The dramatic municipal opera currently underway in Toronto over embattled Mayor Rob Ford is fascinating for those of us who live in small hinterland “non-world class cities” that are supposedly devoid of the sophisticated political leadership enjoyed by cities like Toronto. The enduring popularity and populism of Rob Ford in Toronto despite his outrageous behavior gives one cause to wonder if there indeed is any truth to the claim that his core constituency is based on his sound fiscal leadership of Toronto.
Today’s Toronto Star attempted at length to deflate the claims that he has been a sound fiscal steward and saved Toronto taxpayers one billion dollars. The Toronto Star “deconstructed” the specific claims Rob Ford has made with respect to saving Torontonians from assorted user fees, the elimination of a vehicle registration tax, outsourcing and other efficiencies. As well, the article concluded by noting that “Though he has slowed the pace of spending growth — and come close to stopping it totally — spending has increased a little bit each year, from $9.38 billion in 2011 to $9.39 billion in 2012 to $9.43 billion in 2013.” These numbers refer to “tax supported” gross spending and there is additional rate supported spending funded by waste management fees, parking fees and water fees. For example, in 2012 the total gross operating budget was approximately 10.7 billion dollars of which 9.4 billion dollars was tax supported and 1.2 billion was rate supported.
Of course it is useful to note that Rob Ford took office in 2010 and it might be more interesting to compare the total gross expenditure for Toronto both before 2010 as well as after 2010 to see what patterns or trends emerge. The accompanying figure plots the operating gross expenditures (tax and rate supported) from City of Toronto budgets since 2001 and the results are interesting. Spending in Toronto has grown steadily but the rate of growth has moderated. From 2002 to 2010, the average annual growth rate in spending works out to just over six percent per annum. For the period 2010 to 2013 it works out to 2.7 percent per annum. This would suggest that the Ford administration has cut the total gross municipal expenditure growth rate in half.
That Rob Ford has been embarrassing and appalling in his public performance as mayor of Toronto is something that is obvious for all to see. As for the fiscal record, Toronto is certainly not spending a billion dollars less than it was in 2010 though whether it is spending a billion dollars less than it might have without Rob Ford is open to debate. What is noteworthy and obviously a factor in his core popular support is that while Toronto is spending more than it was in 2010, there has been a very pronounced moderation in expenditure growth.