TORONTO – Ontario needs a dedicated fund to repair roads and bridges, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday as she suggested new tolls or taxes could be introduced to pay for the upgrades.
While people in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area may face road tolls or some other kind of levy to help fund public transit and ease road congestion, municipalities in other parts of the province can’t afford to repair roads and bridges, said Wynne.
“We need to find a way to create dedicated revenue streams for roads and bridges, i.e. a fund that would allow us to continue to work with municipalities to make sure those infrastructure needs are met,” she said.
“The fact is whether we find those dedicated funds within the revenue that exists right now or whether there’s a new revenue stream as I’m talking about vis-a-vis transit, I’m very aware that infrastructure is a challenge for us.”
Wynne has talked about the need for what she calls new revenue tools — road tolls or some other kind of tax — for transit improvements in southern Ontario, but this was her first hint that taxpayers in other regions could also face new charges.
“There are tolls, there are taxes, there are fees, there are a whole lot of names, words for these mechanisms,” she said.
“Tools is the word that’s being used, and I’m not using it as a euphemism. I’m using it as a catchphrase for all the different ways that we can raise new revenue.”
There would have to be some new way to help municipalities pay to repair infrastructure that in many cases is up to a half-century old, said Wynne.
“We need to be cognizant of the infrastructure revenue across the province. In the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area that translates largely into transit funding, but beyond the GTHA it’s about that broader transportation network.”
The New Democrats, who oppose new taxes or road tolls to pay for public transit improvements, said the Liberal government should close corporate tax loopholes before imposing a new levy on people.
“The problem that we have is a real concern that once again people in Ontario are going to be hit with another tax when they can least afford it,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“We want to see a plan that deals with transportation not only in Toronto but across the province, but it has to be done in a way that’s fair and balanced.
Wynne warned “another generation of transit building” would be lost if the government followed the NDP’s advice and did not look for new revenue streams.
The Toronto Board of Trade proposed a series of new measures to fund public transit upgrades, including a one per cent regional sales tax, a 10-cent-a-litre regional fuel tax, a $1 a day levy on parking spots and converting existing high occupancy vehicle lanes on highways to toll lanes.
The business group “is exactly on the right track,” said Wynne, who also called on the federal Conservatives to provide consistent funding for transit and infrastructure.
“Obviously we need a dedicated revenue stream through the federal government’s infrastructure plan, but even with that we’re going to need revenue tools in order to do the building that needs to be done,” she said.
“To be clear, we’re going to need new revenue streams if we’re going to be able to build the transit that’s needed for this region.”