What’s Missing From the 2016 Municipal Budget?
Just because council approves an item doesn't mean it gets funding from the budget process. Here are some items that aren't funded for 2016.
The art of the compromise—
Hold your nose and close your eyes
We want our leaders to save the day
But we don’t get a say in what they trade away…
—“The Room Where It Happens,” Hamilton
The thing you’ve always got to remember is that a budget is a political document. The government’s goal is to show us what good value we’re getting for our Tax Dollars™. To read the press release, you’d think budget cuts and gapping were a myth. But there’s no such thing as a free lunch…
So what was missing from the 2016 budget, and how can we go about determining that?
The key phrases to look for are “new/enhanced services” and “referred to the budget process.” That’s budget-speak for “we didn’t have room for this in the budget, so if you’d throw us some extra money that’d be great.” Many of these unfunded line items squeak their way into the budget as councillors’ bargaining chips:
Tempting to look at Cllr Thompson motion and, based on $ targets, guess which Cllrs pledged to support it pic.twitter.com/CAHd4bdAQs
— David Rider (@dmrider) February 18, 2016
There are several pages of dense tables in the budget presentation1 devoted to these items—over $85 million total—and not all of them could make the cut. Let’s read between the lines of this press release and see what’s been left out.
The 2016 Operating Budget maintains all current programs and services and provides funding for new and enhanced services, including:
$8 million to aid in reducing poverty, including the expansion of Homemakers and Nurses Services to meet the growing population of vulnerable residents, enhanced cold-weather drop-in services, expansion of the student nutrition program and additional funding for childcare subsidies
Still unfunded: an inflationary increase of $57,000 for the Toronto Urban Health Fund, which would fund more programs in the relatively underrepresented child and youth resiliency category. (Previous years’ grant recipients include organizations like SKETCH, Supporting Our Youth, and the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention.)
$5.5 million to support the Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing with key investments to fund Door Access Systems, implement evening and weekend cleaning, pay for a cost relief program for rent-geared-to-income residents paying for electric heating and for the introduction of various social programs
Um, that’s great, but they asked for $13.7 million.
early Sunday morning subway, connecting bus and streetcar service and improved streetcar reliability
Hey, that sounds pretty good! What else could you want in a—
Oh. So they funded early Sunday service, but didn’t fund $15.6 million in maintenance, training, and safety. I see. (On top of that, the approved budget includes a $5 million cut in unspecified discretionary expenses that the TTC will have to find throughout the year.2)
$5 million to support the Arts and Culture $25 per capita funding phase-in
Which is true, but the money has been substantially reshuffled. For example, the Toronto Arts Council got an extra $160,000 for grants and administration, but the money was cut from the budget for Nathan Phillips Square “cultural program enhancements” and the Film Office.3 Giving with one hand, cutting with the other.
Lastly, since the press release mentions $1.2 billion for Parks, Forestry and Recreation’s capital budget, we’d be remiss not to mention the $9 million in requested service level increases that got left out of the operating budget.4 Many of the changes are part of Toronto’s ambitious Parks Plan, which is still short on funding although years ago council unanimously approved the plan in principle. This includes invasive species protection; an urban agriculture program; extra maintenance during the summer months; and the Urban Parks Ranger Program.
And that brings us to Your Moment of Zen:
Speaker rules Rob Ford's motion to eliminate the park ranger program out of order as no such program exists.
— Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) 11 March 2015