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Gas tax rebate pitched to aid transit

Toronto wants half of $400 million back from province

By Paul Moloney
Toronto Star City Hall Bureau

Just half of the provincial gasoline taxes raised in Toronto would solve most of the city’s transit funding problems, a newly released analysis suggests.

Toronto motorists send about $400 million to Queen’s Park each year, according to the city’s finance department.

If $200 million of that were returned to the city for transit, the TTC could breathe easier, chief general manager Rick Ducharme said yesterday.

Ducharme said the TTC needs to spend an average of $340 million annually over the next 10 years to replace rolling stock and do major repairs, but the city doesn’t have that kind of money.

“It’s unaffordable to the city. The mayor’s really jumping on that specific issue, which is accurate that we’ve got a real problem.”

The province historically had paid 75 per cent of transit capital costs - for new buses, subway cars and the like - but the government of Premier Mike Harris turned off the tap.

Ducharme said the TTC needs to return to a cost-sharing arrangement and one way would be for the province to turn over a portion of the gas tax.

“There’s no magic to this. You’re dinging the motorists, which should be for transportation. So where’s the money?”

Toronto finance officials released their gas tax analysis in the wake of last week’s dust-up between Harris and Mayor Mel Lastman.

In a letter to Lastman, Harris said cities, through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, had offered to take over all transit costs - a contention that was hotly denied.

“Neither the City of Toronto now, nor Metro Toronto before, nor the TTC asked the province to give us full responsibility for transit capital funding,” said Councillor David Miller (High Park).

“I don’t know where they get off trying to distort the truth like that, but it’s totally false,” said Miller, a transit commissioner.

Lastman wrote Harris that he’s prepared to call in an outside auditor to review his claims that the amalgamated Toronto was stuck with $251.7 million in extra costs - most of it representing TTC capital costs.

“If we could get the gas tax revenue gathered from Toronto, or even half of it, I think that would be an excellent step toward having sustainable public transit,” Miller said.

He noted the money would just maintain the existing system, and doesn’t include expansion.

“It’s not talking about extending the subway up to (the 905 area), which would be an incredibly important transportation measure, but that’s not even in those numbers.”

Miller thinks pressure from people fed up with traffic congestion and smog will be required to get the province to cough up some cash.

“Public transit has to be the heart of that solution because it’s the only thing that will accommodate the numbers. You can’t just build more roads.”

The Premier’s letter may have left an opening to discuss the issue, Deputy Mayor Case Ootes said. ‘This kind of disagreement doesn’t benefit anybody’

“We need help,” Ootes said. “The mayor has called for an independent audit and I think that’s the direction we have to go to resolve this misunderstanding.

“The important thing is we’ve got to start talking to one another and being more communicasensitive. I think this kind of disagreement doesn’t benefit anybody.”

If the province doesn’t act, Toronto homeowners can expect a property tax increase of at least 10 per cent to look after transit, said Councillor Joe Mihevc, a transit commissioner.

“I’d suggest people who get that $200 (tax rebate) from the province should bank it away because property taxes are going to have to go up,” said Mihevc (York Eglinton).

The TTC has argued for two years that it makes sense to devote gas taxes to transportation, including transit, he said.