With one week to go before a momentous tax debate at city hall, the spotlight shines on a half-dozen Toronto councillors still undecided if they will vote for Mayor David Miller’s new “revenue tools.” Over the next few days, negotiations are expected to intensify between the mayor’s office and key swing voters on council for a possible consensus to approve a land transfer tax on the purchase of a home and a car registration fee for 2008.
One of those in the limelight is Peter Milczyn (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), a political centrist who votes with, and against, the mayor, depending on the issue. His vote could mean victory or defeat for Mr. Miller.
“The mayor’s office is trying to make me feel warm and fuzzy,” says the veteran councillor with a wry smile. First elected to local politics in 1994, he lost in 1997, but has represented his upscale west-end ward since 2000.
In July, Mr. Milczyn was one of 23 councillors who snubbed the mayor by a one-vote margin to defer his controversial tax package until Oct. 22. Mr. Milczyn has not tipped his hand for next week.
But the 42-year-old politician, who says he has had “blunt discussions” with Mr. Miller in recent weeks, makes no bones about what could turn his vote.
“Cost reduction is the key thing for me,” says the Etobicoke native, an architect by profession.
He wrote to the mayor right after the deferral vote with suggestions, ranging from symbolic cuts in areas that grate with the public (council perks and office budgets) to structural changes (no bonuses and salary caps for non-union city staff and a move to turn the water department into a quasi-privatized agency).
He says the mayor’s office has assured him, ” ‘We have heard what you are saying,’ but I told them I need something tangible.”
Other swing voters, including Suzan Hall (Etobicoke North), Mark Grimes (Etobicoke-Lakeshore), and Ron Moeser ( Scarborough East), have their own wish lists.
As the Toronto Real Estate Board and other anti-tax business groups step up their lobby efforts this week, Mr. Miller’s challenge will be to coax enough councillors on board without gutting the revenue tools.
On paper, the land transfer tax of up to 2 per cent (a sliding scale tied to the sales price of a house) and a $60 fee to register car ownership could generate $356-million a year in total. Already the July deferral and implementation delays have shrunk the pot to $250-million, which could sink to around $200-million if council adopts all the “refinements” under discussion.