Is Robertson's drive to become Premier tainting Vancouver's budget making process?
As part of our ongoing coverage of Vancouver's 2010 operating budget, our stable of writers thought it might be interesting to delve a little deeper into the financial pickle the city has apparently got itself into. As many of you know, Vancouver council is proposing to freeze business taxes, raise residential property taxes by at least 4%, then cut a number of programs and services. All the while, they claim that due to tough economic times, there is simply no money left to pay for "luxury" expenditures like the children's petting zoo or the Bloedel conservatory.
Vision also claims (despite the fact this is their second budget since they formed government) that the big bad NPA have forced them to make all these cuts. This mantra is what Vancouver voters have grown accustomed to hearing from Mayor Robertson and his Vision crew. Something bad happening at city hall? Blame the NPA.
That's why we thought it might be interesting to look at the 2008 Financial Statements document from the City of Vancouver to see how bad things were when Robertson and Co. took over the reigns of power. According to the city's auditors:
Through tight fiscal control, the City was able to manage expenditures within the Operating Budget envelope ending the year with an excess of revenues over expenditures of $6.6 million.
Hmmm...interesting when you juxtapose the independent auditor's statement "tight fiscal control" against the spin Vision is out there trying to sell to the public. Who do you believe?
Furthermore, where did the $6.6 million bucks from the operating budget surplus go? Was it squirreled away for a rainy day when revenues might be lower perhaps? There are a few concerned citizens and CUPE employees in Vancouver who think it might be raining outside right about now.
Here is another damning statement from the auditor about the previous NPA government's fiscal management skills:
Net assets increased by $2.0 billion (18%) to approximately $13.0 billion
Boy, now we're really talking fiscal mismanagement.
How about the fact that at the end of 2008, there was over $424,000,000 dollars sitting in "reserve" accounts. This is an increase of almost $25 million dollars from the prior fiscal year. Oh yes, more fiscal imcompetence.
No matter who you speak to these days, it is universally agreed that Vision has completely bungled this budget process - both from a communications/messaging and political perspective. They have stressed out unionized employees, choked up the gardening community, and have even alienated children's groups who are cyring foul over the petting zoo closure.
The latest news release from the community centre presidents posted on Frances Bula's blog is yet another blow to Vision. With the exception of the Downtown Vancouver Business Association (DVBIA), few are standing up to publicly applaud Robertson's budget cuts. If you recall, it was also the DVBIA who were the only group to openly cheer on Sam Sullivan's Project Civil City.
In their never-ending attempt to "out NPA the NPA", they are simply trying to become everything to everyone. By doing so, Vision is quickly alienating many of their supporters on the left who remain puzzled at what is driving the Mayor's quest to keep business taxes frozen while slashing core public services.
There are some who believe all this tough budget talk has more to do with Robertson's quest to become the next Premier, rather than good civic politics. The Mayor's senior advisors clearly believe that a "fiscally conservative" green mayor would have widespread appeal with the rank and file membership of any political party...be it BC Liberal or NDP.
Meanwhile as the Mayor and his coterie are dreaming of installing new carpets in the West Wing of BC's legislature, his caucus colleagues are being hung out to dry. Clearly there will not be enough room for all of them to head over to Victoria with Robertson. Therefore, I can only imagine a few of them are quietly wondering if all this slashing and burning is really going to help their chances at getting re-elected only 23 months from now. I rather doubt it.