A week before council?s October 22 vote on a real estate tax, the mayor tells NOW?s editors why this is a critical moment for the city.
ON WHY THE TAX PLAN HAS TO BE ADOPTED "Toronto's finances don't work for some simple reasons: the downloading of the 1990s and the fact that we only have property tax and not diverse sources of revenue. In particular, we lack revenues that grow with economic growth. You can't run Canada's sixth-largest government on property tax. This is a chance for council to acknowledge that fact and accept a solution. I've got great faith that council will rise to the occasion, but it's still city council, so you never know until the vote actually happens."
ON WHY THE ELECTORATE BACKS THE PLAN "The one thing Torontonians all agree on is that they want to see proper support for their public services. In some ways, the provincial election was about that, too. People re-elected a government that had increased taxes but invested in services. I got elected twice on a mandate where I said, 'I'm going to raise taxes.' The people who advise politicians would tell you never to say that, but I said it twice."
ON MAKING A DEAL "I'm prepared to compromise about how the tax works, but I am not prepared to compromise on my fundamental beliefs. When you have 44 people who are all essentially their own political party, it's challenging to find that consensus."
ON THE COALITION OF COMMUNITY GROUPS SUPPORTING HIM "When the Board of Trade did a poll about the land transfer tax, 70 per cent of the people said they would be prepared to support it if they knew it was being invested in new infrastructure. What's important about the Coalition of Citizens' Groups is that they're prepared to say, 'We support new taxes.' It's a hard thing to say. Usually groups speak up out of self-interest - like the arts community will say, 'Keep the arts grants.' But now they're speaking up about the public's interests. That's both terrific and very important."
ON THE PROGRESSIVE NATURE OF THE TAX "The proposal basically exempts first-time buyers. The tax is progressive in structure, but more importantly, it's progressive in philosophy. It means when somebody is selling a home and buying a new one, the money is there in the system, which is not like property taxes. Property taxes are regressive because they don't tax on the basis of income and actual wealth, but on a theoretical tax basis.
The truth is, the land transfer tax will be absorbed by the market. The market's gone up 60 per cent in the last five years. We're talking about a tax that takes a little bit over 1 per cent from people. It'll be absorbed. We did an economic study, and there's no question."
ON HIS 1-CENT CAMPAIGN (for 1 per cent of the federal sales tax) "The Senate's endorsed it, the premier's endorsed it. There's a huge movement there. A bridge collapsed in Montreal. These things should be a wake-up call."
ON THE NEW LIBERAL GOVERNMENT "We've already had movement from the province on [uploading] the Ontario Disability Support Program and Ontario Drug Benefit Program. If push comes to shove, we'll have to look at economizing on things that aren't our responsibility, like court security. [Dalton] McGuinty is committed to supporting municipalities. I believe when the results of the uploading table are made public in February, we'll see more signs of moving ahead."
ON POLICING'S HUGE BUDGET BITE "This police chief has actually found savings several years in a row. I'm prepared to give them a bit of leeway, because having officers on the street is expensive and it works. Building bridges with communities is making them come forward with information. The rate of solving homicides has gone up significantly. But if we don't get taxes, all bets are off."
ON DOWNSIZING "There is a belief that anything government does is inefficient, ineffective. That view is absurd. Some commentators criticize our fair wage policy. I support it. I think government should be a leader in ensuring we pay people properly. You need to pay people $17 an hour in Toronto just to afford a one-bedroom apartment. The fair wage policy's main application is in our construction contracts, where if you have a non-union bidder, it has to pay union wages. But non-union construction companies have twice the rate of accidents as union ones. In our roads department, 88 per cent of our capital construction programs are done by the private sector. One funny thing: the areas where we do badly are the most privatized."
ON MASTERCARD'S FUNDING OF CITY RINKS IN DECEMBER "MasterCard offered us $160,000, no strings attached. I don't believe you can finance public services through charity. On the other hand, this is a service that people value, and somebody made a gift. It would have been wrong of me in those circumstances to say, 'We're not going to accept the money. 'We are trying to create a partnership between the business community, labour and the people of Toronto, not about basic public services but about things like our community safety plan, which invests in neighbourhoods where young people don't have enough. I'm comfortable with donations when it's handled correctly. I'm not comfortable with public services being paid for by private interests."