Tory not ruling out sales, gas tax for Toronto if he can get province on board

Mayor John Tory says he hasn’t ruled out a sales or gas tax to raise revenue to build transit, but says that so far, “there hasn’t been a willingness” from the province to have that conversation.

Tory says he tried to talk to Premier Kathleen Wynne about sales tax, 'and it wasn't on'

Mayor John Tory speaks to CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Friday. (CBC)

Mayor John Tory says he hasn't ruled out a sales or gas tax to raise revenue to build transit, but says that so far, "there hasn't been a willingness" from the province to have that conversation.

Tory appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Friday to discuss the city's latest budget, which council passed earlier this week.

Asked whether he would consider a municipal sales tax, Tory said councillors such as Joe Cressy have asked him about the possibility. He has discussed such an option with Premier Kathleen Wynne but those talks went nowhere, he said.

"I went forward and asked her about that early on, before I even got to road tolls, and it wasn't on. They have to give us permission," Tory told Metro Morning.

"This is exactly what we were talking about, regional tools to build transit that were better applied, whether it's a sales or a gas tax. So what I said to Coun. Cressy and what I say to Metro Morning listeners: I don't rule any of those things out, but I have to have somebody to talk to about that, and as of this moment there hasn't been a willingness to have that conversation."

Tory reiterated concerns about having to go to the province before making decisions about pursuing new funding tools for transit and other projects. After Tory revealed that he was in favour of road tolls for the Gardiner Expressway and the Don Valley Expressway, Wynne initially said she would not stand in the city's way.

Within weeks, she announced that the province would not support the mayor's plan. Afterward he decried the move, saying he was tired of going to Queen's Park like "a little boy... in short pants" every time he sought funding for badly needed infrastructure.

Budget 'not sustainable'

When asked Friday if the most recent budget is sustainable, Tory replied:

"Well, no, in the sense that I'm the one that's been saying loudly and clearly that we need to have different arrangements with the province."

His road toll plan "was meant to sort of say, well, the present arrangements are not sustainable if we want to build the city in terms of transit and housing and so on."

Former city manager Joe Pennachetti expressed his support for a sales tax in an interview earlier this week on Metro Morning. He called a sales tax a good "long-term" solution for sustainable funding.

However, he went on to say that a bump in the one-half per cent property-tax levy for infrastructure would help fill the gap in the interim.

"We should be looking at increasing that an additional one per cent a year for five years," Pennachetti said.

"The residents from my perspective, because of the fact that there are relatively low residential taxes in Toronto, can and would support an additional tax for infrastructure because they will see a deliverable."

'Very wary' of hiking property-tax levy

Tory said that while the levy was his doing, road tolls would have brought in more money to city coffers, and he is "very wary" of turning to property taxes because that bill is one of the biggest that homeowners have each year.

Property taxes account for about 20 per cent of the city's public transit budget, Tory said, while 80 per cent comes from fares.

"The question becomes, and it's a judgment call and I get it, which is how much should all of the people of Toronto who pay property taxes subsidize those who ride the TTC?"

Ultimately, Tory said, the city needs to be able to make its own decisions about funding tools in order to create a more sustainable budget in the future.

"If we wanted to charge a toll on [roads] we have to ask permission. If we want to charge a penalty on overdue taxes, we have to go and have them restrict the rate on that. Or if we want to have photo radar in our school zones, I have to go up the street and have 27 meetings and wait a year-and-half for it," Tory said.

"It's ridiculous."