Mayor John Tory strode up to a podium and broke a promise yesterday.
But I’m cool with it.
Not just because Tory never should have gotten into the business of recklessly promising to hold city property taxes at or below inflation, but because in dumping that promise and declaring that he’ll ask council to create a property tax-supported “city building fund,” Tory came up with something much, much better: a vision for Toronto.
And it’s a complete vision. One that both acknowledges that Toronto badly needs to fund transit and housing and — this is the novel part — actually comes complete with a strategy to do it.
That’s no small thing. For years, the loudest arguments at city hall have come from so-called “fiscal conservatives.” They talk a big game about delivering things by finding big government savings, but never seem to do so. Instead, city hall has developed a nasty habit of kicking fiscal problems down the road, only delaying the inevitable fiscal crunch.
I’ve worried since Tory’s election that he wouldn’t do much to change that — that he’d just be another ineffectual “fiscal conservative” obsessing over tax rates while city infrastructure literally crumbles.
Yesterday he showed signs he’ll be doing things differently.
Sure, there are things I can criticize about Tory’s plan. For one thing, it doesn’t address the gaping hole in the 2016 budget or the ongoing need to fund operating costs. With his plan not kicking in until 2017, Tory will need to come up with a strategy to balance next year’s budget real quick.
It also works against existing city fiscal policy to diversify revenues and not always look to the property tax base for more money. And the amount Tory’s tax increase will raise – about $65 million per year when fully implemented – is frustratingly close to the annual revenue councillors gave up when they repealed the vehicle registration tax in 2010, which makes me wonder if the last five years were just a big waste of my time.
But Tory’s plan remains a big step in the right direction, and it came as a surprise to me.
I was expecting his standard speech about the need for Toronto to find elusive savings and keep taxes low. Instead, we got something different: A vision for city building with dollars attached.
I’d call that a good start.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2015/12/02/tory-ditches-tax-promise-for-a-vision-for-toronto.html on 2015-12-02T00:00:00.000Z