My presentation to City of Toronto Budget Sub-Committee, East York Civic Centre Council Chamber, Wednesday, January 19, 2011

‘Working Toward Fairness for Toronto’s Citizens’

Dear Councillors, City Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am here to support all of the elected City of Toronto Councillors and Mayor, in the difficult decisions you are making regarding the 2011 budget process. Congratulations for your hard work of running for public office and wanting to be public servants.

While we all pay taxes, we are more than taxpayers. We are citizens, with all the rights and responsibilities which that name entails, of Canada, Ontario and the City of Toronto. The Councillors and Mayor are responsible to us, the citizens, and the City government bureacracy is responsible to the entire 44 councillors and mayor. And the reason for the existence of Council and the bureaucracy is for the ‘public good’ and that alone.

From what I learn from the media as well as my own observations of endemic homelessness and begging on Toronto’s streets and the increasing demand on food banks and shelters, it looks like it is difficult for the ‘public good’ to be achieved in the face of demands for lower taxes.

Soon after World War II there were good industrial and construction jobs, protected by what came to be strong unions (I am a retired union member). A man could support his family on his wage alone. Benefits grew for the working man; we owe public education to our public minded forefathers and public health care and a decent social safety net eventually became a reality. It now often takes two wages per household to make ends meet. Sometime during the 70’s and 80’s there began, a concerted attack on ‘too much democracy’ and on the ability of workers to make a living wage. Some politicians, paid for by international big business began to preach that taxes were too high, that there needed to be ‘tax relief’. We’re still hearing it today from all levels of government as we are promised that even lower corporate taxes for example will be a panacea. We have even been promised in this 2011 City budget that there will be no new taxes while, somehow magically, at the same time, no services will be cut.

Well, what are the purposes of taxes. Progressive taxes are the way in which Canadians have entered a social contract with their neighbours to provide for a ‘fair’ society that would leave no-one out, caring for the lowest income citizens as well as the young, the elderly, the disabled and those who have been dealt a misfortune that  would prevent them from looking after themselves and their families. Progressive taxes place a higher percentage levy on those who have been blessed with higher incomes and greater wealth among us, the argument being made that if you benefit more from the infrastructure provided, you are willing to contribute more, so that even the lowest income person can ‘pay the rent and feed the kids’ without resorting to panhandling or stealing. This makes for a peaceful, low crime society.

I have personally visited three Central American countries and have seen the results of a lack of progressive taxes – wealthy people who live in large homes behind walls with broken glass embedded on top, plus razor wire, and men with guns outside the walls, and also in banks and pharmacies to protect wealth from the ‘have-nots’. Many of the poor live in cardboard and corrugated metal shacks with neither clean running water nor secure electricity. There is virtually no middle class. These are the countries that do not have a progressive tax system.

I believe that Canada, our province and Toronto have lost the ‘fairness’ to all that we once had and expect to have. Some evidence from recent media follows:

A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study published in Toronto newspapers in December – http://thetyee.ca/Blogs/TheHook/2010/12/01/RichRicher/ http://www.metronews.ca/toronto/local/article/719862–t-o-turning-into-a-city-of-poverty

indicates that “Canada has entered a 1920’s-like Gilded Age, where the super-rich consolidate wealth while the middle class stagnates.” The richest 1% took home 13.8 % of all incomes in 2007. The same study under the headline, “T.O. turning into a city of poverty”, indicates that if present trends continue, “by 2025 a total of (only) 10% of the city (Toronto) will be middle-income earners, 30% upper middle income and a whopping 60% in the low to very low income bracket”.

Some media pundits have explained the outcome of the recent municipal election as a ‘tax-revolt’ because many of our citizens, in debt just to hang onto their economic position, cannot stand any kind of tax increase. University of Toronto researcher David Hulchanski has been documenting the income polarizing trends in Toronto (for some time) that he says threaten to ‘split the city apart’ – http://www.urbancenter.utoronto.ca/gtuo/

The previous City government did have a plan to place Toronto, which is larger in population and economy than most of the provinces.

I quote from ‘Toronto’s Long Term Fiscal Plan of 2010 Structural Funding Shortfall’

‘The City has a structural funding shortfall made up of two parts:  accumulated shortfall resulting from the use of one-time funding every year to balance the annual budget, and a continuing annual funding shortfall due to annual operating shortfalls. Simply put, the City is funding certain programs with funds from property taxes (which contribute 38% of the 2011 Operating Budget), or supporting programs typical of a large mature city that should be funded by the other orders of government (Provincial and Federal) or revenues other than property taxes.’ There is too much tax coming from one regressive source.

