Cheol Joon Baek
Our city government over the last seven years has done a remarkable job investing in the priorities of Torontonians by spending limited public funds for maximum impact.[rssbreak]
We have used the operating budget as a blueprint to ensure that our city is a livable, prosperous community where no one is left behind and every resident has the opportunity to succeed.
That's why there have been significant increases in funding, over the years, for public transit, the arts, the environment, parks and recreation and policing.
Money has also been made available for world-leading innovations in social policy like the Streets To Homes program, which has seen more than 2,400 people receive the assistance they need to move off the street and into permanent housing. This unique initiative has received a prestigious award from the United Nations.
Despite all of these accomplishments, the Board of Trade, the Party of No on city council (aka the right) and several mayoralty candidates have suggested the city is not spending wisely and property taxes are out of control.
It's time to put those lies to rest once and for all.
As is well known, the downloading of the Harris era created structural financial challenges for the city that significantly impaired its financial well-being. But, in 2003, both Premier Dalton McGuinty and I ran on platforms committing to reverse that downloading.
And, I am proud to say, we have taken significant steps toward securing new investment from the provincial and federal governments amounting to billions of dollars in capital spending for infrastructure projects like Transit City - the largest transit expansion in North America.
The slow uploading by the province of social services has also commenced, although transit operating costs and that of public housing must still be reassumed by Queen's Park.
In the face of our monetary pressures, council in 2005 adopted a long-term financial plan that included spending for impact in city budgets, uploading, creating new revenues and seeking a municipal share of the sales tax.
With these objectives in mind, the city pursued wage constraint on management and frontline employees that resulted in a labour settlement and helped the city meet its financial goals. This was one of the key factors that enabled the civic administration to produce a $250 million surplus in the midst of the greatest recession in seven decades.
Once again this year, the operating budget features spending restraint, increased efficiencies and adjustments to service levels that will still ensure residents receive the programs they rely on.
Our long-term financial plan has guided budgets for the past five years and, despite the lack of provincial uploading of TTC operating costs, we are well down the path to sustainability. This is thanks, in part, to the difficult - but necessary - decisions council made to impose a Land Transfer Tax and a Motor Vehicle Registration Fee to support city operations and to facilitate road repairs and other transportation initiatives.
So what are the lies I referred to? Well, it is repeated over and over again that city spending is too high and out of control. This is simply not true. Our spending increases over the past decade are approximately 4 per cent - about one-half the expenditure increases attributed to the federal and provincial governments. Yet it is the city government that delivers services 24/7.
As for taxes, Toronto's residential property tax rates are the lowest in the GTA - if not the entire province. Repeat after me: residential property taxes in Toronto are the lowest, period.
And business tax rates have been coming down every year since I became mayor. They've been cut by more than $190 million since 2006 and, if the recommendations in this year's budget are adopted, that amount will exceed $250 million.
Toronto is an exciting city with incredible arts and culture, incomparable diversity and a vibrant street life. We are in the midst of an unprecedented boom in building and public infrastructure that has never been seen before.
Those who spread untruths about city spending or its property tax rates either don't share the vision of a vibrant, prosperous Toronto with opportunity for all or they simply don't care.
You be the judge.