Rob Ford opposes $30B Toronto transit expansion plan

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is slamming an ambitious $30-billion transit plan proposed by the chair of Toronto Transit Commission, arguing it will cost taxpayers too much.

Ford told reporters Wednesday that the plan floated by Coun. Karen Stintz, which envisions the construction of new subway, streetcar, LRT and bus lines over 30 years to transform Toronto's transit system, came as a surprise to him.

"I will not and cannot support the plan. The taxpayers can't afford it. That's the bottom line," he said.

"You can't always go to the taxpayers for everything and that's what it seems like this plan looks for. There's a private sector out there that can get involved."

The plan, called OneCity, would see six new subway lines, five new bus and streetcar routes, as well as 10 light-rail transit lines — at a total cost of $30 billion. That money would be raised, Stintz said, through an increase in property taxes and financial aid from the province and the federal government.

"Too often we've been talking about transit lines without a funding mechanism," Stintz told CBC's Metro Morning in an interview.

The OneCity funding plan, co-authored by TTC vice-chair Glenn De Baeremaeker, calls for the province to change the existing legislation and allow the city to collect more revenue after Toronto homes have their property values reassessed in the fall. That money would be dedicated specifically to the OneCity plan.

"The reassessment process occurs every four years," Stintz said. "This fall [the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation] will reassess all municipal properties and we expect that those properties will go up by about five per cent."

But the Ontario Finance Ministry noted Wednesday that existing provincial legislation forbids municipalities to take in more revenue from increased assessments.

"For transparency and accountability purposes, provincial regulations require municipalities to lower their tax rates to offset any reassessment increase, in order to show taxpayers (on their tax bill) any tax levy increase separately from the tax impact resulting from reassessment," ministry spokesman Scott Blodgett wrote in an email.

Under current rules, any property tax increases that the city would want to levy would have to be tabled separately and then go through council's budget process and be voted on in the new year.

But under Stintz's plan, the city wouldn't have to wait for that process to unfold — it could simply take a portion of tax assessment increase and apply it to transit expansion.

Blodgett said the province is "interested in hearing more details about this proposal," but said the city could simply increase property taxes on its own, without provincial assistance.

"If Toronto would like to increase property taxes to fund transit expansion, taxpayers should have the information they need to understand why and by how much their taxes are increasing," he said.

The plan also requires similar amounts to be contributed from Ottawa and Queen's Park to provide $1 billion per year over the next 30 years to fund the project.

Based on an estimate of $427,085 as the average value of a home in Toronto, the councillors say the cost to the owner would amount to an additional $45 per year, adding up to $180 starting in 2016, which will yield an additional $272 million. But that doesn't include any other possible tax increases over the years.

"It would be equivalent to a 1.9 per cent increase in property tax," she said. It would be part of the reassessment process.

"That's the proposition we're taking to residents. Our proposal is that we study this initiative over the next several months and in October report back on whether it is a viable plan for funding transit and whether there is broad [public] buy-in," she said.

But the mayor said he doubted the councillors' math, and said homeowners can expect to paying a lot more.

"I haven't seen a house sell in Toronto for $400,000 for a long time. So I like I said, you could almost double that. The average is probably seven or eight hundred thousand dollars," he said.

Stintz and Ford, once allies on council, did not speak directly about the plan — Ford said Stintz briefed his chief of staff Amir Remtulla on Tuesday that a plan was being put forward, but she didn't offer any specifics. The two had a very public falling out after Stintz opposed Ford on a plan to bury the Eglinton LRT line and build a subway line on Sheppard Avenue East.

She recently said at a breakfast event hosted last week by CBC's Anne-Marie Mediwake that "working for the Ford administration was the first time in my life I absolutely felt an inability to communicate with a group of men."

Meanwhile, the president of Metrolinx, the provincial agency charged with overseeing transit in the Greater Toronto Area, issued a statement saying he welcomes the proposed plan.

"Metrolinx views as a positive development the fact that this proposal recognizes new investment will be an important component of any successful expansion of transit infrastructure," said Bruce McCuaig. "We also welcome its recognition of the need for the federal government to be an equal funding partner."

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