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Fact-checking the false budget claims Rob Ford sent to constituents

By: Metro Published on Wed May 06 2015

Even though it contains a significant error, I was going to ignore this post at The Rebel by Neil Flagg that attempts to compare the budget performance of Mayor John Tory with that of the former mayor. Why give it the attention?

But then Coun. Rob Ford sent the post out to his mailing list, giving it his endorsement and validating an entirely incorrect claim.

And that cannot stand without a rebuttal. (Also, yes, I kind of miss fact-checking Ford-related budget claims. Don’t judge.)

Let’s get started.

Flagg — probably best known for maintaining a Facebook group called “I Hate The War On Mayor Rob Ford!” for the last few years — bases his argument on a simple premise. He claims Tory’s first operating budget saw a massive increase when compared to Ford’s final budget, citing that as evidence for Tory being just a big-spending left-winger who will tax Toronto to death.

“John Tory’s first budget, passed on March 11 by a council now unified behind an open spigot,” Flagg writes, “increased spending from $9.7 billion to $11.5 billion – a 19 per cent increase in year one!”

That’s not true.

Tory’s actual budgetary increase for 2015 is much smaller, either 2.7 per cent or 2.4 per cent, depending on how you do the comparison. Toronto’s gross operating budget increased from $9.7 billion to $9.9 billion. The total combined operating budget increased from $11.2 billion to $11.5 billion.

The problem with Flagg’s math is pretty simple. The City of Toronto passes two budgets each year that deal with operating expenses. The first is the rate-supported budget, which mostly deals with major utilities like water and garbage that are paid through household bills. It also includes the Toronto Parking Authority.

The other budget is the one we hear more about: the tax-supported gross operating budget, which covers all other programs supported by property tax dollars, government transfers, user fees and other sources of city revenue. All the big stuff is in this budget: police, TTC, libraries, and so on.

Flagg’s mistake is comparing the 2014 gross operating budget with the combined total of the gross operating budget and rate-supported budget in 2015.

Here are the real numbers expressed as a chart. Flagg’s error is comparing the blue area in 2014 with the blue and red area in 2015. You can’t do that. It’s not an honest comparison.

I think I know how Flagg made this mistake. In non-election years, the rate-supported budget is passed a couple of months before the operating budget. But in election years they’re passed at the same time, meaning many of the city’s fancy pie charts conflate the two.

So Flagg’s misstep is at least somewhat forgivable.

Less forgivable is the fact that Ford — a sitting member of council for about 15 years — would share an article with such an obvious error. As a fiscal hawk who often talks up his budget prowess, how did he and his staff not notice such a glaring mathematical mistake?

This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2015/05/06/fact-checking-the-false-budget-rob-ford-sent-to-constituents.html on 2015-05-06T00:00:00.000Z

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