The word from the mayor's office at the start of the year was that the new City Of Toronto Act was going to usher in a sparkling era of autonomy, and, if I'm remembering the press releases right, robot butlers for all.
It's now three months after the law was enacted, and you might be excused for wondering if all we got was more efficient begging.
There's the ongoing penny campaign for a cut of the GST and senior government funding for some newfangled above-ground subway. And recently, with the release of the proposed operating budget, city accountants are saying they need $72 mil from the province for social services.
Of course, the mayor could have turned down the Ode To Joy long enough to point out that the City Of Toronto Act is a shuffle, not a shift, a needed tilling of the soil, but hardly new ground.
Apparently, it was more important to keep Dalton McGuinty a friend, though heaven knows why. But that may have changed. "The province is raiding our tax base," said Kyle Rae at Monday's budget release. "They're muscling in on our property taxes to pay for their programs because they're not willing to tell the public they need to raise taxes."
Meanwhile, City Hall scrabbles for spare change in the dirty taxes allowed by the new act, considering road tolls, liquor taxes or an extra sucker-punch at the tobacconist's. Sin taxes. And count on another stratum of bureaucracy to manage it all.
It reminds me of a classic bit of IWW propaganda, a poster starting with a king yelling at a general, ending with a kid kicking a cat. The more power concentrated at the top, the more the bottom has to pay.
In fact, the federal Tory budget seems a wilful snub: the only real money for urban centres is a fund for setting up public-private partnerships. In other words, Sod off oh, but we'd still like it if our rich friends could profit off you. 'Kay, thanks, bye.
"Canadians live in cities, period," says budget chief Shelley Carroll.
"You can't say you serve people in poverty but shortchange the cities."
Toronto's capital budget is funded through half a billion in debt; operating costs will draw almost entirely on reserves. Any substantial cuts would be to the quick. The city's dancing, but eating its own muscle to do it. We need a regular source of sustenance and we need it soon, in large, unmarked bills.
The favoured solution is a "three-pillar" arrangement with senior levels: revisiting Harris-era service downloading; a national transit strategy ("When you're moving 450 million rides a year, that's national economy," says Carroll); and the so-called One Cent Solution (onecentnow.ca).
That's the green poster going up at transit stops, a picture of a penny, which really just seems to imply that we'd like a giant penny, possibly as an allowance. Wouldn't the dreamy Transit City map with all those fantasy light rail tracks make better propaganda? The penny's great rhetoric for ministers ("We just want one little penny!") but uninspiring for everyone else ("We just want one little penny?").
First: it's not a penny, it's one of the six "pennies" we each pay to the feds on every dollar spent 16.67 per cent of the GST, in other words. Aside from that being your money, it would mean $450 million a year for Toronto. That's 100 new streetcars. Just under twice that would put a fully functioning surface rapid transit line in the Don Mills corridor from Finch to Bloor. It's 28 times the capital money available to the shelter and housing division.
These are what should be on those green penny posters.
"We're approaching 3 million people," says Carroll, "which is where New York was when they realized they needed a consumer tax."
Certainly, GST funding would be better than the recent GST cut (just a tax break for big spenders). But it would still be drawn from individual purchases a non-progressive tax rather than income or corporate taxes, which would mean those who can afford it would pay more. If downloading subsidizes artificially low provincial taxes, don't consumer taxes subsidize large producers and polluters?
And if the province is afraid of taxing voters, why not really commit to cowardice and give Toronto the ability to collect its own taxes? When asked, Joe Pennachetti, city CFO, taps his One Cent Now button. "This is the first step."
Honestly, arguing for new taxes makes me feel dirty. But if we avoided the sin taxes, at least I wouldn't have to pay extra for it.