Fiscal discipline, @cityslikr and Toronto’s endless budget follies | #TOpoli #onpoli


My pal @cityslikr has a thoughtful post over at his place, riffing on the whole Moody’s municipal credit rating thing. If you’ve been reading his stuff regularly, as you should, and keeping abreast of the #TOpoli big picture, then you know: contrary to the edge-of-the-abyss picture regularly presented by certain political camps and their tabloid-media enablers, city finances are not one bad cheque away from fiscal Armageddon.

(I sometimes hesitate to talk about @cityslikr and his take on discipline. He’s got a tendency to stray occasionally, like that time he started talking about Karen Stintz and her safe words. But never mind all that just now.)

That we’ve been subjected to overwrought misleading language on the municipal finance file isn’t news, of course. The relentless pounding isn’t about informing us so much as it’s about softening us up and getting us braced for a nice tall glass of the Kut Kut Koolaid. If anything, the events of the past few months ought to have demonstrated that the whole thing is, like the Austerity Agenda (TM), a manufactured narrative. The lead spokesthingy, of course, is budget chief Mike “No cupcakes for you, widows and orphans” del Grande.

Daren’s analysis is dead-on, so I’m not going to repeat it here, but there’s one detail in it that bears a closer look, and that’s Moody’s call for 

a permanent solution to the existing operating budget pressures.

And that’s where this perennial bit of municipal theatre really challenges the audience; it’s in establishing and assessing the context. (Yeah, there he goes again.) Because you really can’t have a worthwhile and comprehensive discussion about “existing operating budget pressures” without addressing Toronto’s continuing structural deficit. And that goes beyond Team Ford, David Miller, and/or Mayor Mel.

Such a discussion must necessarily involve the role of senior levels of government, and the dysfunctional mess that governments of various political stripes have made of municipal finance — indeed, of the entire municipal-governance file. I like to start with the Harris government’s ill-advised municipal amalgamation in the 1990s, coupled with the uploading, downloading, sideswiping shemozzle precipitated with the Common Sense Revolution. But if you want to suggest that the fecklessness of the McGuinty approach hasn’t made things better since then, well …

You may very well think that, Mattie. I couldn’t possibly comment.

So, in order to make Moody’s really happy, we need to examine and correct the mistakes of previous provincial governments. And while we’re at it, we might want to revisit that whole constitutional municipalities-as-creatures-of-provincial-legislatures thing. 

Anyone want to give odds on how likely we are to see that?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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