Some councillors are trying to redefine the Province collecting revenue to finance Metrolinx projects to mean making Hamilton pay.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 21, 2014
In a Spectator article today, Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina is quoted once again confusing the issues around the City's light rail transit (LRT) plan for the east-west B-Line:
Bratina said he doesn't think there's strong support for a light rapid transit (LRT) plan for the city without heavy financial contributions from the provincial government.
"I'm not aware of any public perception that is overwhelmingly in favour of construction of an LRT. There certainly were many interested folks and the stimulation of the original 100 per cent funding encouraged a lot of people to say 'what's this about?'" but that has changed with a recent provincial statement it would not fund the entire cost of the project.
Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel has already interpreted this to mean that if Bratina runs for re-election, it will likely be on an anti-LRT platform.
But back up the train a minute: what is Bratina actually talking about when he refers to a "recent provincial statement" that it won't fund the full capital cost of Hamilton's LRT plan?
I'm not aware of any statement that the Province has abandoned the capital funding model it has been following since 2007.
What the Ontario Government has been saying consistently for years is that it intends to approve a mix of provincial "revenue tools" - road tolls, gas tax, development charges, commercial parking levies and so on - to pay for the next phase of Metrolinx regional transit projects.
When Council voted to submit its LRT plan to Metrolinx, it was based on the idea that the full capital cost would come from the Province, and not from the municipal capital budget. That is consistent with the Metrolinx model in which the Province comes up with the money to pay for the full capital cost of Metrolinx projects.
The Province is perfectly within its rights to use whatever legislative means are at its disposal to raise the revenue it will need to keep its capital funding commitments so that cities do not have to fund Metrolinx projects via municipal revenue streams like property tax.
But recently, some Councillors have been suggesting that whatever regional or even province-wide revenue tools the Province employs to fund those projects should not be applied to Ontario residents who happen to live in Hamilton.
It would be ridiculous for City Council to try and exercise a veto on what the Province decides to impose on Ontarians living in Hamilton. A municipal government is a legislated child of Provincial policy, not the other way around!
Imagine the Province decided it needed to raise provincial income taxes to pay for new hospitals, and Hamilton City Council demanded that the rate increase should not apply to provincial taxpayers living in Hamilton - and then turned down a hospital construction in Hamilton unless Hamiltonians got an exemption!
It makes absolutely no sense. I don't remember Council demanding that Hamiltonians should not have to pay the Ontario Health Premium or that money from it should not be invested in Hamilton hospitals.
Most astonishing is the cut-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face notion that if Ontarians living in Hamilton have to participate in Provincial revenue-generating tools to fund Metrolinx, Hamilton should then reject the LRT system that those tools would fund.
In that case, we would not only still have to contribute to the Metrolinx investment fund, but we would not even get anything to show for it! Instead, Hamiltonians would be helping, through Provincial fundraising tools, to pay for transformative capital transit investments in the other GTHA cities against which we are competing for residents and business investments.
So perhaps what Bratina means is that the Province collecting revenue from people who live in Hamilton somehow constitutes making Hamilton pay some of the cost of the LRT.
Of course it doesn't: if the Ontario government decides to collect highway tolls or commercial parking levies and then apply that money to build transit, *not a penny of that money is coming out of a budget that Council needs to balance.*
When the Province launched MoveOntario 2020 in 2007 and established the Greater Toronto Transit Authority (soon renamed Metrolinx), the plan was to move quickly with the first phase of ready-to-go transit projects using a one-time provincial capital endowment, release a 25-year Regional Transportation Plan (called "The Big Move"), and then develop an investment strategy to generate $2 billion a year in ongoing revenue streams for subsequent projects.
Metrolinx had already begun work on that investment strategy in 2008, investigating potential revenue tools for the Province to consider. Of course, implementing any combination of tolls, fees and levies is politically dicey, and the Ontario Government spent the next several years putting off a decision with a succession of studies, panels and advisory committees.
Then, the 2011 election left the governing Liberals with a minority of seats in the Ontario Legislature, meaning they would need the support of at least one opposition party to implement any new revenue tools.
When Metrolinx finally unveiled its investment strategy in 2013, the opposition parties - the Progressive Conservatives and the Ontario New Democratic Party - both stated their opposition to any new taxes, charges, tolls, fees or levies.
The Ontario NDP say they support The Big Move but oppose any new taxes, fees, levies or tolls to pay for it. They have said they would fund the plan in part by reversing $1.3 billion in corporate tax cuts. They have not said where the other $700 million would come from.
The PCs would significantly change the Regional Transportation Plan, focusing on subways for Toronto and highway expansions for the rest of the region. PC leader Tim Hudak has specifically said he is opposed to an LRT in Hamilton. They say they will pay for the plan by laying off provincial employees and selling public buildings.
The bottom line is that one knows when the next Provincial election will take place or what the distribution of seats will look like after the election.
If the Liberals win a majority, they will likely implement the funding tools and the next phase of Metrolinx projects will go ahead.
If the NDP win a majority, they will likely reverse the corporate tax cuts and the next phase of Metrolinx projects will go ahead.
If the PCs win a majority, they will likely kill Hamilton's LRT and greenlight the Mid-Peninsula Highway.
And if we end up with another minority government, the carousel of indecision will likely continue to grind along.
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