City council has seized control of the debate about transit taxes from Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee.
The decision, which means transit revenue tools will be discussed at this week’s council meeting, gives Ford another opportunity to talk about how to finance subways in Scarborough, said TTC chair councillor Karen Stintz, who is thought to be considering a run for mayor.
The executive had tried to delay the discussion until May 28, a day after Metrolinx releases its recommendations to the province on how the Toronto region should pay for a $2 billion annual transit expansion.
The debate this week will centre on a city manager’s report that endorses a gas tax, sales tax, development charges and a commercial parking levy as the first transit fees that should be implemented.
“It will be an opportunity for city council to talk about the kinds of tolls and taxes that are going to help build transit and we also protect the city’s interest and make sure whatever we implement is not going to be detrimental to small business or residents,” said Stintz.
“I think there are some revenue tools like parking taxes that are very detrimental to businesses in the city,” she said.
The council vote, which required a two-thirds majority of the councillors in the room, is expected to be tied to the discussion of whether the Scarborough RT should be converted to LRT, as the city agreed to last year, or if it should become an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway.
Stintz praised Scarborough councillor Gary Crawford for his leadership in changing his mind on the matter. A member of the executive thought to be close to Ford, Crawford voted against bringing the transit tax report to council but then said publicly that he had changed his mind.
Downtown Councillor Adam Vaughan defended bringing the SRT debate into the funding discussion at council.
“If you’re asking people to pay more for transit they want to know what that transit is going to be. It’s a fair question,” he said. “The one thing I know for certain, is you can’t have the debate if you’re not willing to fund transit. You can’t build subways by saying ‘no’ to everything all the time.”
The mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, said some councillors who may be willing to debate transit funding, won’t necessarily vote for the taxes. He chastised the provincial Liberal government for moving ahead on transit taxes calling it “irresponsible government.”
Residents can’t afford to pay another $1,000 a year in transit taxes, he told reporters, referring to the amount of tax that has been the subject of speculation in the Metrolinx discussions of the regional transportation plan.
“This council has proven, this province has proven there’s a two-tiered transportation system — one for everyone else in the city, and one for the people of Scarborough,” said Ford.