Mayor’s executive committee backs budget amid accusations of ‘propaganda’ spread by critics

Mayor John Tory’s executive committee has given its stamp of approval to the city’s latest budget, following accusations from both Tory and budget chief Gary Crawford about unspecified “propaganda” being spread by critics.

The $13.47-billion budget for 2019 — which includes millions in investments in city services, alongside various tax and rate hikes for homeowners — was a particularly “challenging” one to develop, according to Tory, in part because the city fell $80 million short for land transfer tax revenue in 2018.

“It made it harder for us, but the bottom line is this: this budget … preserves and protects every single city service that people have come to rely on,” Tory told reporters before Monday’s executive committee meeting.

Multiple critics on council have previously suggested that’s not the case. Recently, Coun. Mike Layton cited resident frustrations with this year’s snow clearing as proof the city is not meeting “the level of service we should be delivering.”

Coun. Gord Perks has also stressed the city is “falling behind” because an existing $7.5-billion state-of-good-repair backlog — which is tied to the maintenance of roads, TTC vehicles, parkland, and public housing units — is projected to increase by another $2 billion over the next decade.

Despite the challenges, city staff maintain the budget is balanced, in part thanks to recommended hikes to both water and solid waste rates, a 2.55 per cent residential property tax increase tied to the rate of inflation, and a 10 cent TTC fare hike.

The latter two moves have sparked blow back, with some critics advocating higher property tax increases to fund city services, and others — including rider advocacy group TTCRiders — suggesting the city should be funding the TTC’s operations, not transit riders.

Mayor, budget chief call out ‘propaganda’

While asking questions of TTC staff during the executive committee meeting, Tory quipped there has been “propaganda” floating around.

He then asked staff to confirm that, “contrary to what’s said over and over and over again,” the TTC’s reliance on the fare box has dropped from 72 per cent when he became mayor in 2015 to 67.5 per cent in this year’s budget, taking into account this year’s proposed fare increase (TTC staff confirmed that is the case).

Later in the meeting, Crawford stressed there are more than $50 million in “new investments” in this budget, and echoed Tory’s phrasing by calling out the “propaganda” suggesting otherwise.

When contacted by CBC Toronto, the mayor’s office said Tory was “referring to some public commentary around the budget.” Crawford didn’t provide specifics when pressed by reporters in a scrum following the unanimous vote but did say, “I have a right to make those comments.”

Layton, however, referred to the pair’s remarks as “name-calling.”

“When people are afraid about what’s being said, about their proposals, and their lack of vision … I think this is what people resort to,” he said.

He also questioned the city’s decision to include an unspecified $10 million in additional needed savings and $45 million in potential federal government funding for refugees, which has yet to be confirmed — saying it’s not a “balanced budget.”

Crawford defended the city’s approach, noting “all budgets are predictions.” But previous assumptions about land transfer tax revenue are what led to “the deep hole” the city now finds itself in, Layton stressed.

The budget heads to city council for approval on Thursday.

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