Before David Miller's foes declared that lobbying the province was the only ethical alternative to new taxes, it was that lobbying itself that they decried. Miller needed a Plan B, they said.
Plan B has proved an eminently useful abstraction for the mayor's opponents, being primarily whatever Miller wasn't doing at the time.
Well, could someone call them in, please? Plan B has arrived. Premier Dalton McGuinty announced this week $217 million in uploading for Toronto over the next four years, starting with $38 million in 2008.
For a while now the city has been bracing for a $575 mil shortfall next year. Thus the recent $83 in emergency cuts when the land transfer tax was deferred by council. Even with the Liberal election trinket, a $356 million land transfer tax (hopefully to be adopted in October) and a modest property tax hike of 3 per cent (bringing in about $97 million), the city would face an $84 million shortfall. Those cuts are still needed.
And this is the heart of the matter: maintaining those painful service cuts is the balancer.
In other words, McGuinty, awash in literally billions, has offered "help' that simply makes those cuts the new precarious status quo.
It took me about three minutes, by the way, to find and crunch - vigorously squeeze, really - those numbers. One wonders about all the councillors who passed on taxes.
But one also wonders what's in David Miller's head in terms of a strategy to restore those lost services.
Has he just given up and assumed they are gone for all time? Has all this recent drama set the stage for a strategy to sell a larger-than-usual property tax hike? Is there a hint, or just hope, that McGuinty's holding onto something more substantial until closer to election day? Or is this simply a vacuum waiting for the mayor's warrior instinct to be aroused - which, we all hope, we'll now get to see.
One can't imagine a better time for the gloves to come off. We're nowhere near square. The budget might balance, as shown above, but service improvements - as in, for example, the $80 million potentially needed next year for the TTC to keep up with ridership growth - won't happen. The transit death spiral looms.
The headlines may have read, "McGuinty eases city's tax burden," but that's sort of like saying that a bout of gangrene eases one's leg burden. McGuinty eased McGuinty's political burden, on our dime.
The preem acknowledges the complaint but not the problem. He's like the proverbial generous dad dealing with his money-dumb kids whining about their paltry allowance, pressing a few bills in their hands. "All right, here you go," he says with a patient smirk, "but you'd better learn how to spend it this time. Now get on with ya!"
Here is a government sitting on a surplus created by the downloading plunder of their supposed enemies, the Harris Tories, that has learned to enjoy the sight of mayors taking the fall for raising taxes.
Not only do cities subsidize the province, but they also subsidize Liberal careers by serving as political buffers.
Harris looms over Ontario's social services like nuclear winter, and the Liberals celebrate his legacy as the gift that keeps on giving. Disgusting.
Other cities are now discovering that Toronto may well be the symbol of their own future as they grow, especially when concerns about sprawl dry the udder of the Development Charge cash cow, as is more or less happening in Mississauga.
McGuinty's assumption - government's assumption - is always that people aren't ready to talk about taxes and what they actually mean.
But if T.O. shows some leadership, sooner or later McGuinty or some remarkably similar rich white bloke will have to learn the lesson Toronto is wading through now: quite simply, you get what you pay for.