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May 28, 2011

Mayor Ford to raise taxes and add road tolls

CANADA - According to a consultant hired by the city of Toronto, Mayor Rob Ford will need to bring in new road tolls and congestion charges (and new taxes) to pay for his $4 billion expansion to the Sheppard Subway line. It is “the biggest transit deal in North America, or perhaps the world” and it won't be cheap.

Rob Ford has previously claimed the city could raise the money from the private sector, but according to Gordon Chong, ex-city councillor, ex-chair of GO Transit, ex-TTC commissioner and now chair of the Toronto Transit Infrastructure Ltd., such a claim isn't realistic. The private sector isn't going to invest $4.2 billion in a project that will take decades to see any kind of return.

Indeed some city councillors are now feeling deja vu. Remember Sarah Thomson's proposal for a massive subway expansion? She proposed using road tolls/etc as well, an idea that Rob Ford at the time openly poked fun at.

But now apparently Rob Ford is in a position to flip flop on that idea and add road tolls.

As well as tolls, there will need to be increased government grants, unprecedented development fees, revenue tools not used here before, plus the public-private partnership Mayor Rob Ford covets in order to make the project happen, Gordon Chong says.

Last year a poll was conducted and determined that 70% of Torontonians disliked the idea of a $5 road toll on the DVP and similar freeways in Toronto.

It was these naysayers who formed the backbone of Rob Ford's electorate during the mayoral election, following Rob Ford's promises to cut fees, introduce no new taxes and to put a stop the "gravy train" in City Hall.

Except the gravy train hasn't stopped. If anything it has gotten bigger. Since getting in power Rob Ford has hired his friends as consultants to "determine cost effective ways to save money", involved himself in rank nepotism and has yet to actually do much in the way of cutting off the source of gravy.

If he really wanted to cut the gravy train here is what you do:

#1. Fire all the consultants.

#2. Use committees made up of volunteers or people already on the city payroll to do any consulting work.

#3. Cut back on costly perks.

#4. Retire unnecessary staff early.

#5. Fire unnecesary staff who aren't pulling their own weight and don't replace them.

#6. Track which city employees spend most of their time at work socializing, on Facebook, not doing any real work... and fire them.

#7. Cut back on useless meetings (if you've ever worked for the government, you know what I am talking about).

#8. Pay off any high interest debts.

#9. Cutback on the highest paid staff first.

#10. Cutback on executive staff salaries. They either take a pay cut or a pink slip. (Executives are waaaaaaaay over paid and often do very little actual work.)

We should note however that Rob Ford probably won't do even half of this list. Its much more likely he will go the road toll route simply because its easier and less of an headache.

We should also note that the $4.2 billion needed for the new subway expansion will be funneled through a company run by Rob Ford's brother, which has outraged city councillors and Torontonians alike.

In related news...

City Councillors forming Committees behind the Mayor's back

Mayor Rob Ford’s slipping grip on the city agenda has resulted in city councillors launching their own committees and task forces. The committees range in topic from child care to environmental issues.

For example Mike Layton has formed an ad hoc group to replace the cycling advisory committee, which is among 20 citizen groups Rob Ford is trying to scrap. The future of such groups are now in limbo because Rob Ford wanted to scrap them, but city council voted against the idea and told him to take another look at these groups and report back in July.

Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina), son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, was upset at the possible loss of the cycling committee and asked himself: “Why don’t you just start your own?” Mike Layton would then become the committee’s voice at council.

Another committee is about traffic gridlock, and to be headed by Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton Lawrence) who wants to talk with drivers, pedestrians, transit users, cabbies, cyclists and business representatives on solutions to Toronto gridlock problems. (Although we should note gridlock doesn't really bother cyclists. They just laugh and ride by all the cars.)

John Filion resigned from the government management committee, because Rob Ford’s office ignored his requests that the mayor return to the planning and transportation committee. Filion (Ward 23 Willowdale) says he will visit meetings, without a vote, but says he is now planning on starting his own committee.

UPDATE



Mayor Ford is now denying he has any plans to use road tolls to find funding for the Sheppard subway expansion. Ford says he is “totally opposed” to road tolls, but its still possible he might flip flop on that idea. It wouldn't be the first time a politician has been known to flip flop on their promises.

The mayor's brother Doug Ford also says “road tolls are not going to happen.” but he is also a politician and the brains of the pair.

The city would need provincial approval to impose tolls, but that is really just a formality.

The mayor still thinks he can pay for the subway extension via a public-private partnership. He has not explained how such a plan would work and its really just an idea right now with no substance. No corporations have stepped forward and said "Hey, we'd like to lose $4.2 billion on a long shot that we will eventually get our investment back."

There is a federal infrastructure fund, but that contains only $1.2 billion for all of Canada. On a per capita basis Toronto would only get approx. 250 million of that money.

Finding another $3.95 billion would be a real challenge because at this stage its not lucrative.

The only promising route might be to sell "air rights" to real estate developers looking to build skyscraper condos directly above new subway stations or existing subway stations. Air rights would go for approx. $600 per square foot. The city would only need to sell 7 million square feet of air to condo developers to raise the necessary $4.2 billion.

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