Mayor John Tory took a big step forward last week when he announced the creation of a new fund to pay for transit and affordable housing in Toronto.
By endorsing the introduction of a new residential property tax levy, Tory shifted the conversation at city hall away from penny-pinching and toward a brave new world of actually paying for stuff.
A big step, but still just a first step. To really move forward, Tory next needs to ensure that the stuff the city will pay for is, in fact, the stuff the city really needs.
That’s the other side of the coin to all this new tax talk. While it’s important to acknowledge Tory’s new fund as an overdue admission that Toronto has a revenue problem, that doesn’t erase the fact that this city also has a long, troublesome history of spending money on the wrong projects.
This is especially true with transit. The last five years at city hall have been a master class on how to spend transit dollars and get nothing in return.
That’s not hyperbole. The final bill for sunk costs relating to Toronto City Council’s transit debate odyssey last term, which saw councillors vote for and then vote against an LRT plan for Scarborough, came in at $74.8 million. All of that is pure waste.
In the end, the cancelled Scarborough LRT plan was replaced by a Scarborough subway extension, at a much, much higher cost. The subway project remains on the books despite not having an approved route or finalized cost estimates. New reasons to not build it crop up on a weekly basis, but the project endures. “Scarborough deserves a subway,” we’re told, endlessly.
Meanwhile, the plan every study does justify – the downtown relief subway line – has languished for years, at least partially because local politicians are afraid to enthusiastically endorse a project that has “downtown” in its name. Seriously.
I’ve had enough. There should be a responsible framework for evaluating and approving transit projects in place before a single dollar goes to Tory’s new fund. Council’s brand of wasteful, slapdash, vote-pandering transit planning can’t continue. Not when the mayor is asking the public to open their wallets.
Remember this: New money is only as good as the things you decide to spend it on.
This post was originally published at http://www.metronews.ca/views/toronto/torys-toronto-matt-elliott/2015/12/06/new-taxes-for-transit-better-mean-improved-planning.html on 2015-12-06T00:00:00.000Z