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Rob Ford’s “billion dollars” in savings is actually probably more like $350 million

(Image: Christopher Drost)

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Here’s Rob Ford, speaking to a Fox News reporter in November:

And these aren’t my numbers John. I’ve saved the taxpayers a billion dollars in the first three years of my mandate. These [numbers] are from the city manager Joe Pennachetti and Rob Rossini the CFO.

On too many occasions to count, in interviews and in mayoral debates, the mayor has used versions of that same soundbite to defend his claim that he has saved taxpayers “a billion dollars” over the course of his mayoralty. He even got some backup from Pennachetti and Rossini—two of the city’s top bureaucrats—last month when they released a briefing note explaining where the billion-dollar figure came from.

Monday, after reporters had already spent weeks debunking that briefing note (the Star’s Daniel Dale did a better job of it than anyone else), Pennachetti and Rossini released a second briefing note that makes a key distinction. Yes, Rob Ford has arguably saved the city about $893 million. But, the briefing note says in impenetrable bureaucratese, if we’re going to talk about “savings” as personal accomplishments of different mayors, David Miller was almost as good.

Miller’s allegedly irresponsible spending remains a key talking point for Ford’s campaign, even four years after the fact. And yet, according to the briefing note, Miller saved about $545 million between 2007 and 2010. Going by those numbers (and it’s important to note that there’s still some debate about what actually constitutes “savings”) Ford’s actual savings, compared to his predecessor, are probably more on the order of $350 million. And that’s before factoring in all the costs associated with his decisions.

At a media briefing yesterday, Pennachetti actually told reporters a version of this. “In terms of budget savings being a billion dollars,” the Star quotes him as saying, “that is misleading compared to previous administrations.”

Monday’s briefing note also makes it clear that savings alone haven’t been key to balancing budgets over the past four years. The Ford administration has had an increasing amount of help from the province. Also increasingly helpful: the land transfer tax, a David Miller initiative that Ford at one point promised to abolish. Here’s the city’s graph:

balancing-strategy-graph

(MLTT is the land transfer tax and “upload” is recurring funding from the provincial government.)

Ford continues to stand by his billion-dollar claim. When asked for a response to Monday’s briefing, he reportedly said: “He [Pennachetti] should run for mayor and debate me.”

So now, suddenly, the city manager’s math is up for debate. That’s convenient.