Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow unveils budget and city tax increase

Click to play video: 'Chow commits to funding transit and holding the line on police spending in first budget'
Chow commits to funding transit and holding the line on police spending in first budget
WATCH: Mayor Olivia Chow delivered her first budget from a TTC station, committing to improve service for Scarborough. Her spending plan is winning over some, but the decision to not grant the police their full budget ask is drawing fierce criticism. Matthew Bingley reports – Feb 1, 2024

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow has unveiled her version of the city’s 2024 budget, shaving one per cent off the proposed tax increase and appearing to end speculation she could forge ahead with blaming further tax increases on the federal government.

Chow unveiled the budget at Scarborough Centre Station on Thursday, where she promised funds would be earmarked for rapid transit in Scarborough as commuters continue to struggle with the decommissioning of Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 3 from Kennedy Station.

In her budget, Chow said the city will pay to replace the now defunct line with a busway. That is still in the planning phase and may not be delivered until 2027, staff said in a recent report.

The mayor said costs in the city were spiralling, pointing to statistics that show one in 10 people are relying on food banks, and said her budget would put the city “back on track.”

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She blamed the pandemic and “past financial strategy” that “avoided making hard choices.”

Click to play video: 'Mayor Olivia Chow suggests 9.5% tax increase in proposed budget'
Mayor Olivia Chow suggests 9.5% tax increase in proposed budget

On Wednesday evening, the mayor’s office confirmed Chow’s budget would drop one per cent from the proposed increase of 10.5 per cent. The mayor’s budget includes 8 per cent for the property tax and 1.5 per cent for an infrastructure levy.

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Chow heralded her deal with the Ford government as a key part of the budget, referencing a deal that saw Queen’s Park wade into the city to upload the Gardiner Expressway and Don Valley Parkway, pay to operate the Finch West and Eglinton Crosstown LRTs and cover the cost of new subway trains.

The federal government also said Wednesday it was announcing more than $350 million for provinces and cities to pay for housing and refugee costs. Ottawa would not say how much of that money would go to Toronto.

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The new concessions from both the government elicited a “thank you” from the mayor, who has previously used every opportunity to call on the federal government to contribute more to her city’s funding crunch.

“We cannot cut our way out of this mess,” Chow said.

The mayor said she made some changes to the budget proposed by city staff, including more staff for rental enforcement workers and an increase in spending on warming centres.

Responding to questions about using reserve funds to cut property tax increases, Chow said she wasn’t worried using rainy day funds now would come back to haunt her in the future.

Chow will table her budget on Thursday, Feb. 1, and is planning to finalize and approve the document by Feb. 14.

Councillors will have an opportunity to suggest changes to the financial plan. Under the province’s strong mayor powers, Chow has the ability to veto those suggestions, a power she has said she doesn’t plan to use.

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