Follow the 2016 budget debate as we liveblog the proceedings with analysis, fact-checks, and context.
Let the debates begin! Today marks the beginning of the city council’s two-day special meeting to debate the proposed 2016 capital and operating budgets. The Mayor has selected property tax rates as his key matter for the meeting, which will open the proceedings. The main issue on everyone’s mind, however, is the police budget, which has come under fire for its bloated $1 billion figure. Follow our liveblog bellow as we give you the context and analysis needed to make sense of this year’s budget.
City manager Peter Wallace opens the discussion with a presentation reviewing the proposed budget.
Wallace lists one of the “core achievements” of the budget as a cumulative tax rate under the rate of inflation.
Wallace: “The new normal for the City has been a budget that continues to rely on the very strong performance of the land transfer tax.” He goes on to raise the concern that there will be problems if it doesn’t continue to perform at the same rate.
Wallace just called the land transfer tax the budget’s “secret sauce.” Er…ok there Peter.
We explained the City’s growing reliance on the land transfer tax.
Wallace is calling out the big players in todays debate: the police, transit, and the TCHC.
Staff is giving an overview of the budget. We’ve got you covered when it comes tobreaking it all down.
Josie La Vita (head of financial planning) is going over the capital budget and showing that scary chart of the debt ceiling.
Staff is giving an overview of the budget. We’ve got you covered when it comes to breaking it all down.
Oh boy, she’s showing the iceberg again! I love the iceberg! (It represents the City’s over-$22 billion backlog of unfunded capital projects.)
“On this ‘secret sauce’ you speak of…”—Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina).
For anyone who cares (no one does), here’s where you can find Toronto’s inflation rate.
Janet Davis (Ward 31, Beaches-East York) says the people of Toronto would be “astounded” to know that “the total amount of dollars coming from that huge pool of taxpayers [commercial, multi-residential, etc.] is only $8.4 million.” Their tax rate is a third lower than residential.
“Not sure I’m making my point clear,” says Councillor Frank Di Giorgio (Ward 12, York South-Weston) after a completely unintelligible question about tax rates.
“Has the population of Toronto increased in recent years?” asks Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), batting his eyelashes innocently. I love it when they get all Socratic. (His point is that Toronto is growing, but our revenues are not keeping up.)
Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) rises to clarify Davis’s earlier statement. The commercial and multi-residential property tax rate is actually substantially higher than the residential rate; it’s the rate of increase that is a third lower.
Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West) is now waxing eloquent about waterfront Scugog haciendas to CFO Rob Rossini, causing Speaker Nunziata to interrupt, “He’s not a real estate agent.” Rossini, undeterred: “You’re not getting that lakefront property for five and a quarter.”
Perruzza runs out of questions, gets his mic turned off. You don’t mess with Speaker Nunziata.
Peter Wallace is laying down the harsh truth: Toronto has been coasting on MLTT revenues, there aren’t enough “efficiencies” to make up for the shortfall, etc. I am familiar with all the reports, but this is the first time I’ve heard it in person.
Here’s Davis’s proposal: a 1.15 per cent property tax revenue increase.
Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park) has a motion to raise the industrial, commercial, multi-residential property tax rate increase from a third to half the residential property tax rate increase.
Perks delivers a blistering rant: if Toronto’s property tax rate was a measure of its affordability, we wouldn’t be the child poverty capital of Canada.
Mammoliti has tabled his traditional Utterly Batshit Budget Motion. This year, it proposes a 0 per cent property tax rate increase. I am, frankly, disappointed. One year it was 0 per cent, plus a proposal to make up the foregone revenue with a casino boat.
Aaaand we’re back. Mayor Tory announces a conflict of interest on like a zillion division budgets because Rogers. Layton stands up to wish one of the clerks a happy retirement. He mentions she is totally in the photo on the inside of a Black Sabbath album.
“Can you imagine what this city would look like without a Land Transfer Tax?” asks Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s). A smoking hellscape I assume.
“There are permanent reductions in this budget,” says Davis, speaking on her proposed tax increases (see below).
Davis: “By funding once again on a one time basis we are digging ourselves deeper…it’s time that if we want to invest deeper, we need to pay for it.”
You’ve got a property tax rate increase motion! You’ve got a property tax rate increase motion! Look under your swivel chair! It’s a property tax rate increase motion! Carroll has a motion for a 1.6 per cent increase.
Mammoliti’s Utterly Batshit Budget Motions: A Part of Our Heritage.
