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Councillors grill one another over road tolls and other proposed revenue tools

Toronto council has spent nearly eight hours questioning how to pay for the $ 33 billion of unfunded transit and infrastructure projects, with councillors divided over the contentious idea of road tolls.

The proposed tolls for the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway dominated the discussion surrounding the city’s strategy for immediate and longer-term revenue tools.

While pricing is far from being set, a $ 2 per-trip toll on those two highways would bring in about $ 200 million to city coffers each year, according to a staff report. That projection factors in estimated one-time start-up costs of $ 100 million to $ 150 million — and estimated annual operating costs of up to $ 70 million.

A divided council

Although Mayor John Tory called the plan for road tolls “bold” and “honest” on Monday, he was forced on the defensive on the council floor.

Facing criticism from his council colleagues Tuesday, the mayor defended the toll plan by saying it’s the best revenue tool available to help the city pay for public transit and road repairs.

Tory told council that he had three choices when it comes to finding the money needed to pay for the unfunded projects in the city: a “massive” property tax increase, selling city assets, or putting in road tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway.

He said he’s convinced the road tolls are the best of those options.

“How are you going to pay for the transit? It’s not free,” Tory said.

John Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory says tolls on the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway will bring in badly needed revenue for transit and other infrastructure projects. (CBC)

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti, who has been outspoken in his disdain for the proposed tolls, slammed the mayor during the debate.

The Ward 7, York West councillor said that if the mayor felt this strongly about the tolls, Tory should have campaigned on the idea. But since he did not, Mammoliti argued that city council should let the province make a decision about tolls.

Mammoliti’s proposal to refer the issue to the province, however, was voted down 29-5.

Regardless of the outcome of  Tuesday’s debate, the city needs the Wynne government’s approval to move forward with the proposal.

And Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath opposes the idea.

NDP leader criticizes toll plan in letter

Ahead of council’s debate, Horwath wrote a letter to Tory saying she is “concerned” about imposing more fees on residents to raise revenue.

“The City’s need for revenue is real, and I respect the right of municipal governments to determine the most appropriate way to raise revenues,” Horwath wrote in the later, dated Tuesday. “However, I am concerned that an increasing dependence on flat and regressive fees — such as road tolls and transit fares — can have a disproportionate and unfair impact on struggling residents and marginalized communities. I know that by working together, we can find better funding options.”

Horwath called on the provincial government to restore funding for operating costs for municipal transit.

Premier Kathleen Wynne, speaking to reporters after a speech on Tuesday morning, said she hadn’t received a formal request from the city for permission to impose tolls. But, she said, “I’m very much looking forward to having that conversation with the mayor once he’s had it at council.”

Councillor protests on bridge

On Monday, Mammoliti unfurled a banner on the Dufferin Street Bridge over the Gardiner to express his displeasure. His sign, “Honk for No Tory Tolls,” is part of his campaign to fight the tolls, which he has vowed to do since Tory endorsed them.

“What he is neglecting is his responsibility to find efficiencies in this city, and some of us have to remind him that he was elected on the promise not to bring tolls into this city,” Mammoliti said.

Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti

Toronto Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti demonstrates his opposition to proposed road tolls by unfurling a banner on the Dufferin Street Bridge over the Gardiner Expressway on Monday. (Supplied)

On Monday, Tory said that councillors who disagree with the idea of tolls should suggest other options for raising revenue.

“I say to those who have expressed opposition, I respect your right to take a position against road tolls. But leadership also requires you to spell out in detail where the funds would come from to build transit and fix the traffic.”

Coun. Joe Mihevic asked what the earliest possible date would be for implementing tolls on the busy highways. Transportation staff said that while the current report suggests it wouldn’t be until 2024, the earliest possible date would be 2019.

During Tuesday’s debate, councillors also asked how much money would be raised by other proposed revenue tools, including reinstating a personal vehicle tax (about $ 100 million annually), and bringing in a hotel tax (about $ 10 million per year for every 1 per cent levied).

CBC | Toronto News

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