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Money for nothing

It’s always nice to get something for nothing. It’s an advertiser’s best sales technique.

For the last few years, Hamiltonians have been buying that pitch. They are under the expectation that they will be getting a new light-rail transit system they believe will further enhance their downtown without paying a cent for it from local coffers.

That sentiment has only been encouraged now after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced last week the Liberals won’t increase the HST or hike gas taxes to raise the necessary $50 billion to pay for Metrolinx’s Big Move, a series of projects that include nearly $800 million for Hamilton’s LRT.

Still, Wynne said the provincial budget will contain an “aggressive” plans to invest in Ontario’s transit infrastructure. By opting out of raising taxes, the Liberals rejected recommendations made by Metrolinx and its hand-picked Anne Golden-led expert committee that stated raising taxes was the way to go.

That leaves the Liberals with a smaller list of options that includes charging road tolls, a congestion charge, parking fees, a corporate tax increase and borrowing against future revenues to raise the necessary cash.

Wynne’s announcement would seem to put the NDP off-balance. Party leader Andrea Horwath reiterated her party’s views it will not support a transit plan that included raising taxes on the backs of middle-income earners.

LRT is also becoming one of the top issues for this year’s mayoral race, with candidates Brian McHattie and Brad Clark both saying the only way a LRT is to be built is with provincial money.
Hamilton politicians and residents seem to believe they are going to get their beloved LRT system without contributing a dime. A council-backed motion to that effect is just the type of project Hamiltonians have come to expect: specialized programs that other people pay for. But if it were to be built on the province’s nickel, there is the very real problem of Hamilton finding the necessary millions to pay for operating such a fancy new toy.

Although Mayor Bob Bratina has been vilified for not properly supporting LRT on behalf of the community, his point is that Hamilton may not be ready for such a system. It remains a debatable point that has more often than not been dismissed, or ignored.

For some Hamilton residents, regular transit service now is more a dream than reality as there are parts of this growing community with no service at all. Hamiltonians and politicians are even reluctant to raise taxes this year to provide needed transit routes along major streets like Rymal Road, and into upper Stoney Creek where the need has never been greater.

And yet there is this dream from downtown Hamiltonians that if the city doesn’t get the LRT, somehow it will be a blow against the city’s perceived progressive reputation. A bus rapid transit system, which would cost less and achieved substantially the same transit goals, was rejected as unworthy for a city that would rather become Portland north.

No matter where the money is coming from it seems myopic at best to use those funds for new infrastructure that would serve only a portion of the community, while leaving others stuck with no transit options at all.

Increased bus service may not be sexy, but sometimes boring is what’s best.

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