Last week, I was critical of Mayor Rob Ford for barely commenting on the launch of the 2013 city budget process. It's odd for a sitting mayor to put so much space between himself and the operating and capital documents that dictate Toronto's programs, services and investments. It's doubly odd considering that Ford ran on a platform of fiscal leadership.
Since then, there's been good news and bad news.
The good news: Ford's office released a statement via the mayor's Facebook page on Saturday morning, ending what had been a week of virtual silence on matters relating to the budget. The bad news: on Monday, as his budget committee kicked off a week of deputations and deliberations, Ford went on vacation.
Let's start with the budget statement on Ford's Facebook page. It makes some weird claims.
First, Ford takes credit for the city's credit rating, writing that his “good fiscal practices since the 2010 election have been recognized by a number of bond-rating agencies.” The problem with that boast is the city's credit rating — which is indeed very good compared to most North American cities — has not changed since Ford was elected in 2010. In the last couple of years, major bond rating agencies have done nothing but confirm the same ratings they gave the city during the Mayor David Miller era. And it was during that era, remember, that Ford regularly claimed the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and rife with fiscal mismanagement.
The mayor also writes that DBRS, one of the credit rating agencies, “has commented that Toronto still runs a deficit when all capital and operating budgets are considered together.” That doesn't make much sense. The only way to not run a deficit on the capital side would be to never issue any debt or use long-term financing for purchases, a scenario that would only be desirable if Toronto had no need for any infrastructure investment.
But anyone who has read the news lately regarding that crumbly lakeside highway or the sorry state of our transit network (amongst other things) knows that Toronto needs a hell of a lot of infrastructure investment. Enough that we definitely shouldn't be prioritizing reducing debt levels over meeting our infrastructure needs.
Ford continues: “Some members of Council believe we should increase spending without having the money to cover the costs.” Which is a good line, except for the fact that there is no one at City Hall who believes that. Toronto is not legally permitted to run a deficit. Every operating budget is always balanced — whether with surplus dollars, reserves or increased revenue through taxes. I've got no real idea what Ford is actually referring to with this line.
We could ask him to clarify, but he's not here.
Ford's sudden departure on Monday — something that wasn't even hinted at when he broadcast his radio show the day before — caused quite a stir. I think it's important to be measured when criticizing Ford's absence. Ultimately, he's got to take time away from the job when he needs it, and we shouldn't begrudge anyone for going on vacation. The city can function without him.
But the political optics of the move are terrible. Ford has spent the last year being dogged by accusations that he's a part-time mayor. He's been roundly mocked for prioritizing football over his City Hall work. With a potential by-election looming, he needs to be positioning himself as a guy who wants to be mayor. It's hard to do that from Florida.
With budget season in full swing and the regular Christmas break just around the corner, a vacation now simply doesn't make any sense. But maybe, as far as Ford and this budget are concerned, asking for things to make sense is asking too much.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/ford-for-toronto-matt-elliott/2012/12/13/mayor-rob-ford-makes-quick-comment-on-budget-then-skips-town.html on 2012-12-13T00:00:00.000Z