increase—the proposed cost of medium bins would rise from $56.09 to $88.73, and large bins would go from $156.39 to $247.39—the City is still a long way from cost recover.

10:16 AM: Davis questions John Livey on the waste management budget. She refers to him as the City Manager, but he’s a Deputy City Manager. That could change soon though, as it’s speculated that he would be a leading candidate to replace outgoing City Manager Joe Pennachetti. Whether Davis’ mistake was intentional? We’ll leave that up to you.

10:15 AM: And we’re back! We hope you’re ready for budget analysis, puzzled looks, and facepalms. And if you’re not, that’s what you’ll probably get anyway.

Day One

8:35 PM: The clause as amended—which is to say the whole package of motions and amendments, passes with only two in opposition (Perruzza and Augimeri). We come back tomorrow. The budget can’t stop, won’t stop.

8:25 PM: In a vote on a Mike Layton motion to increase water rates on large industrial polluters, Mark Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) jokingly rises and sits back down. But his seat-mate and partner-in-Grimes Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore) sees him stand and follows his lead. Grimes quickly gets Di Ciano to sit back down with a shake of his head, and a slight nudge back into his seat.

Layton’s motion fails 23-18.

8:15 PM: It is time for council silliness! To confirm the confidential instructions to staff in the in camera session, councillors must stand and sit to record their vote, as the voting machines are not working at the moment. It has the feeling of a parlour game, even though it’s, you know, Toronto’s elected representation.

8:11 PM: Council unanimously passes a motion to pay almost $100 million in costs to Metrolinx over the course of five years.

7:55 PM: Council has voted to extend the meeting past 8:00 p.m. in order to finish the item on water. It is time for ju-jubes.

7:45 PM: An important council development: The A/V crew has re-introduced their stash of candy. The famous candy stash was available to anyone who asked over the course of the Ford term, but was really cancelled due to prohibitive candy costs. Tonight marks a triumphant return, with ju-jubes.

7:21 PM: John Tory, out of context: “I am a free enterpriser.”

6:39 PM: Ford declares a conflict on the water budget, given business dealings of Deco Labels and Tags. Now might be a good time to re-visit this Globe investigation on the subject.

6:30 PM: And council is back from closed session. They will meet until at least 8:00 p.m. tonight, and will likely continue to meet tomorrow.

3:57 PM: Correction: We are in camera, not at recess. While it sounds like some kind of Being John Malkovich thing, it’s not. Council meets to discuss confidential items while everyone else goes to the cafeteria or the press gallery to kill the time.

3:43 PM: We are now at recess, which is not nearly as fun as it sounds.

3:27 PM: Council PASSES its property tax revenue increase 36-8. Davis, Doucette, Ford, Perks, Perruzza, Mammoliti, Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), and Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre) vote against.

All in, the residential property tax revenue increase is 3.2 per cent. This includes base and enhanced services, the Scarborough subway extension, and the CVA classification shift. It’s equivalent to $84 on the average Toronto household.

3:25 PM: Maria Augimeri’s (Ward 9, York Centre) motion to index the property tax cancellation program to inflation PASSES.

3:23 PM: Perruzza’s motion to increase the property tax income cancellation for serniors from $38,000 to $42,000, FAILS 35-9. A similar motion from Mammoliti also fails.

3:21 PM: Ford’s motion to make the property tax revenue increase, inclusive of the Scarborough subway extension, equivalent to 1.99 per cent (the CPI), FAILS 42-2. Mammoliti is the other supporter.

3:20 PM: Perks’ motion to increase the property tax FAILS, 34-10.

3:19 PM: Mammoliti’s motion EX3.5, which proposes a property tax freeze, FAILS, 41-3. Mammoliti, Ford, and Perruzza voted in favour.

3:15 PM: Council will now vote on the property tax, as well as assorted amendments. They’re sorting out those amendments right now.

3:04 PM: Josh Matlow (Ward 22, St. Paul’s) says he won’t support raising property taxes above the rate of inflation, because the provincial downloading should come from other funding sources.

2:57 PM: Council continues to debate its property tax. Worth noting: Outgoing City Manager Joe Pennachetti previously urged council to consider a sales tax, but the suggestion was dismissed by the mayor and Budget Chief Gary Crawford (Ward 36, Scarborough Southwest).

12:30 PM: And we’re at lunch. Council—and the live blog—will resume at 2:00 p.m.

12:22 PM: Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) has introduced a motion to increase the blended property tax rate from 1.83 per cent to 3.42 per cent. It would mean that the city would no longer have to borrow from itself, and would alleviate future budget pressures increasing base revenue for future years. Perks’ proposed property tax increase would amount to around $144 a year on the average residential home, rather than $84.

12:20 PM: Councillors are baffled at Mammoliti’s motion that replicates existing City policy. Perhaps we should not be; the Ward 7 councillor’s grandstanding knows multitudes.

12:19 PM:

12:13 PM: Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) rises to put forward a motion to have a tax increase cancellation program for seniors whose household income is $38,000 or less. Toronto already seems to have this policy.

