York Study Finds Many Torontonians Okay With Increasing Municipal Taxes

Toronto Skyline Photo by Wikimedia user Chensiyuan (CC-BY-SA) (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Toronto<em>skyline</em>toronto<em>islands</em>b.JPG)Toronto Skyline Photo by Wikimedia user Chensiyuan (CC-BY-SA) (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Torontoskylinetorontoislandsb.JPG)

An interesting study out of York University this morning finds almost one-third of Torontonians think municipal property taxes should increase, compared to only nine percent in the GTA suburbs surrounding Toronto.

613 GTA residents were interviewed by York’s Institute for Social Research.

Of those interviewed: 56% were male, approximately 40% have children under the age of 17 in their household, 40% lived in Toronto proper with 60% in the rest of the GTA.

The interviews were conducted in August and September.

The error rate is 4%.

Hamilton is not part of the study.

I corresponded with researcher David Northrup via email. I asked him if we can draw direct conclusions from this study for Hamilton, his answer is no.

“There are differences within the Toronto CMA, we would think that the social and political landscape in Toronto over the last few years as well as the population composition in terms of age, gender, cultural and ethnic background, years in the city, media exposure,  etc. all might have some impact on opinions, these factors vary between Toronto and say Hamilton, without more data it would be very risky to assume the opinions are the same”

While we cannot draw direct comparisons, we can have a discussion about the interesting findings of the survey, debate the causes, and think about how changing public opinion in Toronto could be reflected in Hamilton.

Interesting Findings – Tax Cuts Not A Priority

57% support keeping property taxes at present levels, with 21% supporting an increase in property taxes to fund services. Only 10% want a property tax cut.

The researchers noted that respondents in Toronto proper differ strongly from the GTA suburbs. A (surprising) 31% in Toronto proper support increasing taxes compared to only 9% in the GTA suburbs.

From the entire pool, only 10% want a property tax cut.

This is interesting as it could mark a significant shift in public opinion about the value of public services.

While running on a platform that includes increasing taxes to address the infrastructure deficit in Hamilton may still be toxic to any candidates electoral chances, this shift may translate into Council considering a dedicated tax to fund infrastructure deficit improvements similar to Burlington’s dedicated infrastructure renewal levy.

Burlington’s dedicated levy is a 0.5% tax increase each year which is directed to infrastructure renewal. When I attended Burlington Council in June, I was impressed by the discussion by their Councillors about the importance of decreasing deferred maintenance by making unpopular choices in the best long-term interest of the community.

The Forum poll of 839 Hamilton voters found 20% of Hamiltonians listed taxes as their top issue. It did not clarify what the stance of these voters were on taxes.

Police No Longer Sacred?

Personally, I found the findings from the question asking “If municipal government needed to make budget cuts, where should they be made?” to be of greatest interest.

Table from York University Survey ResultsTable from York University Survey Results

When asked to make cuts, 21% of respondents choose to cut policing.

More law and order has been a mainstay of municipal candidate platforms in 2006 and 2010.

It’s been assumed that policing and police funding (alongside firefighters) are sacred to the public.

It’s unknown how much of this is related to the fallout of the largest peacetime mass arrests in Canada history during the G20 summit in Toronto.

The Next Four Years

Will further research and study reveal similar public opinion? And if it does, could it change municipal budgets? Could we see a decrease in police budget increases? A freeze? Or even cuts?

Will the public tolerate increased property taxes to address the infrastructure deficit?

This York study has me asking these questions, and also questioning the “conventional wisdom” of taxes and policing.

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