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.
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.
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.
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.
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.