The stage is set for a summer-long political drama now that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has vowed to fight an ambitious taxes-for-transit proposal from TTC chair Karen Stintz, his most powerful foe on city council.
Mr. Ford made it clear Wednesday that he won’t endorse the $30-billion, 30-year OneCity pitch, which was crafted without his knowledge and relies on a property-tax increase to pay for 170-kilometres of new subway, light-rail and bus lines.
“I will not and cannot support the plan,” the mayor said. “The taxpayers cannot afford it. That’s the bottom line.”
As city council prepares to vote on the idea in October, Mr. Ford’s opposition once again pits him against Ms. Stintz, who this year wrested control of the Toronto Transit Commission’s board from the mayor’s allies and killed his underground-only transit vision.
This time, the stakes are higher: Ms. Stintz’s OneCity blueprint touches every corner of Toronto and asks all home and business owners to open their wallets to pay for it.
“It’s round two, we are back in the ring,” said Councillor Jaye Robinson, a member of the mayor’s executive committee who describes herself as an independent.
“To me it feels very political again.”
The politics will undoubtedly extend to Queen’s Park, where a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan cast doubt on the OneCity funding plan, which would require a legislative change.
Rather than ask the province to approve a complicated plan called a “current-value assessment uplift,” Mr. Duncan’s office said Toronto should rely on its existing powers to hike property taxes.
“The city already has the ability to set tax rates to allow for revenue increases,” said Aly Vitunski, Mr. Duncan’s press secretary.
“If Toronto would like to increase property taxes to fund transit expansion, taxpayers should have the information they need to understand why and by how much their taxes are increasing.”
For the OneCity plan to work, Toronto will also need Queen’s Park and Ottawa to each shell out $10-billion over three decades.
Meanwhile, Metrolinx, the province’s transportation authority for the Greater Toronto Area, will have to agree to some significant changes to its plans for the city, including converting the Scarborough RT into a subway instead of an LRT.
Both Metrolinx and Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli expressed tepid support for the plan Wednesday, saying they welcomed a conversation about how to pay for transit.
Ms. Stintz, who will lead that conversation, says her political future won’t include a run for mayor in 2014, despite the power she’s wielding at City Hall.
While Ms. Stintz and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, vice-chair of the TTC, were unveiling their grand transit vision to a packed news conference Wednesday, the mayor was in a leafy Etobicoke backyard talking to constituents about a gypsy-moth infestation.
“I’ll get a street sweeper out here immediately,” Mr. Ford told the residents before taking reporters questions on the new transit plan.
“You can’t always go to the taxpayers for everything and that’s what it seems this plan looks for. There is a private sector that can get involved,” he said.
Asked if he thought Ms. Stintz wanted his job, Mr. Ford said: “I know Rob Ford is running for mayor and whoever else wants to run against me, I wish them the best of luck.”
The first test of support for Ms. Stintz’s and Mr. De Baeremaeker’s plan will come in July, when council is asked to approve a study of OneCity that would land at council in October.
“Here’s what we’re recommending: A plan with a [funding] source. I think our colleagues will support it,” said Josh Colle, a key centrist councillor who, along with Councillor Joe Mihevc, worked behind the scenes on the pitch.
Other councillors, especially surrogates for the mayor, slammed OneCity and its authors for circumventing Mr. Ford, who only found out about the proposal through his chief of staff Tuesday.
“I am appalled actually that the mayor’s office has not been consulted on this particular this is correct very important issue,” Councillor Michael Thompson said. “I think we really need to understand what’s being done, why it’s being done [who] is driving this.”
How would the CVA uplift proposal work?
TTC chair Karen Stintz and vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker are proposing that the “CVA uplift” be phased in over four years. For the owner of the average Toronto home valued at $427,085 the plan would add $45 to the tax bill in 2013, $90 in 2014, $135 in 2015 and $180 in 2016 and beyond. It would be the equivalent of a 1.9-per-cent property-tax hike per year. The revenue would be dedicated exclusively to transit infrastructure. Council could still impose a traditional property-tax increase every year.