12:07 PM: Tory stands to give a defence of below-inflation property tax increase. He says that property taxes are a regressive tax, which is true, but he does not mention how he has dismissed more progressive forms of taxation.

He also says that Toronto has to “get its own house in order” and that increasing property taxes above inflation “is the easy way out.” Except he has not given specifics as to how he will get the house in order, or what he will do to make the tough decisions. In this way, the substance of Tory’s budget rhetoric has been similar to his predecessor.

12:05 PM: Via NOW’s Ben Spurr, Ford’s press release this morning could have used a copy editor.

Screen Shot 2015 03 10 at 12 04 34 PM

11:58 AM: Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) asks if the reason the City is poised to hit its debt ceiling is because it is running a “robust” capital program while the envelope of funding (property taxes) is shrinking in real terms.

Rossini says this is largely true, although he puts the focus on the sizeable capital investment the City is making, with the caveat that these are necessary expenditures.

11:46 AM: Since amalgamation, property tax revenue has went up an average of 1.4 per cent per year, significantly below inflation, which has been around 2 per cent. Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) cites a U of T study that says Toronto’s property tax base has eroded by 15 per cent since amalgamation due to less-than-inflationary increases. That’s a consequential amount—if the City just met inflation, the extra 15 per cent would provide about $390 million in annual revenue.


Everything You Wanted To Know About Property Taxes

11:17 AM: During the campaign, John Tory made a steadfast promise not to increase property taxes over the rate of inflation. But there’s a lot of wiggle room here, as there are different ways to measure inflation, and different ways to measure the property tax. After all, base property tax revenue will increase 2.25 per cent, the Scarborough subway levy bumps that up to 2.75 per cent, and the CVA tax shift between property tax classes further bumps it up to 3.2 per cent, because assessments for residential property has strongly outperformed industrial and commercial.

11:15 AM: Now we’re going through the staff presentation on property tax revenue. While it occupies a very large part of the debate over city hall’s budget, it only represents 40 per cent of overall city revenues.

10:59 AM: City staff are going through the 10-year rate-supported plan right now, which includes $12 billion in spending. Despite this seemingly high number, it doesn’t include billions in deferred and unfunded capital expenses which are sorely needed, particularly for water infrastructure.


Overlooked Election Issue: Water Infrastructure

10:45 AM: The CFO is going through the steps the City will take to repay its $127 million loan to itself from one budget to another. Basically, the City is dipping into reserves and deferring capital expenses in order to balance operating expenses. It will repay these costs by 2021, but this approach avoids making the difficult decisions the City will eventually need to.


The Bigger Picture for Budget 2015

10:35 AM: From the file of undercovered stories: Rossini just mentioned the huge drop off in city parking ticket revenue over the past few years. The city brought in $30 million less than projected in ticket revenue in 2014, which some councillors attribute to council freezing the police budget.

To give context to $30 million in the city budget: It’s the equivalent of more than a 1 per cent property tax increase.

10:33 AM: City CFO Rob Rossini points out that Toronto has the lowest property tax rates of the GTA, Hamilton, and Ottawa, and on an absolute basis property taxes are in the lowest third of those cities. This information will likely go forgotten by councillors who contend Torontonians are overtaxed.

10:22 AM: Pennachetti: “The city can’t pay for social housing costs on its own.” For all the sound and fury about more high profile budget issues, this one looms in the not-so-distant future. TCHC, the City’s social housing agency, has a growing capital repair of more than $900 million, and a further $2.6 billion in unfunded repairs coming in the next 10 years as buildings reach the end of their useful lifespan.

If the City doesn’t secure more than $850 million from the federal and provincial government by 2016, 10,000 TCHC residents will be living in units that will be deemed “unliveable” due to a lack of repairs.


Toronto City Budget Terms: A Glossary

10:19 AM: Pennachetti is currently focusing on major investment in the capital budget, which pays for long-term assets like roads, transit, or the Union Station revitalization. However, with the low property tax revenue from the City since amalgamation—it has lost more than 10 per cent of purchasing power to inflation in that time—the City will hit its self-imposed debt ceiling in 2020, when it will have used 98 per cent of its allowed borrowing capacity. And this comes despite the fact that there are many more capital needs for state of good repair, not to mention new projects like John Tory’s proposed SmartTrack.

10:17 AM: If you want to follow along to the CIty Manager’s presentation, you can read the document, “Getting Toronto Moving” [PDF] that he’s basing it on.

10:12 AM: Pennachetti: “Housing is now a key strategic issue in the city of Toronto.”

10:11 AM: Now City Manager Joe Pennachetti is up, and he’s delivering his budget presentation to council. He highlights some economic development and growth in the city, and adds that the budget has been delivered with a property tax increase far below inflation.

10:04 AM: Welcome to the most exciting day: Budget Day! We have already received an angry Rob Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) press release on garbage rates and OCAP has been kicked out of chambers, so it’s a normal day so far.