Keep property tax hikes below the rate of inflation; close the budget gap created by Tory’s reckless spending
Toronto mayoral candidates are falling all over each other in promising to hike taxes, but it’s time for candidates to get serious and look at reining in government spending.
Spending has soared in Toronto over the past several years. The answers to Toronto’s budget woes aren’t to ask for more from taxpayers already making do with less. Rather, it’s time to tell politicians to do their jobs and gain control over Toronto’s soaring spending.
For those who claim Toronto has experienced an era of austerity under former mayor John Tory, let’s take a walk down memory lane.
When Tory became mayor of Toronto in 2014, he inherited a city budget of $9.6 billion. In his eight years as mayor, Tory increased spending to a whopping $16.1 billion. After adjusting for inflation, that’s a 35 per cent spending increase in just over two terms.
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Tory’s penchant for spending rivalled even that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and makes Ontario Premier Doug Ford look like the Grand Poobah of spending restraint.
And for those who argue that Toronto hasn’t been increasing taxes enough over the past several years, look no further than Tory’s 2023 plan, endorsed by council, to hike property taxes by seven per cent.
Toronto’s mayoral candidates should be coming out with plans to make Torontonians’ lives more affordable. But leading candidates want taxpayers to make do with even less.
One leading candidate, Councillor Josh Matlow, is calling for tax hikes that go beyond Tory’s reckless plans. Matlow wants to raise property taxes by an additional $390 million over the next five years.
Matlow claims Tory’s supposed penny-pinching approach “kept taxes artificially low by starving the services that made Toronto the incredible city I grew up in.”
But he couldn’t be more wrong: spending increased by 35 per cent above and beyond inflation under Tory’s watch. That’s a long way from austerity.
If Matlow really believes the spin he’s selling, he should get a reality check by knocking on the doors of a few homes of seniors on fixed incomes. In this time of rising costs, he should ask those seniors if they feel property taxes have been kept “artificially low.”
Candidates should be looking to save, not to tax. Matlow could find a similar amount of budget room by cancelling wasteful initiatives like the city’s $300 million bid to host a handful of World Cup games in 2026.
Gil Penalosa, who came in second behind Tory in last year’s election, is also promising higher property taxes. Many more who have joined the race have alluded to raising taxes but haven’t yet firmly committed to doing so in a written platform.
Toronto’s mayoral election period may have just begun but now is the time for candidates to make it clear to potential voters where they stand on spending and taxes.
This year, the city is facing a budget shortfall of about $933 million. As cities also can’t run deficits, that means whoever is elected in June will have to make difficult choices.
Annual city spending increased by $6.5 billion under Tory’s watch. Rolling back just 14 per cent of that increase could make up for the entire budget shortfall. Going back to last year’s spending levels could close the entire gap.
Tory and Deputy Mayor Jennifer McKelvie have gone cap in hand to the Ford and Trudeau governments asking for a bailout. But just like a college kid who’s maxed out their credit card, Toronto politicians should be forced to pay down the balance instead of having their parents wipe out the entire bill.
Toronto’s mayoral candidates need to get serious, and fast. Candidates need to present a serious plan to rein in spending, keep property tax hikes below the rate of inflation and close the budget gap created by reckless city spending in recent years. Taxpayers deserve nothing less.
Jay Goldberg is the Ontario & Interim Atlantic Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
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