Irresponsible Madness at City Hall (Update 2)

Updated May 10, 2013 at 8:45 am:

A consolidated list of Council actions has been added to show the net effect of many overlapping motions and amendments.

Updated May 9, 2013 at 11:00 pm:

After an extremely long debate and complex voting process, the primary outcome of Council’s actions was:

  • “That City Council support the extension of the Bloor Danforth Subway Line from Kennedy Station to the Scarborough Town Centre and north to Sheppard Avenue.”
  • “That City Council request that the North York Relief Line (unfinished subway construction between Sheppard Avenue and Allen Road, and Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue) be recognized as a substantive project priority for Phase 2 Metrolinx funding.”
  • That consideration of various other projects such as the Bloor West subway extension be referred to the Chief Planner for analysis and incorporation in the review of the Official Plan now in progress
  • That Council not support any of the proposed “revenue tools” to fund transit expansion or operations, but that if Queen’s Park chooses to implement some, Toronto wants its cut subject to a number of conditions.

The full minutes, for those with the heart to wade through them, are on the City’s website.

From a procedural viewpoint, Council merely offered “support” or a “request” for new subway lines, but did not actually ask that the Scarborough LRT be recast as a subway project.  Speaker Nunziata ruled that Council was not technically reopening the matter of its agreement with Queen’s Park, and therefore only a simple majority of votes was needed for motions regarding changes to the proposed network to pass.

Before the voting even began, Transportation Minister Glen Murray had told the Queen’s Park press gallery that the province was building the already agreed-to network and would not entertain a change to subway technology for the SRT replacement.  This did not deter Council from asking for the change anyhow, no doubt hoping that political winds at the Pink Palace will bring a change in policy.

This on the same day Transportation Minister Glen Murray emphasized that the province will not be giving Toronto a new subway extension in exchange for a deal on revenue streams to build transit. “I want to be very clear so no one misunderstands me: We have 15 projects, we’re not revisiting those projects, we’re continuing to build those projects,” he said. [The Globe And Mail, May 9, 2013]

Over half of the voting time, and a great deal of debate, was wasted on the question of which revenue tools, if any, Council would support.  The staff report recommended a few, but rejected most.  Rather than completely replacing this recommendation with a set of motions to adopt or reject each tool, Council wound up with a rat’s nest of overlapping and contradictory motions proposing new lists, and with some Councillors proposing amendments to others’ motions.  The effect at times was to create double and triple negatives in the effect of some votes rather than simply taking each tool/tax/fee in turn and voting up or down on whether Council supported it.

In the end, Council rejected all of them, a process that could have taken a lot less time with only a modicum of procedural leadership.

Toronto now faces a provincial government that will almost certainly ignore its requests and, in the short term, will proceed with the agreed plan (which Council did not attempt to revoke).

For their parts, Metrolinx and the TTC owe everyone a much more detailed statement of the cost implications of the LRT and subway options to inform any decision to take one or the other path.  Whether we will actually get this, given the vested interests in the fog of misinformation hanging over Council’s debate and Metrolinx planning, is another question.

Update 2 – Decisions taken by Council:

In this section, I have attempted to collect related motions together so that the overall intent of Council (assuming such a thing exists) is clear.  Where an action is included in quotation marks, this is a direct quote from the Council motion.

Council did not explicitly name Sales Taxes or Development Charges in the list of revenue tools it supported.  This has been construed by some Councillors as a backhanded endorsement by omission.  However, a separate motion recommending a 1% province-wide sales tax dedicated to transportation programs throughout Ontario was defeated by a vote of 28:16.

Although Council does not support a parking levy, if one is imposed then:

  • “City Council request the Provincial government to consider no charge for small scale commercial parking and differentiated charges for paid commercial parking lots and other large scale free commercial parking.”

