March 21, 2012
With a debate about the future of transit on Sheppard Avenue underway at City Hall, Budget Chief Mike Del Grande is proposing a levy on commercial parking spots across the city in order to pay for transit expansion.
Mr. Del Grande says the fee could raise about $90-million a year for a “rapid transit legacy fund” dedicated to constructing new lines, starting with an extension of the Sheppard subway, and continuing someday with other long desired projects, such as connecting Yonge-Sheppard station to the University-Spadina line, a downtown relief line, an extension to the Zoo and to Sherway Gardens.
But no one — not the Mayor’s office, not even his closest allies on council — can say if Rob Ford is on board with a transit dedicated fee. “You’ll have to ask the Mayor,” Mr. Del Grande told reporters during the city council meeting that will decide what kind of transit to build on Sheppard Avenue. An expert panel is recommending that council endorse a 13-kilometre light rail extension to the existing Sheppard subway. The Mayor and his allies want a subway extension, but have been pushed to show how the city could fund it. There is about $1-billion in provincial and federal funding available for a line on Sheppard, which proponents say is enough for an LRT. A subway would cost much more.
“Councillors have said show us the money, show us the plan,” Mr. Del Grande said. He believes the city can extend the subway to the Scarborough Town Centre by 2020 with the parking levy and the other committed funding, but it’s unclear if that would be enough. Estimates for the subway extension range between $2.7 and $3.7-billion.
Mr. Del Grande’s proposal does not contemplate taking out debt to build the subway. He says the levy would act as seed money that would be bolstered by development charges, tax increment financing and public private partnerships. “Round numbers, it’s $100-million, and you take $100-million, five years, you’ve got $500-million dollars, that you can either leverage it, you can combine it with other levels of government, hoping for one third, one third, back to transit funding,” he said. “But you can’t do anything if you don’t have money in the bank.”
A parking levy could result in a backlash from merchants.
During questioning at the meeting, the city’s chief financial officer warned that a parking levy could result in a backlash from merchants, or hurt the city’s economic competitiveness. If approved, the levy would be implemented next year.
Mr. Del Grande says there will always be opponents to any new fee or tax. “And that’s why we’re in the pickle that we’re in in this city, that wants to proclaim itself as world class, and we’re nowhere near world class,” he said. “Go ask cities like Madrid, Paris, London how they do it, and we don’t do it. We just sat around for three decades and did absolutely nothing.”
Councillor Josh Matlow says he is not swayed by Mr. Del Grande’s proposal. The mid-town councillor says he is willing to ask people to pay more taxes, but only if the project makes sense.
“If one were to ask me to support a subway that went through the city core, where there is high density, and projected ridership growth, that I wouldn’t have to subsidize with tax dollars every year, I would consider finding revenue tools,” he said. “The question of money aside, the right rapid transit for the Sheppard corridor is an LRT.”
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said the city should have established a dedicated transit fund years ago. He said both he and the Mayor have “great difficulty” with the idea of a transit specific tax, but he is willing to hear it out. “It doesn’t mean if we did support a dedicated tax or some other source of funding towards subways and rapid transit that we’re aborting our plans to reduce costs and try and find efficiencies,” he told reporters.
Meanwhile, six Scarborough MPPs also issued a letter on Wednesday in support of the Sheppard extension. Liberal MPPs Brad Duguid, Bas Balkissoon, Margarett Best, Lorenzo Berardinetti, Soo Wong, and Tracy MacCharles signed a letter calling on Mayor Ford and city council to “find common ground” on an issue that has pit subway supporters against light rail transit proponents. “Our support as representatives of Scarborough remains behind the underground option for the Eglinton Crosstown line and exploring all options for the extension of the Sheppard subway line,” they wrote.
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