This tax debate brought to you by MasterCard
Those among you with Globe access should read John Barber’s column this morning. He’s right on the mark. The only way to paint a picture of what has been lost in this debate is to consider what might have been. Pretend for just a moment that David Miller had won the vote on his new taxes back in July:
•With $350 million in new revenue flowing into city coffers, the 2008 budget would have been easy to balance. •An emboldened Miller could have truly come on strong during the provincial election, saying that Torontonians had done their share and now it was the province’s turn. •Council could have spent the fall dealing with future priorities: enacting an economic development strategy, moving ahead with the climate change plan, expanding transit service and generally thinking big.•The city could have begun lifting its past hiring freezes and started rebuilding its staff. •And onwards into the future. Torontonians would have enjoyed a true debate about what kind of city we want.
Instead, the city has new taxes but no solution to its fiscal problem. Even assuming that the province decides to upload some costs, it will surely phase in its uploading over three or four years, which means the city will be short for 2008 and 2009, probably 2010 as well. All we really got from three months of debate was one good punch line: Outdoor ice rinks open in December, courtesy of MasterCard, a company that thrives on debt.
Last thought: In council chambers yesterday afternoon, it was hard not to notice all the big union cheeses in attendance—Bob Kinnear of the TTC, Brian Cochrane of CUPE, John Cartwright of the Labour Council. Cochrane sat front-row centre like a king being entertained by his fools. I have no ideological truck with unions; indeed, I’d call collective bargaining among the most important rights our society extends to its citizens. But that doesn’t change the fact that the peanut gallery was full of people who know which side their bread’s buttered on. Incidentally, the $150 million that will be raised by the new land-transfer tax is, I’m told, roughly equal to the total cost of next year’s salary increases for the city’s unionized employees. There are many other ways of expressing the value of the land-transfer tax revenue, of course, but they all arrive at the same end point: poof. The money’s already gone.