Council indicated general support for regional transit expansion and for dedicated revenues to fund The Big Move’s capital and operating costs.  Any new taxes or fees implemented should follow certain principles:

  • “All project selections be based on a cost/benefit analysis that emphasizes improving transportation capacity, relief from congestion, and is linked to appropriate land-use planning.”
  • Operation of transit expansions should be fully costed.
  • New GTHA fees should be dedicated to GTHA transportation, they should imposed at the same level across the region and they should not “create a disincentive to economic growth in Toronto”.
  • The mix of fees should balance between effects on residents and businesses.  They should take account of affordability for those of low incomes with tax credits to be considered to offset the cost for this group.
  • New revenues should not be used to fund the existing $8.4b provincial commitment to the “phase one” Big Move projects.
  • GO Transit capital and operating costs should be carried by the province separately from new revenues.  This position conflicts with the presence of GO expansion projects in The Big Move.

Council’s support for new fees is conditional on a 25% share of the revenue for incremental funding (ie: net new money) of municipal transit expansion with priorities to be set municipally.  A regional property tax was explicitly rejected because this revenue stream is required to fund local requirements.

Separately, Council asked that Queen’s Park agree to fund 1/2 of transit operating costs, state of good repair programs and rolling stock in Toronto.

Council asked that the Federal government contribute to The Big Move with “equitable and increased” funding.  The Feds were also asked to implement a regional income tax reduction to offset the cost of new taxes to the GTHA.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Council wants the Feds to, in effect, pay for the cost of transit expansion through a tax cut in the GTHA that would be clawed back through new provincial revenues.

Council asked that Metrolinx work with provincial and federal agencies to implement projects through public private partnerships (PPPs) to minimize costs.  Of course, there is no guarantee that this will actually deliver better, cheaper projects over their lifetime, but this is part of current financial orthodoxy.  In a separate motion, Council also asked that Metrolinx issue an international Request for Proposals (RFP) for future subway construction in Toronto.  This is actually already Metrolinx’ practice.

Council asked that capital maintenance costs for any projects built and owned by Metrolinx be borne by that agency.  By implication, municipalities should not be responsible for funding repairs to infrastructure that they do not own.  This could be tricky depending on the wording of operating agreements between Metrolinx and municipalities.

Council asked that all Metrolinx and TTC projects “be aligned with City Building goals including appropriate transit oriented development on Metrolinx properties” and that both agencies “undertake Community Benefit Agreements for all transit lines and local projects funded through new revenue tools”.

Council requested reports from the City Manager on:

  • a revised governance structure for Metrolinx,
  • principles for allocation of the 25% municipal share of new revenues,
  • the “opportunity” to use the municipal share to finance 50% of existing GTHA transit operations.

Council referred the following additional transit lines to the Chief Planner:

  • a Sheppard LRT spur to the Zoo,
  • a Finch West subway from the Spadina subway to Humber College,
  • the Downtown Relief Line,
  • the Sheppard Subway Line from Don Mills Station to Scarborough Town Centre,
  • extension of the Bloor-Danforth Subway Line to the East Mall and Sherway Gardens Mall.

Council also decided that it should:

“not proceed with the proposed Yonge North Subway Extension until improvements have first been made to increase capacity on the existing Yonge University line by an amount at least equal to the increased ridership generated by the Yonge North Subway Extension.”

This is oddly worded because both the Richmond Hill extension and any project to relieve capacity downtown are Metrolinx projects within The Big Move, not Toronto projects.  This appears to be a drafting error, and the motion should have read that Council does not support building the extension until there is capacity to absorb the new riding.

Notwithstanding the report request to the City Manager, Council also made several requests to Queen’s Park related to Metrolinx:

  • “The governance and decision-making processes of Metrolinx must be changed to ensure Toronto has an appropriate degree of control over the use of new transit-related revenue tools applied in Toronto.”
  • “Mechanisms are put in place to insure the accountability of Metrolinx, including the appointment of the Mayor or his designate to the Board of Metrolinx.”
  • That the board revert to its original format with political representation from the regional municipalities on an “equitable basis” between Toronto and the other regions, and that the chair be appointed by the province.  All decisions on the spending of new revenues would be controlled by this board.

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