Toronto council splits left and right in budget battle

Toronto homeowners are facing a four per cent tax hike today despite efforts Tuesday night by an opposition bloc of city councillors to soften mayor David Miller’s budget blow.

An ‘alternate budget’, calling for a two per cent tax hike instead of four, was brought before council by Peter Milczyn, Etobicoke-Lakeshore, on behalf of a group of councillors calling themselves The Responsible Government Group.

The group also wanted council to freeze all city staff pay, freeze TTC fares and cut the number of staff hired by city hall. Their agenda was voted down by a vote of 19 to 26.

Some councillors such as Howard Moscoe, Eglinton-Lawrence, scoffed at the RGG’s proposals:

“We have a group that calls themselves responsible, but is proposing to cut jobs and the services we need during a recession responsible?” Moscoe said.

Moscoe added a four per cent tax hike would not cripple homeowners: “No one likes to increase taxes, but sometimes you’ve got to do it to make it work,” he said.

Moscoe alleged the RGG had plans to TTC service, such as the new bus and streetcar routes that run into off-peak hours.

Supporters of the group such as York South-Weston councillor Frances Nunziata shot back and said the package would preserve current services offered by the city.

“It’s a responsible budget,” Nunziata said. “It shows that councillors on this committee (the RGG) really care and are bringing forward an alternative that would assist the taxpayers.

“If we can achieve that, without reducing services, I don’t why these members of council are getting up and opposing it,” Nunziata said.

Eglinton-Lawrence councillor Karen Stintz,  a member of the RGG, said the city is facing budget problems because they did not institute a similar plan earlier.

“The reason we’re here today is because of the choices we didn’t make six years ago,” Stintz said.

She said that while the package was hardly bold, it “changes the course and sets us in a new direction.”

Etobicoke North councillor Rob Ford came out against raising taxes all together. He said there was ‘more than enough room’ for the city run its affairs without raising taxes at all.

For Ford, the best approach would be to cut what he sees as excess spending in city council. He pointed out examples such as councilor Adam Vaughan spending $8,500 on office furniture and fellow RGG member Stintz, spending $4,000 on a vocal coach.

“You do what the private sector is doing,” Ford said. “You tighten your belt, you can’t go out and spend, spend, spend in the middle of a recession.”

Ford had close to 16 motions for proposed savings of approximately $156 million, many of which were not passed.

“This is absolutely wrong. This is not a left or right issue, this is a common sense issue,” he said. “Let’s start cutting back all our perks and stop blaming every one else.”

Filed by Omar Mosleh