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Funding Toronto transit ethically

The debate over whether TTC fares should rise by 20 cents so that the property tax increase for Toronto homeowners can be held to two per cent is a good case study in ethical budget making.

The debate over whether TTC fares should rise by 20 cents so that the property tax increase for Toronto homeowners can be held to two per cent is a good case study in ethical budget making.

Michael Gillette, an American ethicist who helps municipalities make these sorts of difficult decisions, said in an interview he would need more information before pronouncing on Toronto’s situation. But he offered some guidelines. Gillette, who is also a city councillor in Lynchburg, Va., said his first question is whether providing public transit is something the community believes city government should do for citizens.

In Toronto, the answer is clearly yes. This means we’ve decided the TTC is not something paid for only by the people who use it. It means we have decided collectively to subsidize the system through taxes because it is something we value for its convenience, for environmental reasons and for equity considerations, that is ensuring the least advantaged can get from A to B.

Gillette pointed out, however, that other factors need to be considered in the property-tax-versus-fare hike debate. Ethical decision making also requires comparing both the number of people hurt by one choice or the other and the damage that will be done to the affected parties.

Thousands of Torontonians rely on transit, including the city’s most financially vulnerable. Higher transit fares will make it tougher for them to earn a living and cope with everyday life. They don’t have transportation alternatives.

Raising property taxes by four per cent, on the other hand, will cost the owner of a $387,000 home an additional $90. But more than 91,000 of the lowest-income owners will qualify for city programs that permit the deferral or cancellation of property tax increases. The most vulnerable, in other words, are protected.

“Budget documents,” Gillette notes, “are fundamentally value documents. If I want to know what you value, I’ll look at what you spend your money on.” He would also look at who is asked to pay.

In this case, it should not be transit riders.

 
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