Jim Karygiannis (Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt) is possibly even more of a wildcard than Mammoliti. He just tabled this:
Me to David Hains: “Is this illegal, or merely against policy?”
Hains, shrugging: “He’s effectively proposing to deamalgamate…”
Perruzza is now questioning Karygiannis on this motion. A shot from the Council floor:
We are at the “airing of grievances” stage of the budget debate.
Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) readjusts his earnest hat: “It seems to me that when we’re discussing the city’s tax rate, we’re talking about our vision for the city.”
Cressy:”We are fighting tooth and nail for programs that are already operating at over capacity.”
Layton is now getting very descriptive about “special sauce”.
In a not so shocking turn of events, Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), says that other councillors must be talking to different residents than he is, since he doesn’t consider taxing to be a virtue.
Minnan-Wong says, “I don’t see Councillor Layton saying, vote for me, I’ll raise your taxes!” Layton quips, “Point of privilege, that’s implied.”
Classic Minnan-Wong tautology: he argues we shouldn’t increase taxes to the more recent rate of inflation precisely because inflation is going up, and people can’t afford the increase.
“Property tax is not a punishment. It’s a reward,” argues Maria Augimeri (Ward 9, York Centre), describing them as the great leveller that make City services available to everyone.
Augimeri: “I feel like we’re perpetually saddling ourselves, and like the ancient mariner we have this albatross around our necks!” Points for obscure literary references.
Some subtle shade by John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre):”This isn’t my 32nd time doing this, it’s only my second.”
In unison, Augimeri and Perks recite, “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink!” “Where’s Lou?” Augimeri adds, looking around for Toronto Water’s Lou Di Gironimo. “Right behind you!” he says.
“I can’t say for certain this city is the right size,” says John Campbell (Ward 4, Etobicoke Centre).
@norm stands up to give a speech in favour of a sales tax. What, no Drake references? Come on, dad.
James Pasternak (Ward 10, York Centre) is repeating a talking point he raised earlier in committee: there is an option to voluntarily contribute more on one’s property tax bill, and hardly anyone uses it. Obviously this means people would not accept higher taxes and we should not charge them.
Tory stands to defend his position of the current tax raise. “What I don’t want to see us do…is easily say let’s increase taxes more than what we’re doing here.”
Tory: “I’ve tried to do what I try to do with everything which is to find that balanced result.”
We are voting! Perks’s first motion to increase residential property taxes to 3.9 per cent FAILS, with nine councillors supporting it, and 33 opposing.
Mammoliti’s motion to have no property tax revenue increase at all FAILS, 1-41.
Janet Davis’s motion to increase property taxes by 0.13 percent FAILS (That number’s so small I can’t even see it! says Perks)
And the tax increase passes, 30-13. The mayor and his allies win the day. The residential property tax revenue increase will go up by 1.3 per cent, and the blended rate (all property tax classes) will go up by 0.88 per cent.
Right! We are now on to the operating and capital budgets proper. Michael Thompson (Ward 37, Scarborough Centre) has put forward a raft of motions. As expected, he supports cutting the police budget.
“Police is reactionary, as opposed to preventative,” says Michael Thompson.
Mammoliti brings up TPS’ promise to get back to Council in a year. “We’ve had over two decades to see transformation…in the Toronto police force,” Thompson counters.
Jim Karygiannis mentions that Thompson has a real nice ward there, it’d be a shame if someone were to get shot in it and Thompson were to be blamed. Thompson replies that police won’t prevent crime; investing in housing, daycare, and social services will.
Thompson is a good example of how councillors don’t always fall along stereotypical left/right or party lines, and why Council is, at least to me, much more interesting than, say, Queen’s Park or the House of Commons. No offence to colleagues. Different strokes for different folks!
(By the way, to see the motions that councillors are making, go here and Ctrl-F “motions”.)
“One would actually hope that good judgment would be to rationalize what’s being asked of Council rather than playing games,” says Thompson, re: whether TPS would make, um, sub-optimal cuts. One would hope.
Speaker Nunziata inadvertently lets Mihevc speak for twenty extra seconds. “Another favourite,” someone heckles jokingly. “We have a history,” she says, and a sitcom-style “ooooOOooooooh” rises. “There wasn’t Internet back then,” says Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre).
Karygiannis, who is shaping up to be an interesting wild card, has a motion to add another $100,000 to the Student Nutrition Program. I bet he’s in cahoots with Pasternak.
He then reads out a constituent’s letter criticizing the police budget, and adds that he’s been waiting over a day for the police to get back to him over what their newly announced task force would cost.
