Council took the first step in supporting a suite of revenue tools worth around $300 million annually, including road tolls.
It was a daylong Council debate for a conversation years in the making.
A solid majority of councillors supported a package of revenue tools backed by John Tory, the most prominent of which are road tolls on the Gardiner and DVP. Further study is still required on road tolls, which could be implemented sometime from 2019 to 2024, depending on implementation and pending provincial approval. The package of votes passed 32–9.
While Council did not approve a price point for road tolls—that will come at a later stage—the staff report [PDF] stated that over 30 years a $2 toll would net the City $166 million in annual revenue after accounting for the cost of tolling and upkeep costs for the Gardiner and DVP. That estimate is based on a lower $2.6 billion cost for Gardiner repairs, which has since escalated by $1 billion, and $1.9 billion in total costs to the City.
Council also approved the harmonization of the Municipal Land Transfer Tax that will add $77 million, a four per cent hotel tax that is projected to add $42 million, an above-inflationary billboard tax worth $2.5 million, and a request to the province to repeal the vacant commercial property tax rebate, worth $22 million. If all of the taxes and fees are approved and implemented, they would deliver more than $300 million in annual revenue to a city that faces a $33 billion list of unfunded-but-approved capital projects and annual operating shortfalls largely caused by funding issues at the TTC and TCHC.
Council also provisionally approved a sales tax, if the province does not share part of the HST; the tax would require provincial approval.
Council stopped short of approving other taxes and fees. A motion to re-instate the vehicle registration tax failed. Exploring an income tax was turned down. Moves to look at property tax increases above the rate of inflation were stymied. In a 22–20 vote, the mayor and most of his allies successfully opposed consulting the public on a graduated property tax structure that could make it more progressive.
While the total amount of money doesn’t address the City’s full financial needs on either the operating or capital side, the debate was the first concrete sign of Council’s new revenue tool consensus. While Council previously blamed out-of-control spending or a lack of support from other orders of government, the realization that responsibility must come from within is new and refreshing. To truly tackle the City’s daunting fiscal challenge, this logic and political momentum must build on itself. Failing to do so would risk slipping into the stasis that has characterized Toronto’s revenue debates for far too long.