Light Rail

Mayor Bratina Recuses Himself from Mayors' Vote on Big Move Revenue Tools

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 07, 2013

After going off-message continuously to criticize Hamilton's light rail transit (LRT) plan, Mayor Bob Bratina is now selectively toeing the line on Council policy where it serves to expose Council's own equivocation on the LRT file.

While attending a recent Large Urban Mayors Caucus of Ontario (LUMC) meeting that endorsed the Wynne Government's plan to introduce new revenue tools to pay for The Big Move regional transit plan, Bratina recused himself from the vote.

In an email to councillors, he wrote:

Members of Council,

You may have read media coverage of the recent LUMCO meeting on Metrolinx funding which stated in part, "The Large Urban Mayors' Caucus of Ontario is backing Ms. Wynne's call for new revenue streams - likely to entail taxes, tolls or levies - dedicated to building transit...Other mayors backing the implementation of new revenue streams include Burlington's Rick Goldring..."

I explained to the meeting our Council's position and therefore did not participate in the vote. Mayor Fennell of Brampton found herself in a similar position because her council had not yet come to a conclusion on funding tools.

Hamilton Councillors recoiled last week from a staff report [PDF] recommending a variety of revenues tools proposed by Metrolinx to pay for the regional transit plan, which includes Hamilton's B-Line LRT.

Metrolinx has released a shortlist of 11 revenue tools in advance of its Investment Strategy, which it will release in June. Those tools include:

City staff were "supportive of the shortlist of revenue tools" in their report, but rejected the transit fare increase, property tax, development charge and parking space levy options.

However, Council rejected all of the revenue tools, saying instead that the Province should fund the transit projects, including Hamilton's LRT, entirely without using any new revenue sources that would impact Hamilton residents.

This prompted an exasperated Councillor Brian McHattie to lament that Council's "support for LRT is about a centimetre deep. While they support the reports, the concept of LRT, when it comes to taxpayers funding the programs with new dollars, there's no support."

The details of the Investment Strategy have not yet been finalized. It is not clear whether municipalities would collect the revenues directly to help fund their share of The Big Move or whether the money would be collected directly by the province.

It is also unclear whether individual municipalities will be allowed to opt out of the Metrolinx Investment Strategy once the Government decides on its final list of revenue tools.

I hope for Hamilton's sake that the Ontario Government insists on maintaining a coordinated approach to regional transit instead of allowing parochial and short-sighted councils punch holes in its plan.

Related:

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By WTF (anonymous) | Posted May 07, 2013 at 16:00:08

Hey Council, did you know the Hamilton taxpayers you care so much about are already paying out of their pocket for Ten Billion Dollars in LRT for Toronto? I'm sure Toronto really appreciates your generosity. Too bad Hamilton will lose out again because you want to look good to voters. I hope they see right through your cowardise and short sightedness in 2014.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted May 07, 2013 at 17:49:17

Were going to pay for that tax anyway so why not push for the LRT

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By anonymous (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 11:51:47

Revenue Tools? Let's just call them what they are, Taxes!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 08, 2013 at 12:13:57 in reply to Comment 88426

Metrolinx has mostly shied away from taxes as such - like a slightly more progressive income tax, which could pay for the entire Big Move - and are leaning toward user fees of various types.

Here's the thing: we need this transit infrastructure. The GTHA is way behind other regions in transit connectivity and it's costing us billions of dollars a year in lost productivity growth.

We have a few choices:

  • Don't do anything and continue to lose billions of dollars a year.

  • Introduce new revenue sources to pay for The Big Move (and bikeshed furiously over whether to call them "taxes").

  • Pay for The Big Move out of current government revenues, meaning some combination of bigger deficits and cuts to other programs.

  • Pay for The Big Move by raising taxes.

Here's what we can't do, at least not if we actually want to solve this dilemma rather than just take potshots: We can't just say the Ontario Government should stop wasting money and fund it that way.

Even if you take a jaundiced estimate of the total waste from eHealth, the Samsung wind turbine sole-sourced contract, the Liberal Slush Fund scandal, Ornge, OLG expense mismanagement, the HST collector severance pay issue, oversight at the Niagara Falls Commission, the Gas Plant cancellations, and expense irregularities in CAS operations and hospital/LHIN consultant contracts, that gives us a total of around $4 billion over a decade, or around $31 per Ontario resident per year.

In context, that works out to a waste rate of roughly 0.3% against the total government expenditures over that period.

It's also nowhere near the $2 billion a year that we need to pay for The Big Move over the next 15-20 years.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-08 12:32:07

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