Mammoliti is very concerned that cutting the police budget will “put at-risk communities at risk”. He has previously demonstrated a somewhat problematic attitude towards at-risk communities.
Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) has a motion to cut councillors’ office budgets by ten per cent. If anyone needs more, they can just go back to Council and ask for more! Right?
He also has a motion to ask the Province for the power to collect library fines. I admit that this revenue tool has not been investigated in any of the reports I have read. Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) asks how much he owes in library fines. “A couple bucks a week…” “Oh,” she says, “a lot, then.” shotsfired
This has turned into councillors with busier and more populous wards dumping on Stephen Holyday and his dull ward and lackluster constituent outreach.
Factoid from Cressy: the four wards this motion would impact have a combined population of over 400,000 and over half the city’s BIAs are in those wards. Holyday is steadfastly maintaining that just because a ward has a higher population doesn’t mean there’s more work to do.
Carroll is now hammering Holyday over another of his motions, to look into maybe kind of phasing out the MLTT. This is not a good idea for the reasons I have already explained.
Mojang Councillor Holyday’s constituency office…)
Janet Davis’s motion to add a tax increase to fund childcare fell through, but she’s making a plea to create the subsidies anyway. Many councillors are not really listening.
Jaye Robinson (Ward 25, Don Valley West) argues that there is funding promised from the federal government. Davis counters that they have only said the City can use federal infrastructure funding (meant for things like transit) for building childcare facilities—not ongoing operating costs, like childcare subsidies.
Robinson basically reads out a government press release about making childcare more affordable for families. Davis, very sarcastically: “Yeah, that sounds like a sure thing.” Laughter erupts.
Layton is issuing dire warnings about a five, six, even—gasp!—TEN per cent tax increase if we don’t take revenue seriously this year. Have you all read Station Eleven? Yeah. It’d be like that.
(If you haven’t, do read Station Eleven. It’s a great Toronto novel.)
We were all just chit-chatting away and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) up and moved to reinstate the Vehicle Registration Tax!
Shelley Carroll just delivered a forceful speech about culture change within the police force but I have the memory span of a goldfish so was unable to transcribe a soundbite. One to look up on Youtube.
Now she and Robinson are debating arts funding. There is really no rhyme or reason to what gets discussed and when during a budget debate.
Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence), who was the central figurehead of Council’s pushback against then-Mayor Rob Ford’s 2012 budget, is speaking in support of the recommended budget, which is…yeah.
While Tory’s cuts and demands for “efficiencies” are not as draconian as Ford’s would have been, the ideology is the same, and after many years of below-inflation tax increases, it’s more like death by a thousand cuts, you know?
In politics appearance and messaging is everything, and many people—including councillors—were repelled by Ford’s image but not his fundamental principles, which are the same as Tory’s.
“This is a status quo budget,” says Joe Cressy. Everyone seems to agree on this; some think it’s a good thing, others not so much. Cressy is in the second camp.
Fun fact: Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth) has five subway stations in her ward. I wonder who has the most? Get on this, Internet.
Now Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale), who the mayor put in charge of the poverty file, is gamely defending the budget’s contributions to the Poverty Reduction Strategy.
David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) says that when the MLTT was introduced, it was supposed to generate a hundred million dollars a year and solve the City’s revenue problems. Now it’s half a billion, and we still have revenue problems. The real problem, he says, is that we aren’t living within our means, and there is no reason for taxpayers to have to pay anything above inflation.
Shiner is offended by making people pay money for “the right of owning property”. That faint tremor you felt was Gord Perks shaking with rage.
In a sadly metaphorical mishap, Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) drops a whole bag of chocolate toonies on the floor. “I found the revenue source!” jokes Wong-Tam as she helps her find them all.
Wong-Tam tossed us all chocolate toonies, which I think is technically a bribe.
Perks tells a heartwarming story about a Hungarian police officer who has been working to build trust with Parkdale’s Roma community—many of whom are refugees from Hungary. Nevertheless, he says, he’s supporting Thompson’s motions, because the money cut from the police budget will be going to childcare, housing, etc.
Apologies for the break in coverage. Council is now voting on a thick sheaf of motions.
Motion 1a (cutting TPS budget by $25M) fails 12-28
Motion 1b ($20m) likewise FAILS 12-28
As does Thompson’s motion 1c ($18m).
And Thompson’s motion 1d ($12m).
Thompson’s motion 1e (expedite cost-saving measures) PASSES 41-1 with only Mammoliti against.
