Monday, May 1, 2006

Special interests speak out on London budget…

Hint: it's not for your interest!

City council meets tonight to decide whether to approve a 3.9 per cent tax hike instead of the 2.95 per cent increase council passed in January, or to re-open the budget to find some means of reducing the hike to three per cent or less. Having faced hikes of 5.9 and 6.6 per cent in the past two years, London homeowners are among the highest taxed in the country — and even if the increase is reduced to three per cent, hikes for sewer and water charges of 9.6 and 5 per cent means that the overall increase would still be nearly five per cent. Needless to say, mayor Anne Marie DeCicco and board of control — with the exception of Tom Gosnell — are recommending that the 3.9 per cent hike be passed.

An article in the London Free Press today canvasses the opinion of Gloria McGinn-McTeer, past chairman of the Urban League of London, for no apparent reason except that she is the Free Press' anointed parser of municipal affairs — anointed because the Urban League shares the sympathies of many Free Press reporters. Billed as "an umbrella organization for about 50 civic groups," the Urban League is a lobbying coalition of local special interest groups that variously promote environmentalism, heritage restrictions, "creative cities" arts boondoggles and pesticide bylaws and oppose development — rather like the Imagine London and the London Coalition Against Pesticides cliques that have enjoyed such a disproportionate influence in local politics lately, or at least disproportionate press coverage, and that receive the spiritual patronage of the Urban League at the least (or a more material backing as well, if what I've heard is true). So what does the Urban League in the person of McGinn-McTeer have to say about this year's taxpayer obligations to the city?

But Gloria McGinn-McTeer […] wants council to "hold the line" and leave the budget alone.

"I'm sure they're embarrassed they can't maintain their promise," she said of council members grappling with the threatened increase. "But the situation we're seeing this year," she noted, "is a compilation of many years of fiscal mismanagement that's catching up."
It's kind of her to acknowledge fiscal mismanagement — especially after her organization trots out before council every year with requests for budget entitlements for its various special interest constituents. But what is the Urban League's particular interest in leaving the budget as it stands?
[W]hile it's a "fallacy" that reopening the city budget would cause chaos, with politicians and groups scrambling for changes, "that's been an argument of convenience for not doing it in the past and I want to see them be consistent in their approach," she said.
That's a pretty steep price to pay for a "consistent approach." So many reasonable-sounding words that mean not a whit. The danger for the Urban League is that if the budget is re-opened, council might — might — find, if not the political fortitude, at least the political expediency of cutting some spending to community groups to reduce the tax increase in an election year. The last thing McGinn-McTeer and her groups want to do after having exacted their pound of flesh is to go back to "scrambling for changes" again. Tomorrow will tell, but with DeCicco and most of the board of control on the "blame the province" bandwagon, I don't think she'll need to worry about any sudden bouts of spending restraint.

Postscript: The apparently rational objection to questioning the appearance and motives of the Urban League could be made that the Free Press also cites the opinions of Gerry Macartney, president of the London Chamber of Commerce, who favours reducing the tax hike to three per cent or less "without shifting the burden to business and industry." Aside from the sly disparagement by the Free Press reporter of the Chamber of Commerce as a "powerful lobby" — two words that have never been and will never be ascribed to the Urban League even though it is engaged in precisely the same activity and is at least as powerful if the understanding of the term is derived from budget results from the past few years — the Chamber of Commerce is not appealing in this case for political favours that promote its interests but for restraining those political favours by city hall that fetter business' interests. Business would not require an advanced political agenda to succeed — however, uninhibited spending on interests that can only succeed politically pose an unnecessary obstacle to its legal practice. With electricity rates going up 12.9 per cent, natural gas prices and gasoline prices rising 22.7 and 20 per cent respectively in the last year, and a five per cent or greater increase in property obligations to the city, "[i]t doesn't take a mathematics degree to know people are rapidly falling behind" to the detriment of both people and business. The city cannot do anything about the other increases in the cost of living, but it is directly responsible for the latter, despite what our mayor would have us believe.


Greg Thompson said...

Just a minor correction in the interest of accuracy, Mapmaster. The tax increase is 3.9% for residential property owners - something less than that for commercial and industrial property owners, and something more than that for multi-family property owners. The net increase in taxes is something on the order of 2.95%.

This, of course, has no real effect on the overall strength or weakness of your subsequent arguments.

MapMaster said...

Thanks for the additional information, Bonnie. We do have an opening for a position as fact-checker, unpaid of course. To apply, simply ply us with fine whiskies, which we will accept as a gratuity of course.

This, of course, has no real effect on the overall strength or weakness of your subsequent arguments.


Greg Thompson said...

I'm fairly certain that megalomania isn't among the various psychopathologies you exhibit here in your assorted pronouncements on matters large and small.

BTW, I have enough problems with getting my own facts straight without taking responsibility for the facts of others. This particular fact merely seemed singularly egregious. The tax increase is either at or around the rate of inflation, as Council made a commitment to do - or it's not. And it is.

MapMaster said...

I wasn't particularly interested in council's commitment to an increase at the rate of inflation and whether they succeeded or not — that was not the intended thrust. For homeowners (and for businesses and multi-family property owners for that matter) the increase is simply too much, especially when the sewer and water rate increases are considered.

Thank you for checking off megalomania. I am constantly in the process of going through the list and each strike is helpful.

Anonymous said...

Commercial and industrial properties will actually get decreases...