Higher property taxes and transit fares will be needed to help pay the huge costs of expanding Toronto’s transit system, says mayoral candidate David Soknacki.
At a debate Tuesday, Soknacki chastised other candidates for touting transit expansion plans costing billions without including a comprehensive plan to pay for them.
Soknacki hasn’t either, but he’s the only prominent candidate to emphasize that all imaginable sources of cash — including politically explosive road tolls — will be needed if expansion is to happen.
“One needs to take a look at all of the ideas on the table plus those that nobody wants to talk about which is property taxes and increased fares,” he said Wednesday.
“The costs are so large for transit that unless you take a look at every revenue tool that’s available, plus federal and provincial funding, we’re not going to be building transit.
“I’m not trying to cause unnecessary alarm. It’s a basic fact.”
Soknacki, a former city councillor and budget chief, said Mayor Rob Ford is increasing property taxes to pay for the $3.5 billion Scarborough subway, but taxes will have to go up even more to fund other lines Ford says he wants to build.
At Tuesday’s debate, Ford said he supports a downtown relief subway line, and a subway on Finch. Earlier in the campaign, he has talked about extending the Sheppard line east into Scarborough.
Soknacki issued an analysis in February — which Ford hasn’t challenged — concluding that Toronto’s debt would have to double to $7 billion by 2022 to build Finch and Sheppard subways. The analysis didn’t include the minimum $7 billion downtown relief line.
It costs about $400 million to build a kilometre of subway, he said.
Because Ford didn’t include a price tag, Soknacki took a look and concluded property taxes would have to rise beyond the 1.6 per cent already needed until 2044 to pay for the Scarborough subway extension.
Even assuming generous funding from federal and provincial governments, the city would have to borrow for its share, doubling debt repayment costs, the analysis says.
This year, debt payment represents $294 or 11 per cent of the average residential tax bill and Soknacki says that could go to $650 a year to pay for Finch and Sheppard subways — more if the downtown relief line is added.
Soknacki also criticized Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz and John Tory for failing to detail comprehensive funding strategies.
Chow wants to tap federal and provincial governments for more money, Tory has talked about tax increment financing, which would capture increased taxes from new development spurred by transit expansion and Stintz has identified parking taxes and selling part of Toronto Hydro.
The truth is, all of these sources will need to be mobilized, he said.
“The public needs to know that the cost of plans being discussed are far beyond our current ability to pay. That’s why we need to bring everything to bear if we are going to expand transit.”
“If we’re going to have a better level of transit service — which everybody wants — we are going to have to pay for it, there’s no other way around it.”
Nothing should be off the table including road tolls, Soknacki said, adding he would support a toll lane on the Don Valley Parkway with the revenue going into transit.