In order to act on this problem, the previous Toronto mayor David Miller and Premier McGuinty brought in the ‘City of Toronto Act’ of 2006/2007. Broad permissive powers were seen as the best way to ensure that Toronto had the flexibility to provide services, be accountable to residents and manage growth.

Revenue generating measures were part of the Act and the two that the City decided upon were: 1. a Land Transfer Tax and 2. a Personal Vehicle Ownership (PVT) Tax for the City.

Speaking only of the PVT: It is well known that the private automobile is the most heavily subsidized form of transportation, causes heavy environmental damage and requires very expensive real estate upon which to be driven or parked, plus the well documented extreme economic damage that is caused by gridlock.

A staff action report of June 11, 2007 defends the tax as follows in part: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2007/ex/bgrd/backgroundfile-5118.pdf

‘A motor vehicle ownership fee could raise revenue to improve services and road conditions for motorists, including funding enhancements to transit alternatives that could improve traffic flow… A vehicle ownership tax would have a broad incidence, as there are approximately one million registered vehicles in Toronto, potentially affecting over three quarters of the adult population. Additionally, vehicle ownership is predictably most prevalent in the wealthier segments of the population, suggesting the tax would be reasonably progressive in nature.’

In other words a ‘progressive tax’ that would serve to relieve the property taxpayer, which is fair since not all homeowners are car owners. So there was little wrong with this tax which Council recently cancelled under pressure from an election promise designed to buy votes.

The other part of the ‘Long Term Fiscal Plan’ was to keep asking the Province to reduce and finally end the downloading of social services which came about during the Mike Harris years at the Queen’s Park. I understand that the Province is now in the process of uploading some of the social services costs since these costs are truly provincial, not just city costs. I heard Mayor Ford say in relation to this budget that he did not intend to ask the higher levels of government for any help. This is unfortunate, since it is a media reported fact that $11 billion more revenue is removed from Toronto taxpayers to Federal and Provincial coffers compared to what comes back in services each year. http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/article/781385–should-toronto-be-a-province

In fact everyone knows that the TTC is the only transit operation in North America to depend primarliy on rider fares and not have upper government level funding and I think this is scandalous! I hope City Council will continue to lobby the upper government levels for what rightfully belongs to the citizens of Toronto.

Finally, it looks like, if not in 2011 then in 2012, Torontonians can look forward to drastic user fee hikes and service cuts, if progressive taxes are not collected. User fees represent the most regressive form of taxation. Low income citizens, children and seniors cannot afford user fee increases. Please don’t allow that to happen.

Service cuts for 2011 that are proposed include:

-Closing of the Urban Affairs Library at Metro Hall

-Elimination of free recreation programs for low-income people

-Elimination of evening and night service on 40+ transit routes, including buses on Dupont, Davenport & Harbord (which is under study I believe)

-Changes to EMS staffing protocols that would eliminate overtime work

-Limits on the new BIAs and funding for streetscape improvements

I would like to make a modest proposal that would help thousands who don’t own cars to be able to afford to get to their jobs; begin to cut TTC fares by 5 or 10% per year. Pay for this out of the options I have mentioned already.

I am also strongly in favour of the Transit City transportation plan as already developed because it will serve ten times more people (630,000 vs. 61,000), sooner and at one third the cost ($111 million vs. $344 million) of  building the few proposed subway lines. This would represent ‘fairness’. http://tinyurl.com/6y53bfn

I realize that City Council does not have all of the levers to restore fairness to taxation and services but you can strongly lobby the other levels of government to ‘act with justice for all of our citizens’.

Sincerely,

Murray D. Lumley

1854A Danforth Avenue, Toronto, ON, M4C 1J4, Ward 31

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About Murray Lumley

Board member of Conscience Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist; retired teacher; grandfather
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One Response to My presentation to City of Toronto Budget Sub-Committee, East York Civic Centre Council Chamber, Wednesday, January 19, 2011

  1. Keerthana Kamalavasan says:

    The global recession was hard on economies around the world. Ontario worked with people when others would have cut them loose. The economy is back on track. Ontario jobs are coming back and growth is returning. See the progress report here: http://bit.ly/k2ADga

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