Executive Committee Undermines Environmental Good from Road Tolls

Road tolls, in principle, should be a good thing for the environment - if the money collected goes towards supporting environmental programs. But decisions made by the Mayor’s Executive Committee on December 1 pretty well guarantee this won’t happen.

The ​media​ buzz ​around​ the Mayor and his hand-picked Executive Committee members focused on their bold action to support ​road​ ​tolls. It​ ​mostly​ ignored ​the​ ​fact​ ​that​ ​the​ Executive Committee refused​ ​to​ ​look​ ​at​ ​a​ ​host​ ​of​ ​other​ ​revenue​ ​tools​ ​necessary​ ​to​ ​secure​ ​Toronto’s​ ​financial​ ​future. ​ ​As a​ ​result,​ ​every​ ​penny​ ​of​ ​potential​ ​road​ ​toll​ ​revenue​ ​will​ ​effectively​ ​go​ ​to​ ​pay​ ​for​ ​the ill-considered​ ​Gardiner​ ​Expressway​ ​refurbishment​ ​adopted​ ​by​ ​Council​ ​in​ ​2015.

This shouldn’t have happened. In the first couple of hours of the Executive Committee meeting on December 1st, Mayor Tory emphasized that Toronto was finally having an “adult conversation” about the needs for new revenue sources. The City’s ongoing reliance on property taxes and the land transfer tax is fiscally dangerous. Add to this a host of new budget pressures -- refurbishing the Gardiner, SmartTrack, better flood protection, the Poverty Reduction Strategy -- and there is no choice but to find new funding sources.
City Manager Peter Wallace, tasked with navigating Toronto’s fiscal future, took this “adult conversation” seriously:  he presented an adult analysis and adult solutions. His report presented a package that would help solve short term funding needs and lay the groundwork for a long term solution to Toronto’s financial crisis:
  • Revenue tools that could be implemented immediately to raise the money needed to pay the bills in 2017. This included a vehicle registration fee.

  • Permission to begin an conversation with the Province about a set of other tools that could be used  in future years; namely, road tolls, a parking levy, a municipal income tax, a share of the HST, and graduated property taxes. These tools require Provincial approval.

Sadly, Mayor Tory decided not to listen. Within hours of the City Manager’s report going public, Mayor Tory rejected re-introducing the vehicle registration fee (which was cut in 2011 under Rob Ford), effectively eliminating $75 million of needed revenue to fill a funding shortfall for the 2017 budget.

A week later at the Executive Committee meeting, Mayor Tory and his hand-picked Committee members rejected the City Manager’s key solutions.  They said no to the vehicle registration fee. They said no to beginning an “adult” discussions with the Province about progressive revenue tools like an income tax, HST revenues, a parking levy or a graduated property tax. In effect, the Executive Committee gutted all the long term solutions to Toronto’s financial crisis except for road tolls.

Unfortunately, this fact was mostly lost in the media coverage, which focused almost completely on the decision to say yes to road tolls.

The impact on the environment is devastating:
  • By not supporting a vehicle registration fee, the 2017 budget is still missing $91 million in revenues needed to pay for city programs and services cut by over 2.6%. That means there is no chance to reverse the TTC fare increase and service cuts. As well, there is no chance to find money to pay for necessary climate change actions that need to be ramped up in 2017, if we hope to adequately respond to climate change.

  • By not supporting discussion with the Province about a possible municipal income tax, or a share of the HST, or a parking levy, there is no hope of finding new money in the next few years to pay for the unfunded climate change actions and better TTC service.

  • And, if the the road toll revenue ever materializes, not a penny will be available for actual programs that help the environment. The money will, at best, help pay for the Gardiner refurbishment.

Mayor Tory’s support for road tolls has, sadly, become a diversion from the real story: the so-called “adult” conversation on revenue tools never happened. Instead, the Executive Committee rejected the City Manager’s solutions to Toronto’s revenue challenges. For those concerned about Toronto’s ability to prepare for climate change, the Executive Committee has effectively doomed us to years more of inaction.

The only hope left to Torontonians is that a majority of City Councillors will reject Mayor Tory’s Executive Committee recommendations and truly consider City Manager Wallace’s “adult” solutions to Toronto’s financial woes.