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With tax hikes off the table, Toronto city hall considers… fundraising: Elliott

Mayor John Tory speaks during a Toronto Board of Trade luncheon in Toronto. Is a GoFundMe — Toronto edition in the works? We might not be too far off, writes Matt Elliott.
Mayor John Tory speaks during a Toronto Board of Trade luncheon in Toronto. Is a GoFundMe — Toronto edition in the works? We might not be too far off, writes Matt Elliott.

The draft city budget presented at Toronto city hall last week has a problem: a $95 million problem.

Though the budget was presented as balanced with a residential property tax increase once again kept in line with the rate of inflation, that was only achieved by leaving out $95 million in funding needed mostly for strategies and initiatives approved by Toronto City Council over the last few years.

The good news is there’s about $9 million in spare money ready to address this need. The bad news is that $9 million is a much smaller number than $95 million.

Now, a normal government might look at this problem and decide to raise taxes a bit, so as to pay for the stuff they voted for.

But Toronto has a different kind of government.

Just one day prior to the budget launch, city hall’s public works and infrastructure committee approved an innovative approach to paying for the public infrastructure contemplated in the city’s Vision Zero road safety plan: accepting donations.

It’s a brave new world, apparently. To hell with old 20th century ideas like funding public infrastructure through public taxation. This city can now fund itself like a Kickstarter campaign.

But why stop at using donations to fund road safety? This pesky $95 million can surely be addressed with a few creative fundraisers.

For instance, the draft budget does not include the approximately $2 million needed to implement TransformTO programs designed to mitigate the effects of climate change.

This is a weird omission, because the TransformTO plan was approved unanimously by city council in July, but no matter. The city can fund it with a bake sale.

The same is true of city’s poverty reduction strategy. Even though it was championed tirelessly by the late Coun. Pam McConnell and shaped to respond to the shameful fact that one in four children in Toronto live in low-income households, there’s about $11 million in necessary funding not included in the draft budget.

But don’t worry. In the interest of keeping property taxes low, the city can look to an alternative means of raising cash to fight poverty: panhandling.

Start thinking this way, and the rest of the city’s list of unfunded budget priorities quickly resolves itself.

The discounted transit pass for low-income people enthusiastically approved by council but still left out of the draft budget? Pay for it with a Bingo night.

The $775,500 needed — but not included in the draft budget — for a school crossing guard program? Maybe a benefit concert. Budget chief Gary Crawford plays drums in a cover band, Gently Bent. They’re pretty good.

There is, of course, an alternative to all this. Toronto politicians could stop playing these annual games with the budget, where approved programs are left out and then added back piecemeal during committee and council debates.

Instead of designing a budget that prioritizes low property taxes, councillors could ask for a budget that prioritizes delivering on what was promised — and pays for new services through reasonable tax increases.

But that’s absurd, right? Better stick to government fundraising ideas. Maybe an all-night telethon? A silent auction? Ooh, how about a dunk tank?

This post was originally published at on 2017-12-04T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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