In the parallel universe of those opposed to shaving a bit off personal earnings to fund public programs, second- and third-time homebuyers, it turns out, are part of an oppressed underclass.
This alarmingly positive view of the social order was at centre stage last Monday, June 25, at the city's hearings on new taxes.
Finance staff had pared the list of potential taxes allowed under the new City Of Toronto Act down to two: an annual $60 vehicle registration levy and a land transfer tax (exempting first-time buyers) of between 0.5 and 2 per cent, depending on the size and type of property being bought.
The former is expected to net the city $60 million a year, the latter $300 million. This would still leave a $216 million hole in Toronto's pocket next budget round.
Off the table was the easy money of sin taxes (alcohol, cigarettes, movies), probably to avoid distracting from the city's contention that 1 per cent of the feds' GST should be going to cities, and to spare those in attendance the often meandering deputations of the drunken, wheezing escapist lobby.
But the hale and hearty real estate lobby clambered for the summit of Mt. Chutzpah. Bill Johnston of the Toronto Real Estate Board decried the "cash grab' as an attack on a "vulnerable group" those buying their second home, with only their first home to live in until they do.
In something of a stretch, he said the city was placing pressure on those going through divorce, and, with some prompting from Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, suggested that the tax would mean a drop in environmental renovations of new homes.
"The city could open brothels and drug dens to bring in revenue, but that would be immoral,' Johnston non-sequitured. "Why should a small group of people pay for services that benefit everyone? What do they get in return?"
The continued protection of a constabulary charged with enforcing the current relationship between the propertied classes and the poor? I don't know I'm just tossing out ideas here.
Carol Wilding of the Toronto Board of Trade warned that the path of new taxation would lead to economic ruin when people and large businesses stop settling here. It didn't seem to matter that Toronto has some of the lowest property taxes in the region.
Wilding, somewhat predictably, was simply taking the opportunity to promote the benefits of "the other path," the path of "action and partnership." Or abandonment and profiteering, if you crack the code.
"The business community is willing to help the city find realistic ways of bringing down costs," said Wilding, who was too polite to use the word "privatize." Mayor David Miller did it for her. He pointed out that most road repair and half of garbage collection in the city is already contracted out.
This is not to say the city is without fault in its current tax foray. One unheeded request from both left(ish) and right is that revenue from any new taxes be earmarked for specific projects or departments rather than being subsumed in general revenues.
Even according to a TBT poll, many would likely support the taxes if they were thusly focused. But since any government generally (and Miller's administration specifically) likes to have ample wiggle room, this idea wasn't even touched by the executive.
You could say earmarking would be difficult until there's a sustainable funding source. After all, the fact that the province allowed the city these taxes seems to indicate that real provincial funding isn't in our near future.
Wilding wasn't entirely uncharitable on this point, acknowledging that Toronto isn't getting a fair shake from senior governments. She said the business sector would be prepared to enter into a "broad-based coalition" committed to changing that.
But it's hard to see how they can effectively lobby the province while railing against the taxing possibilities the province conferred on the city because it has no desire to provide funding, or while pushing for privatization as an alternative to public funding.
The board's flagship suggestion is irresponsible: jumping on the idea that the new taxes unfairly target a minority, Wilding proposed that the city rely more heavily on user fees for public services.
"So would you support the alcohol user fee [proposed in earlier reports]?" asked Councillor Howard Moscoe. Wilding objected, saying that was a tax. "No, it's a fee for using alcohol," said Moscoe drily.
Flippant but to the point. "User fee" is a polite way of saying "Let the poor pay," since it's they who most often use public services.
It also doesn't show a great deal of that economic sense the board continually argues for, unless its goal is to make the bottom fall out of public service delivery and create a vacuum that... oh, right. Never mind.