Crawford’s motion to give $109k to Public Health (instead of the $100k Karygiannis proposed) PASSES by some margin that I totally missed
Karygiannis’ motion PASSES 38-4.
Holyday’s motion to reduce councillors’ office budgets FAILS 5-37. Robinson, Shiner, Mammoliti, Holyday, and Wong-Tam (a wrong button) only ones for. ONWARD
Holyday’s other Council office budget-slashing motion FAILS 1-41. Ouch.
Holyday’s motion to eliminate the Council business travel budget and redistribute the general expense budget FAILS 7-35.
Davis’s motion to add funding for 350 childcare subsidies FAILS 18-24.
Much of Council has yet to figure out that Councillor Berardinetti is now going by Holland.
Davis’s motion for skateboard parks PASSES 23-18. Gnarly. Davis: “I tricked you all!!”
Layton’s motion to eliminate the extra large garbage bin rebate and put it towards Capital From Current FAILS 17-25.
They re-vote. Now it FAILS 19-23.
Wong-Tam’s motion, a routine item about a Section 37 improvement to a park, carries unanimously.
Councillors on the floor gossiping about @norm, who is apparently at the Carlu with Fashion Santa.
Campbell’s motion…we’re not quite sure what it is, but it fails overwhelmingly. It had something to do with taxes.
De Baeremaeker has a motion with a lot of very expensive park improvements in his ward, CARRIES 22-18.
Carroll’s motion, nixing an EcDev staff cut, CARRIES 28-14.
Cressy’s motion moving $220k from police to a youth crime prevention program CARRIES 25-17.
Doucette’s motion asking for $25k for a Grenadier Pond skate area CARRIES 25-16.
Shiner’s motion to not add a new $75 MLTT surcharge FAILS 11-30.
Shiner’s motion to get rid of XL garbage bin rebate entirely FAILS 11-31.
Crawford’s motion, dealing with arcane adjustments to the Hummingbird Centre theatre budget, PASSES 40-2.
Crawford’s motion implementing parts of Syrian refugee resettlement program CARRIES 40-2. Moeser and Pasternak against.
Crawford has a technical motion adjusting number of Wheel Trans staff; it carries 41-1.
Crawford has another technical motion regarding the accountability officers’ budgets that also passes almost unanimously.
Crawford’s motion to add $300k for youth spaces carries 36-5.
Tory’s motion, adding $3.25 million for childcare subsidies over the next 2 years, carries 39-3. Moeser seems to be in a bad mood.
Carroll’s motion getting rid of Holyday’s suggestion to maybe get rid of the MLTT (sorry about all the double negatives) CARRIES 27-14.
The amended Holyday motion, regarding a MLTT stabilization reserve, CARRIES 32-9.
Holyday’s motion asking the Province for the power to crack down on overdue library fines (“Stephen! What does that mean?” asks Davis. “It means library police!”) FAILS 4-37
Layton’s motion asking for the City Librarian to report on a staffing and service delivery model in accordance with Strategic Plan service levels CARRIES 29-12.
Wong-Tam’s traditional doomed motion to reinstate the vehicle registration tax FAILS 12-30. Still better than last year.
Augimeri’s motion to prioritize Downsview library capital repairs CARRIES 31-10.
Fletcher’s motion to speed up street art and graffiti removal projects CARRIES 36-6.
Fletcher’s motion asking about using public funds to plant trees on private lands CARRIES 35-6.
Fletcher’s motion asking for stronger financial oversight of agencies like the police CARRIES 40-2.
Now parts of the overall budget motiion (not amendments) are being voted on separately. The one reducing garbage bin rebates CARRIES 34-8.
The recommendation to look into phasing out the extra-large garbage bin passes 35-7.
Now Tory is leaving while Council votes on everything in the budget regarding telecom services.
I am not quite sure what is going on at this point, but have been assured it’s not really important.
The lights suddenly dim dramatically. “Someone didn’t pay the hydro bill,” quips Nunziata. (It’s probably because the building normally closes now.)
A brief pause in the proceedings. McConnell announces that longtime school trustee Sheila Ward has passed away.
(By the way, here is the final vote on the budget as a whole. Expect more in-depth analysis from us shortly.)
Carroll mentions that Ward broke ground as an openly gay school board trustee.
Now Perks introduces the final routine bills that end the meeting.
And Shiner moves to excuse absentees as is customary.
Ainslie introduces the confirming bills. That’s a wrap. A standing ovation for staff.