As I’ve mentioned in past blog p0sts, Vancouver’s budget process this year has been an exceptionally difficult one, not just because of the amount of money that is being trimmed, but because it seems to go far beyond what other municipalities are having to do as they also cope with the recession. My story in today’s Globe takes another look at what various groups are saying about the Vancouver budget.
I’ve seen lots of budgets in my day (adopting my old fogey voice here) but I’ve never seen one quite like this, where people from a wide range of political perspectives are questioning the strategy behind the budget process and the tax-increase limit that’s been arrived at. Since very few of us truly understand how to deconstruct a billion-dollar budget, we end up having to rely on statements from the various parties about what’s really going on.
Vision councillors say that the NPA council created a structural deficit that they’re now trying to fix, which means having to drastically rein in otherwise today’s four-per-cent increase will escalate exponentially in the next few years as it takes bigger and bigger increases to cover a pattern of spending far beyond inflation.
The NPA’s Suzanne Anton asks when Vision is going to stop blaming the NPA for everything and she fires back that the mayor and his team have loaded extra costs onto the city because they’re trying to take on provincial issues like homelessness and mental health, which cost big bucks.
It’s not easy to figure out what’s what. Certainly, in past years, I’ve seen the city’s financial people warn councils that even though they’ve made it through this year with a five-per-cent or six-per-cent or four-per-cent increase, the projections for the next year bad and, unless there are some changes, the council will be looking at seven, eight, nine, 10.
But that dire prediction for the next year never seems to come about. Changes DO get made and the next year’s increase, while not necessarily at the rate of inflation, isn’t in the double digits.
Given that, then, I feel as though many of us watching having to decide who we’re going to trust: Vision, claiming that the NPA was steering the city’s financial ship for the rocks; or the NPA, claiming that it’s all political strategy and money spent on what should be provincial social programs. Neither is a completely believable analysis.
It would be great if we could get a few finance wizards commenting on all this, in the way that we get development experts dissecting some of the land-use issues.
BTW, public meetings on the budget start tonight and, with 50 speakers signed up so far, are expected to continue next week.