City plans to pressure province for transit cash instead of taxing cars

Toronto's budget debate may two things clear: the city needs more money, but council doesn’t want to raise property taxes or cut services to free up cash. So what’s next?

Will Mayor John Tory consider new taxes in an election year? Not yet

Toronto city council scrapped the last-minute idea of bringing back the vehicle registration tax, but will it find new ways to pay for transit improvements during an election year? (Tony Smyth/CBC)

Toronto's budget debate made two things clear: the city needs more money, but council doesn't want to raise property taxes or cut services to free up cash.

So what's next?

Mayor John Tory says the city will have to have another discussion about generating revenue to pay for major projects like expanding the transit system, but won't list any measures he'll pursue ahead of next October's municipal election other than seeking more funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Tory told reporters he'll be "renewing and stepping up" that pressure, especially as the provincial parties head toward an election.  

"Now's the time they're going to have to answer up," Tory said.

Mayor John Tory, centre, toured the TTC's transit control centre on Tuesday. It's unclear how the city will afford the capital costs of building future transit lines at this time. (CBC)

"They're going to have to say 'yes' or 'no.' They're going to provide the support to the Toronto Transit Commission for our regional transit needs — serving both 905 and 416 — or they're not."

Tory's executive committee is expected to get an update this spring on the city's long-term finances, which could prompt another look at potential revenue tools. However, with a municipal election coming up in October, it's unclear how willing councillors will be to have that debate.

Councillor floats return of vehicle registration tax

During Monday's budget meeting several councillors pushed last-minute changes that could have generated some new money. Not one but two councillors attempted to bring the vehicle registration tax — axed by Rob Ford's administration — back to pay for transit and road repairs, but council swiftly voted that down.

"Cancelling the vehicle registration tax was a mistake," said Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, whose motion called for the money generated from the potential tax to go to transit and housing improvements.

Wong-Tam said while the tax has a controversial history and can be "weaponized" in the hands of some politicians — as it was by Rob Ford, who axed it when he became mayor — it also comes with major upsides. The city doesn't need the province's approval to put it in and the cash could start flowing in the near future.

"I actually think it's perfect timing," she said of pushing a new fee ahead of an election.

"We should be able to stand up and be able to run on the issues that we support and the revenue tools that we believe … are going to help us balance the city's budget and also invest in city services."

About the Author

John Rieti is the senior producer of digital at CBC Toronto. Born and raised in Newfoundland, John has worked in CBC newsrooms across the country. In Toronto, he's covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. Outside of work, catch him cycling in search of the city's best coffee.