Metrolinx report recommends gas tax, increased HST to fund public transit

TORONTO – Ontario’s transportation agency is recommending a five-cents-a-litre regional gas tax and a one percentage point increase in the sales tax to help fund public transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area.

They are among four new fees Metrolinx is proposing in a report Monday to raise $2 billion a year for transit.

They include a 25 cents per day business off-street parking levy and a 15 per cent increase in development charges.

Metrolinx says the increase in the HST to 14 per cent from the current 13 per cent would bring in $1.3 billion a year if applied only in the GTHA.

But the Metrolinx report says that due to the administration and collection of HST at the federal and provincial levels, the province may find it necessary to introduce the increase across Ontario.

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The report says if that happens, revenue collected outside of the GTHA would be exclusively directed to priorities outside of the region.

The agency says the gas tax and HST hikes would cost the average household in the region about $477 a year.

VIDEO: Metrolinx proposes new gas tax, hike in GST. Alan Carter reports.

Metrolinx is also recommending other tools, such as paying for parking at Metrolinx stations and so-called high occupancy toll lanes.

Transportation Minister Glen Murray says the province will evaluate the revenue tools proposed by Metrolinx and will look at other funding options for transit expansion.

“We accept the guiding principles of the Metrolinx funding strategy: revenue must be dedicated to specific outcomes; costs and benefits of transit expansion must be fairly distributed,” Murray said in a statement.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne will use the report to determine which levies she’ll choose to raise the billions of dollars needed to fund what’s being called The Big Move.

Metrolinx says all the revenues would be dedicated to public transit projects, with 25 per cent carved out for municipalities in the area to spend on local transit and transportation projects.

Wynne has already ruled out hiking property taxes, but is in favour of creating so-called high occupancy toll lanes.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, currently embroiled in a scandal over allegations of crack cocaine use which he denies, opposes all the levies.

During a visit to London, Ont., on Friday, Wynne said she knows that Toronto city council is dealing with some “issues,” but she’ll move ahead once she gets the Metrolinx report.

“I know that we need to invest in transit across the GTHA and we need to invest in transit across the province,” she said.

“We also need to invest in roads and bridges. All of those issues are touched upon in our budget and that’s why it’s so important that we get the budget passed and we move to implement it for the improvement of people’s lives in the province.”

But Wynne can’t impose the new levies without the support of at least one of the opposition parties.

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She’s promised to introduce legislation that will allow the New Democrats and Progressive Conservatives to stop the fees if they want. Both parties say they oppose new levies.

The Share The Road Cycling Coalition is also weighing in on the transit funding debate.

It says the results of a new poll it commissioned suggest that a majority of Torontonians – 66 per cent – would support using Metrolinx funding to expand the GTA’s network of bike paths and pedestrian infrastructure.

The poll of 1,523 adult Ontario residents was conducted earlier this month by Strategic Communications Inc. of Toronto.

The Coalition says the survey clearly shows that a steadily growing number of Ontarians are choosing pedal power and walking as a favoured mode of transit, and it argues that fact should be reflected in Metrolinx’s spending.