Hamilton councillors expressing reservations about some of Metrolinx's funding suggestions are not alone.
As the May 27 date nears when the Metrolinx board will examine the final funding strategy, politicians across the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area are expessing concerns about not only where the money will come from, but what projects wil be funded. In recent days, politicians in Toronto, Mississauga and Oshawa have all raised concerns about elements of the Metrolinx strategy.
Earlier this year, the city's two Stoney Creek councillors said new tolls and higher taxes to pay for lower city Light Rail Transit (LRT) were non-starters for them. Other suggestions to pay for The Big Move's projects, estimated to cost $50 billion over 25 years, include parking levies and a new fuel tax.
LRT has created other tensions at Hamilton's council table. Coun. Brian McHattie, who is in favour of LRT, has worried that "mixed messages" from council — particularly from Mayor Bob Bratina — could hurt Hamilton's chances of getting transit funding.
"There are a lot of competing projects in the GTA and Hamilton," he said last week. "If it's easier to put money into Mississauga because there's no confusion or hint of controversy, that's where they'll put their money."
McHattie introduced a motion last week to reaffirm LRT as council's priority, and to instruct the mayor to follow council's position when dealing with the province. The motion was deferred.
Mississauga councillor Pat Saito said this week that a parking levy would hurt companies in her ward. That includes General Electric, which has a large employee parking lot.
"For that particular corporation to have to pay a fee in order to provide transit services elsewhere in the region would be extremely unfair," she said.
Mayor John Henry of Oshawa says projects funded through The Big Move must be spread equally across the GTA.
If Toronto's infrastructure is improved at the start, he said, and similar improvements don't come to Durham for a decade or longer, the project will not appeal to his residents.
Toronto's mayor, Rob Ford, is also a vocal opponent of the funding suggestions. He has made it clear at he does not support using provincial taxes to pay for transit improvements and deferred last week's scheduled consideration of a report from the city manager on suggested revenue tools.
Ford's actions mean that Toronto's interests are not represented during Metrolinx's investment strategy deliberations, said Toronto TTC chair Karen Stintz.
"The 905 is going to determine how the residents of Toronto are taxed," she said.
In April, Metrolinx suggested funding tools for covering the cost of transit expansion over the next 25 years. It impacts Hamilton because it is investigating a 13.5-kilometre LRT line running from McMaster University to Eastgate Square.
The suggested funding tools included:
- Development charges.
- Employer payroll tax.
- Fuel tax.
- High occupancy tolls.
- Highway tolls.
- Land value capture.
- Parking space levy, including pay-for-parking transit stations.
- Property tax.
- Sales tax.
- Transit fare increase.
- Vehicle kilometres travelled fee.
These measures are needed to generate about $2 billion annually to pay for the project.
Hamilton Coun. Brad Clark, who represents Ward 9 in Stoney Creek, said his constituents would be strongly opposed to some of the funding methods.
"The challenge is that insufficient funds have come from the feds to pay for roadways all along," Clark said last month.
"And now that we're looking at an expansion of transit and highways, they're dreaming way over their ability to pay. So they're simply looking for other avenues of revenue instead of saying, 'You know, some of these things we simply can't do.' "
Coun. Maria Pearson, who also represents Stoney Creek, said her constituents have little appetite for new taxes for transit, even though the planned LRT project would jut into her ward.
"If we were to look at that, I don't think this community would tolerate it at all. A one per cent tax increase? Come on."
The final strategy will go the Metrolinx board on May 27, then to the province on June 1.