It is the last weekend of summer, we are getting ready for all the events of fall: the start of school for kids and the start of budget season at city hall. On Tuesday, as kids are in their classrooms, the city’s budget committee will be considering the second quarter variance reports for both operating and capital budgets.
As we would expect from the report on the first half of the year’s operating spending, some expenditures are higher than expected, and some are lower. The main drivers of the variance were lower costs due to unfilled vacancies, and higher than expected revenues from the Land Transfer Tax. If things continue as city staff expect, there will be a surplus at the end of the year of $58.5 million. News stories about this report have focussed on the Mayor’s desire to reduce the Land Transfer Tax.
City council and Torontonians should heed lessons from the summer. The flooding in Etobicoke shows how our investments in infrastructure need to accommodate the extreme weather associated with climate change. The continuing tragedy of the loss of our youth to violence points to the need for increased investments from the operating budget on programming and supports to address the roots of this violence. Finally, the spectacle of yet another delay in moving forward on transit investment as a result of short term political calculations points to the need for a better decision making process. The events of this summer show that we need to take a different approach and a wider lens to the city’s budget.
On October 19th, the Wellesley Institute, along with Better Budget TO, will be sponsoring a policy hackathon to take that wider perspective, and brainstorm ideas to improve the budget process.