BY PHILIP SLAYTON ● The Toronto municipal election is upon us. So far, there is little evidence of big issues being discussed seriously. Perhaps we cannot expect much, over the summer at least, when the weather is warm and the spirit lazy.
Toronto seems a city in decline. The biggest evidence is deteriorating public transport. Every great city offers its citizens fast, frequent, efficient and comprehensive public transport. Increasingly, the TTC fails to do this. Its routes, particularly subway routes, are inadequate; its facilities, particularly subway stations, are drab and poorly maintained; customer service and employee moral are at low ebb. A friend returning from New Delhi praised the impressive subway system in that Indian city. It is Toronto that has Third World public transportation.
There are other depressing signs of deterioration in municipal infrastructure. Parks, for example, are very poorly maintained. The lawns are bare and covered in garbage; the flowerbeds untended; the overall prospect, unattractive. This may seem like a small thing, but parks are important and symbolic public spaces that bring the citizenry together. Any visitor to Europe can tell of beautiful parks, with children playing, old men reading newspapers in the sun, a fountain sparkling in the centre.
It’s all about money. There isn’t enough. There isn’t enough for public transportation. There’s almost none for city beautification. There isn’t enough for just about everything. What’s to be done? Toronto’s main sources of revenue are property taxes and user fees. They are inadequate. Neither source can be expanded significantly. A new source is needed.
Let’s have a City of Toronto income tax. There is nothing new about municipal income taxes. In the U.S., about 170 municipalities have one. New York is the best-known example, taxing the income of city residents at a rate of about 3.5%. No one likes paying taxes. No one likes a new tax. But, for Torontonians, the alternative is worse.
A City of Toronto personal income tax is one of those big issues that should be front and centre in the 2010 election campaign.