Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Vomit away, Mr. Mayor, but you still don't have a realistic plan to fund transit expansion

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Apr 03 2013

Yesterday, Metrolinx revealed their “shortlist” of possible taxes, tolls and fees that could be implemented over the coming years to pay for more than $50 billion in needed GTA transit projects. Also yesterday, when Mayor Rob Ford heard about this, he laughed, doubled over, and made pretend vomiting sounds.

Ford then claimed that people weren't ready for new taxes yet, suggesting instead that a new casino would be the best source of revenue to build transit.

I feel like I've covered this topic a hundred times, but once again, to make it clear: no one, even the most diehard of supporters, has guessed casino revenue numbers at a high enough level to fund large-scale transit expansion. The province's share of casino revenues is already allocated to deficit reduction, while the city's share — which is, for some reason, still impossible to pin down — doesn't seem likely to amount to much.

Using casino revenues to build transit would be a great plan if we had 2,500 years to do it. But we don't.

I understand the impulse to want to vomit when looking at a list that includes things like a new sales tax, an increased gas tax and some sort of doohicky that charges you fees based on how much you drive your car. Everyone would, of course, prefer not to pay more. But no one has presented an alternative. So far, opponents to Metrolinx's revenue strategy are waving their arms and stamping their feet, showing us just how mad they are about the ideas of new taxes, but they've had nothing substantial to offer to the conversation — no workable ideas and no realistic suggestions.

It's not as if potential alternatives to new taxes haven't been explored. In the early days, the Ford administration was given a ton of latitude and time to explore the notion of funding transit expansion through the private sector. It never made any sense, but council looked the other way in 2011 as Ford hired former councillor Gordon Chong to produce a report on the topic.

But Chong's report came out looking a lot like yesterday's Metrolinx report. It too included a long list of potential taxes, tolls and fees.

The GTA has reached the end of the road. Either we throw our hands up and accept worsening gridlock or we buckle down and accept new taxes, even if they make us queasy. There is no reasonable expectation that we can fund the transit system we need via the elimination of government waste. There is no sainted private sector that will swoop in and provide money with no expectation of return. And there is little chance this will all be rendered moot because scientists will discover an inexhaustible supply of magic winged unicorns that we can all ride to work.

I'm tired of politicians who have made a career of simply saying “no” to everything without providing their own solutions. In this case, saying “no” gets us nothing but a more intolerable status quo. I don't expect people like Mayor Rob Ford to have all the answers, but I'd like them to at least offer some ideas.

Instead, we just got vomit.

This post was originally published at on 2013-04-03T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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