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City council rejects new taxes to fund transit

Wading back into transit tax talks Thursday, city council rejected a laundry list of potential revenue tools to fund transit.

A fuel tax, parking levy, road tolls, property tax hike and transit fare increase — among the 14 absolutely-nots from council — but it is staying silent on a sales tax and development charges.

Mayor Rob Ford was claiming victory after the chaotic council meeting that frayed the nerves of councillors, and tested the patience of reporters on Thursday.

“This is one of the greatest days in Toronto history,” Ford said.

“We fended off the wolves today and saved the taxpayers at least a $1,000 a family, a household,” he said.

“Can’t just increase taxes. People have had enough,” he said.

Ford thinks it sends the premier a message to back away from new taxes but Coun. Janet Davis says council has just passed the buck.

“We certainly haven’t made a clear statement and there’s an absolute lack of leadership here on the floor of council by a number of people. I think it’s sad,” she said.

Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon would have preferred more decisiveness but says at least it is something.

“It’s small steps here. It drives me crazy because I just wanted jump and leaps and bounds.”

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti is telling the province to do its own dirty work.

“If the province wants to raise taxes, then have the courage to tell the people of this province and the people of the city of Toronto that you want to raise taxes by $1,000 per household,” he said.

On Tuesday, city councillors voted 27-13 in favour of debating transit revenue tools, overruling the mayor’s executive committee.

Last month, the mayor’s executive committee tried to delay the debate until May 28, one day after Metrolinx hands down its recommendations to the province on how the transit expansion should be funded.

Ontario, under Metrolinx, is in the midst of a transit expansion plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area called the Big Move, a plan the province says will reduced gridlock and improve economic activity in the region.

The Big Move is expected to cost $50 billion over 25 years to fund projects including a downtown relief line in Toronto, a Yonge subway extension and rapid transit in Brampton and Hamilton.

City staff recommended development charges, a fuel tax, a parking levy and sales tax. Staff, including the city manager and the TTC CEO, began to take questions in an occasionally heated debate on Wednesday.

“We have to expand our transit systems in order to reduce gridlock. People in Toronto have made that link,” city manager Joe Pennachetti said in response to questions Wednesday.

When asked why he had not included high occupancy tolls or hot lanes into his report, Pannachetti explained that they were possible options in the longer term and that hot lanes were going to be recommended in 2020.

“More transit options are needed before you look into vehicle tax,” he said.

Mayor Rob Ford has said he does not support any new taxes but did not offer any other models for funding. He has vowed to make transit funding an election issue.

Pennachetti appeared to take a shot at Ford during the question period, saying that when “you start saying no to certain revenue tools to Metrolinx and the province…you have to have others to consider.”

With files from Christine Chubb

Elsewhere at city council:

  • Councillors approved a request for report from the executive committee and the city manager to study the feasibility of expanding the island airport and allowing certain jets to land at the downtown airport.
  • Councillors voted unanimously in favour of a property tax break for the Toronto International Film Festival. A portion of the TIFF Bell Lightbox, at 350 King St. West, will be exempt.
  • Debate to come on waiving the rental for bike parking at the Nathan Phillip Square Bike Station.
  • Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton are calling for drivers to maintain a distance of one metre when passing bicyclists. The motion is also subject to a two-thirds vote.
  • Ownership of Bixi. Staff are recommending the city take over the program and TTC Chair Karen Stintz may suggest putting it under the TTC’s watch. However, Ford is calling for the program to be dissolved.
  • The proposed Toronto casino, another hot-button topic, was deferred from the May 7-8  meeting to a special council meeting on May 21.