The mayor’s request that all city departments must cut their budgets by 2.6 per cent is not feasible in a city where spending has already been cut to the bone.

There can’t be a wittier description of the importance of libraries to the souls of citizens — and cities — than that expressed by Saul Bellow, the late Canadian-American writer: “People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”

That’s certainly the picture painted by the Star’s Edward Keenan of a Monday night in Cedarbrae library near Markham Rd. and Lawrence Ave. It was abuzz with activity as kids crowded around the Homework Help Table while others worked on laptops in the Learning Centre or packed into study rooms and around shelves stocked with books in Hindi, Tamil and Pashto.

It wasn’t an unusual night in a city library, but a normal one. Indeed, 70 per cent of Torontonians make use of the city’s library services, many of them kids from poor families who can’t provide their children with tools such as books, never mind computers, that they can utilize at a library.

In fact, libraries — along with subsidized daycare and housing — are one of the best ways the city can help poor kids compete with their counterparts, first in school, then for jobs.

So it’s unthinkable in a city as rich as Toronto that much-needed libraries might have to cut their operating hours further than they already have. But that’s what will happen if they are forced to chop 2.6 per cent from their budget, as Mayor John Tory has requested. It would mean district libraries would close one weeknight evening per week while neighbourhood branches would close three.

It’s unthinkable, as indeed it’s unfortunate that the mayor has asked for similar cuts in all departments from the TTC, to Toronto Community Housing, to parks.

What much of city council doesn’t seem to realize is that budgets have been cut to the bone through years of a tax-adverse “stop the gravy train” attitude at city hall.

But there is no gravy train, as the poor can attest. Indeed, in last year’s budget, which held tax increases to the rate of inflation, there was not one measure to reduce poverty. “The most needy get nothing,” Councillor Gord Perks noted bitterly.

Yet, somehow, the mayor seems to believe that Torontonians can get by on less, even as he supports spending $3.2 billion on the one-stop Scarborough subway.

A growing city does not need more cuts. It needs more investment in vital services, including libraries.

It’s time the mayor and council turned to the difficult work of raising revenues, rather than just slashing budgets.

© Toronto Star