Toronto councillors kill car tax, cut budgets

At its first full meeting, on its first full day, Toronto city council has delivered on two of Mayor Rob Ford's election promises — killing the hated $60 vehicle registration tax and slashing councillors' budgets.

City council has delivered on two of Mayor Rob Ford's election promises — killing Toronto's hated $60 vehicle registration tax and slashing councillors' office budgets.

The tax will officially die on Jan. 1, 2011, after council voted 39-6 Thursday to repeal it. 

At council's first full meeting, on its first full day, the office budgets for individual councillors were also reduced to $30,000 by a vote of 40-5. In 2010, councillors' were allowed to spend $51,300 on their offices.

But it was the issue of the vehicle tax that took up most of the day.

In the debate leading up to the vote, councillor after councillor stood up to denounce the tax the previous council imposed in 2008.

Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker spoke for many Torontonians when he called it "the most unpopular tax we've ever seen."

Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said candidates heard "loud and clear" during the municipal election campaign "that people didn't like it."

"The sooner we get out of it the better," he said.

The vehicle registration fee is an annual $60 expense for most passenger vehicles and $30 for motorcycles. Doing away with the tax is expected to cost the city about $64 million annually.

But it was a tax that was detested by Toronto car owners, and it became a hot-button issue during the election. Ford promised to wipe the tax off the books. 

After the vote, Ford said it was a "great day" for Toronto taxpayers.

The vote, he said, "just put $64 million back in their pockets and they can do what they want, they can go out and spend it and create jobs and stimulate the economy, or they can save it.  But it's a long time coming. I campaigned, I promised the taxpayers if I was fortunate enough to be mayor I'd do this." 

Opponents to removing the tax said they couldn't support the move because Ford hadn't given them any information on how the $64 million will be replaced.

All they got in return, said Coun. Gord Perks, were "vague, bland assurances that we can do things at the same cost for less money."

Coun. Adam Vaughan said killing the tax was an attempt to "pander to focused voting groups." 

The Province of Ontario has already said it is ready to stop collecting the tax in the new year, if that is what city council wants.