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Property tax hike proposed for blockbuster $30-billion TTC overhaul

TTC chair Karen Stintz is due to unveil a $30-billion, 30-year proposal that would mean a significant property-tax increase to pay for expansions to the public transit system.

Peter Power/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

In a bold move that could relieve gridlock across Toronto, the chair of the TTC is proposing a significant increase in property taxes to pay for a sweeping, 170-kilometre public-transit expansion that would start with a Scarborough subway.

Councillor Karen Stintz and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, vice-chair of TTC, will unveil on Wednesday a $30-billion, 30-year proposal that is expected to face stiff opposition from Mayor Rob Ford, igniting a new high-stakes battle for the future of transit in Canada's largest city.

"No tax is popular," Mr. De Baeremaeker said. "Our proposition to people is, if you want transit infrastructure built, and you want a subway, you're going to have to pay for it."

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At the heart of their plan, dubbed OneCity, is a novel approach to publicly funding new subway, light rail transit and bus lines.

It's called a "current-value assessment uplift" and it would require the province to change the law so that property-tax collection is no longer revenue neutral for the municipal government.

For the average Toronto homeowner, it would mean an extra $180 a year in property taxes once the plan is fully phased-in in 2016, or the equivalent of an automatic 1.9-per-cent rate increase every year.

That's over and above any traditional annual property-tax hike.

The money raked in through the CVA uplift – $272-million per year, once fully phased in – would go into a dedicated transit-infrastructure purse, Ms. Stintz said.

"We have an opportunity through this process to improve transit through a dedicated funding stream that we believe shows value to the residents of Toronto. It's dedicated, it's dependable and it's debt-free."

She and Mr. De Baeremaeker and their supporters already have a plan to spend that money on transit projects snaking into every corner of the city, including six new or expanded subway or train lines, 10 new LRT lines and five new bus and streetcar lines.

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Their first priority is replacing the dilapidated Scarborough RT with a subway instead of an above-ground LRT, a switch that would cost $484-million more than the province has already committed, but which jibes with the mayor's campaign promise to build subways in Scarborough.

However, that doesn't mean the taxes-for-transit proposition has any support from Mr. Ford, who lost control of the TTC earlier this year amidst a fierce fight over whether to run a subway or an LRT on Sheppard Avenue East.

Ms. Stintz, now one of the mayor's most powerful foes on council, and her allies crafted the OneCity plan without the mayor's input, only briefing his office last Thursday and again Tuesday.

She never spoke directly to Mr. Ford about the proposal.

George Christopoulos, Mr. Ford's press secretary, said "the mayor's office has been made aware that there is a motion, but does not know the specifics."

He referred questions to Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a Ford supporter who, along with four others, was booted from the commission in March.

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Mr. Minnan-Wong said he was speaking for himself and the mayor when he called the plan a "massive, backdoor tax increase," that would hurt seniors, young families and the city's economy.

Mr. Ford's disapproval isn't the only hurdle over which Ms. Stintz and her supporters will have to leap.

They'll have to convince council to vote in favour of studying their plan at the July meeting and implement it at the October meeting.

Ms. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker "absolutely" believe they have the votes. They've let key centrist councillors, including Josh Colle, in on their planning and worked with TTC staff on the figures.

Next they'll need the province to change the law and to agree to fund one-third of their $30-billion plan. They're looking for another third of the cost from Ottawa.

"It's easier to get partners on to the dance floor when you've actually got money," Mr. De Baeremaeker said.

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How would the CVA uplift proposal work?

Mr. Stintz and Mr. De Baeremaeker are proposing that the "CVA uplift" be phased in over four years. For the owner of the average Toronto home valued at $427,085 the plan would add $45 to the tax bill in 2013, $90 in 2014, $135 in 2015 and $180 in 2016 and beyond. It would be the equivalent of a 1.9-per-cent property-tax hike per year. The revenue would be dedicated exclusively to transit infrastructure. Council could still impose a traditional property-tax increase every year.

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Projects proposed in the OneCity plan

Subways/Trains

  • The Scarborough subway. Instead of replacing the Scarborough RT with an LRT as planned, build a 7.6-km of extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kennedy station to Sheppard and McCowan. (Cost: $484-million more than the province has already committed for the LRT.)
  • Extend the Yonge subway to Steeles ($1.346-billion)
  • Extend the Sheppard subway west to Downsview Station ($1.541-billion)
  • Build a Don Mills express subway from Eglinton to Queen Station ($5.4-billion)
  • Upgrade Yonge/Bloor station ($995-million)
  • Build a Scarborough express line from Steeles to Union Station ($6.9-billion)
  • Build an Etobicoke express line from Pearson Airport to Union Station. This is a proposal to electrify and add stops to Metrolinx’s planned air-rail link some time after its opening for the Pan Am Games. ($1.5-billion)

Light-Rail Transit

  • Extend the Sheppard East LRT to Meadowvale ($160-million)
  • Extend the Sheppard East LRT to Toronto Zoo ($170-million)
  • Extend the Sheppard East LRT to Malvern ($123-million)
  • Build a Scarborough-Malvern LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard and Morningside ($1.845-billion)
  • Extend the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to Pearson Airport ($1.874-billion)
  • Extend the Finch West LRT from Humber College to Pearson Airport ($851-million)
  • Build a Jane LRT from Steeles to Bloor ($1.488-billion)
  • Build a Waterfront West LRT from Union Station to Long Branch ($767-million)
  • Build a Finch West LRT from Keele to Yonge ($762-million)
  • Build a Don Mills LRT from Steeles to Eglinton ($1.42-billion)

Streetcar lines/bus-rapid transit

  • Build a Waterfront East streetcar line from Union Station to Parliament ($287-million)
  • Build an Ellesmere BRT from Scarborough Centre to east boundary ($335-million)
  • Build a Kingston BRT from Victoria Park Station to Eglinton and Kingston ($333-million)
  • Extend the St. Clair streetcar line from Keele to Jane ($102-million)
  • Build a Wilson BRT from Wilson Station to Keele ($127-million)

Source: OneCity plan, TTC staff

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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