A pie-graph showing the assemblage of charges from the very long Ontario budget document.  Image from www.fin.gov.on.ca

Ontario Budget Gives, Takes from Hogtown

What do you give to a city that has everything except the ability to balance its books? If you're the Ontario Liberal Party releasing their annual buget yesterday, the answer seems to be... expenses.

In a budget hearkening back to the tricks - underreporting resources throughout the year in order to produce a pleasantly surprising budget at the end - played by Paul Martin back as federal Finance Minister the Liberals gave Toronto lots of goodies, but also saddled us with expenses that our cash-strapped city can ill-afford.

The arts and culture funding - $49 million to help rebuild the homes of six Toronto instutitions - is much appreciated, as is the $200 million budget bail-out that while obstentiably for the TTC is likely to just go into general city revenue. What isn't appreciated, for this city that has been behind the financial 8-ball ever since the province downloaded services and expenses to it (a move that McGuinty had promised to fix, but thus far has not done so) is handing us a bill that could reach as much as $700 million between us and the hinterland of York Region.

Subway expansion is a very good thing - athough it could be argued that completing the Sheppard subway, or replacing the SRT should be a higher priority - and the move to extend the Spadina line across York University and past Steeles Ave W is welcomed: if it ever happens.

Unfortunately, the provincial government is only willing to put up a third of the cost for expansion. The other $1.4 billion dollars are expected to come 50/50 from the feds and the city. While the money from Ottawa is both reasonable and likely to be met, the story is much murkier on the final third.

Toronto is a city that has not been able to balance it's buget since being formed from the six former municipalities of which it is comprised; it is a city being slowly starved of necessary funding from programs and services vital to its denizens; it is, in short, a city in a cash crunch. The funny thing about cities experiencing financial austerity is that they don't have the wherewithall to engage in massive new spending projects - including subways.

The Spadina extension is a good thing, and should be made real - but if the Ontario government wants to play the hero and reap the benefits of helping Toronto's transit system, it needs to do more than promise money the city can ill afford. If Queen's Park wants to make this happen, it needs to start with either uploading the costs of welfare and social housing or paying a greater share of the cost of subway expansion - preferably both.

Otherwise we'll end up with a hole in the ground, and no money to fill it with.

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