Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Rob Ford's unfortunate budget legacy so far

By: Metro Published on Mon Feb 03 2014

The fourth and final city budget of Mayor Rob Ford’s term passed through Toronto City Council last week, which means it’s a good time to start thinking about legacy.

Because while the mechanics behind government budgets can be complicated, the driving principles shouldn’t be. Just as I was taught in cub scouts to always leave my campsite in better shape than how I found it, politicians should always be working toward leaving public finances in better condition than what they inherited.

So let’s talk about Ford — the budget he inherited, and the budget he’s left.

In early 2011, when Ford approached his first budget, he was dealt a pretty great hand. The city had a standing surplus of $346 million. The provincial government was in the process of uploading programs and services worth millions of dollars each year. In addition, the city was enjoying the fruits of a land transfer tax that generated increasing windfalls. Even though Ford kept telling people he wanted to get rid of it, his budgets continued to rely on increasing revenue projections to pay for services. As a result, Ford’s first budget almost wrote itself. Ford was able to cut the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes without having to embark on a major hunt for savings.

But fast forward four years to 2014 and things aren’t so easy anymore. Though Ford says he didn’t support the budget council passed last week, his objections ring hollow. The budget was drafted before Ford’s powers were removed by council and overseen by a budget chief he appointed.

It also paints a gloomy picture for Toronto’s fiscal future. Surplus amounts have fallen as land transfer tax revenues have started to stabilize. A Scarborough subway plan pushed residential property taxes up 0.5 per cent this year, and will cause another one per cent hit over the next two years. The city’s reserve fund for extreme weather events needs to be replenished, and doing so will mean another 0.5 per cent hit on the tax bill.

But wait, there’s more.

Last spring, the provincial government cut a fund that had provided the city with annual cash for housing and social services. The decision was probably hastened by Ford’s continued boasts that the city is awash with extra money. Whatever the case, that funding loss will cause the city $86 million worth of pain next year.

The upshot? Even with a forecast ten-cent TTC fare increase, the 2015 budget has a massive hole in it, with surplus dollars unlikely to come to the rescue. Unless something drastic happens, residents next year could face one of the largest property tax increases since amalgamation. That’s where four years of Ford has left us. That’s his budget legacy. But it may be someone else’s problem to solve.

This post was originally published at on 2014-02-03T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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