Friday, January 12, 2007

Public input on London's 2007 draft budget, part 2

London's board of control was buried under a barrage of funding requests yesterday totalling more than twice the amount budgeted.
So begins Joe Belanger's account in the London Free Press of the mass supplication at the public input meeting in front of board of control as part of the 2007 draft budget process. With no exception but for one, reprinted yesterday in The London Fog, every presentation was either a direct request for funds or a less direct but no less mistakable plea for consideration for pet constituencies. A summary can be found here. It should finally come as no surprise to anyone that an invitation for public input from governments has become received in reality as an invitation to that demonstrative and vocal segment of the population that reasons that it has something to gain from the proceedings, and there has been no disappointment in the invitation's reception this year. Agencies and institutions in London have become professional welfare advocates for themselves as a result not only of these proceedings but of their continual success in obtaining something for themselves at no greater cost than a paid day's work in preparing a sentimental exposition of their perceived value to themselves. So much easier! And if this has the side-effect of anaesthetizing Londoners into submission to the idea that the municipal government, rather than themselves, will be the caretaker and progenitor of their communities… well, hey, that's where the money is.

Noting the single contrary presentation, one commenter noted that it was"no doubt received with fixed, polite smiles." Facial expressions were not noted in the minutes, but deputy mayor and budget chief Tom Gosnell, the "Taxpayer's Friend," was certainly quick on his rhetorical feet, beginning with an "I agree with a lot of what you said, but…" …a "but" that commenced a five-minute lecture that blamed other levels of government for London's high taxes and spending, alluding to the downloading on to municipalities of responsibility for social housing and… well, for social housing at least. (Coun. Roger Caranci commiserated: "Boy, that social housing, I wish we could give back that social housing…") This is an idiocy, of course, on both sides, but for the sake of conflating this one example in to the well of miseries in this town, one is supposed to agree with the implication that the province that downloaded this responsibility also decreed exactly what and how much the city must do and spend on it, which is stuff and nonsense. At the time, Gosnell and Caranci failed to contend, of course, with the unfavourable comparison of London's taxes, debt and economic growth with other Ontario municipalities that have faced exactly the same legislated circumstances. But to support the paltry inference anyway, Gosnell made the contention that London pays out $80 million more in taxes to other levels of government than it receives back. Where does this number come from? It is admittedly a modest adjustment of Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best's extravagant claim back in June that the figure is $400 million instead, but one must conclude from the discrepancy that Gosnell and DeCicco-Best are pulling numbers right out of their heads, or at the least that there are elaborate, conflicting and, in the end, meaningless methodologies at work here. The heavy dependence of London's economy on institutions like the university, college and hospitals, to name just a few of the biggest, suggests instead quite the opposite — that London receives a net fiscal benefit from the largesse of provincial and federal governments, but that it cannot be counted by local politicians unless it passes through their own clutches first.

Gosnell's harangue continued to ring hollow. Responding to mention of London's competitive disadvantages, unemployment and failure to attract new business, he let loose with the stunner that industries don't want to locate in large centres anyway, but for no apparent reason that he would give, London's central economic location, large labour force, and proximity to major markets and transportation thoroughfares notwithstanding. The inevitable implication of this astonishing absurdity is that London is eventually doomed to economic ruin — unless, perhaps, it disaggregates into smaller jurisdictional constituents, in which case the city's lobbying efforts have been entirely misdirected. But those citizens who have not escaped, however, are, in Gosnell's words, the "majority" who have elected incumbents like himself to continue the course. In response to a reminder that the majority of the electorate did not in fact even vote, Gosnell quickly rejoined that it was the majority of those who bothered to vote. As someone who himself received only about twenty per cent of the electorate's approval, Gosnell would do well to consider just why the nominal majority did not vote for him or any of the other incumbent members of council.

Caranci, the Dale to Gosnell's Chip in yesterday's matinee, closed off the round of condescension by remarking that he was absolutely confident that council's investment of tax dollars "in the community" would pay off in the long run. Ignoring the long awaited evidence, then, one could only conclude from this logic that council has not spent enough and that Londoners would be in fact best served by turning over their entire economic output to the city's wise and beneficent management. Thanks, but no thanks.

1 Comment:

Carmi said...

It's a storied London tradition: civic groups and assorted hangers-on line up to beg for handouts from a suddenly flush municipal government.

Note to the Dufferington politicos: that's my money you're playing with. Apply it to real services, not beggars who show up once a year as if guided by the inexorable paths of the moon.

And if you missed your fiscal targets and ended up with too much money left over at the end of the year, set it aside and apply it to expenses over the coming year. I don't give away any of my extra money to complete strangers, and neither should you.