February 6th 2014
On balance and considering their limitations, Toronto council put together a proper so-so budget for 2014. It’s too bad that in the midst of all that mediocrity, the most vital debate in the 2014 budget deliberations didn’t quite happen.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of talk about the wisdom of slathering a 0.5 per cent property tax premium to pay for a portion of a multi-billion dollar subway going into Scarborough, because there was.
St. Paul’s Councillor Josh Matlow provoked a couple of high-octane discussions about the property tax hike.
On the first day of the budget deliberations, he tried to have the property tax hike itself voted on separately. He was thwarted then by Speaker Frances Nunziata and council’s procedural rules, and then council supported her ruling on a razor-thin margin.
And once that vote happened — it was done. When Matlow, an admitted nay-sayer on the Scarborough subway, moved a motion to put off spending any of the proceeds of that tax until 2015, Nunziata ruled that out of order on the legal advice that such a decision might open up the city to a legal challenge. To whit: you can’t say you’re levying a tax for a specific purpose then not spend it there.
And so council, in their last budget debate before the election, went ahead and charged taxpayers for work on a subway that still may never be built.
Now, it’s true that council has supported the subway to replace the Scarborough RT, and when it voted to do so last year, Metrolinx agreed to build it.
But there are still impediments.
For one thing, there are elections coming up: likely a provincial election, and a municipal election Oct. 27. And while there is a large contingent of voters in Scarborough who believe that a shorter subway line is a better fit than a longer light rail line, there’s every indication they’re not a majority.
A poll released Monday, Feb. 3 by Leger shows that 61 per cent of Toronto voters would prefer a light rail line and 56 per cent of Scarborough voters would like light rail over a subway.
In Toronto, at least one serious mayoralty candidate, David Soknacki, has indicated that if elected in October will steer the course back to light rail. Others may or may not follow suit, depending on how public opinion goes across the city over the coming months.
Mayor Rob Ford will almost certainly continue to support subways, on the likely correct assumption that the minority of subway supporters will intersect almost perfectly with his own base. A smart opponent would leave that base to Ford, and go after a portion of the streetcar-loving majority.
As to the province? Who knows what a fresh legislature will bring to the question of subways in Toronto.
All in all, it seems an unwarranted risk, betting a 0.5 per cent 2014 property tax hike on the vagaries of election-year politicking.
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