It was a rare moment of collegiality between a mayor and his biggest critic.
It was also a sign, perhaps, of things to come.
Coun. Gord Perks (Ward 4 Parkdale—High Park) congratulated the Mayor John Tory in Committee Room 1 at city hall on Wednesday for moving to increase property taxes to pay for transit and housing projects, a move Perks called “courageous” and a “remarkable show of leadership.”
Tory responded: “I don’t know how to take that . . . I’ll take it at face value.”
It came just before Tory’s executive committee unanimously approved an eight per cent increase in property taxes for home and business owners toward the existing city building fund over the next six years — a proposal announced by Tory last week.
“We all have known for years and years and years that to deliver the suite of services that the public demands of us requires that we increase the amount of revenue that we have,” said Perks, who was attending the committee as a non-member.
But Perks’ words also alluded to the fact Tory has long challenged those like Perks who have repeatedly called for such tax increases.
“Some people in the debate over the last bunch of years have been willing to tell that truth and others have not.”
The tax increase, which must be approved by council next week but is expected to pass with strong support from all sides, would see an additional one per cent increase in 2020 and 2021 and a 1.5 per cent increase in each year after through 2025.
Tory first introduced the city building fund in 2015 and it was approved by council in 2017 in an effort to raise the needed funds to build and repair transit and housing.
In a letter to the committee, Tory outlined how other measures he hoped would allow the city to raise needed funds had failed. The road tolls on the Gardiner Express and Don Valley Parkway he’d pushed for were shot down by former premier Kathleen Wynne’s government. Then the additional gas tax revenues Wynne promised the city as a consolation prize were axed by current Premier Doug Ford’s government.
“We cannot lament the current political climate as a reason for inaction in our city,” Tory’s letter said. “This is the right thing to do to build up our city and protect its prosperity.”
The $6.6 billion those increases is expected to allow the city to borrow for transit and housing projects still won’t be nearly enough.
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There is currently a more than $20 billion backlog in unfunded TTC capital work and $3 billion unfunded of the city’s share of affordable housing under a new 10-year plan council is set to also approve next week.
Tory had promised to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation in both the 2014 and 2018 election. Tory has said he expects there to be an inflation-only increase to fund the city’s operating budget in 2020. But when the city building levy is considered, the increase next year would be more than inflation.