Highlighting Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan's budget was Move Ontario, a new $1.2-billion investment in transportation infrastructure, including transit, roads and bridges. "Quick, reliable and safe transportation," he said, "is vital to our economic success. It is also essential to our quality of life."
The centrepiece of Move Ontario, Duncan said, is a landmark, $838 million investment to enable the expansion and modernization of public transit in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). For the first time, he noted, subway service will be extended beyond regional boundaries, from the 416 to the 905 [area codes]. The budget provides:
*$670 million to allow Toronto and York Region to extend the subway to the Vaughan Corporate Centre at Highway 7;
*$95 million to allow Brampton to make express transit services available through the Brampton AcceleRide project;
*$65 million to allow Mississauga to develop the Mississauga Transitway, a separate bus right-of-way with 14 stations;
*$7 million for the environmental assessment and detailed planning required for Phase II of VIVA Transit in York Region; and
*$1 million towards an environmental assessment relating to the future of the Scarborough subway.
The province is also providing $200 million in additional support for Toronto's existing subway operations.
To facilitate the integration of transportation systems, Duncan announced plans to introduce legislation this year to establish the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA). The GTTA, he said, could promote seamless movement of people and goods, and could oversee an integrated fare card for use across all the GTA transit systems.
Finally, Move Ontario will allocate $400 million for municipal roads and bridges, primarily outside the GTA, with special emphasis on rural and northern communities.
The budget includes a plan to further increase the province's share of gas tax for public transit, to two cents per litre, starting in October. Effective immediately, Duncan added, municipalities will be able to use the gas tax funding for transit operations as well as for capital. Over five years, he added, this program will have delivered more than $1.4 billion to municipalities.
Other initiatives with environmental benefits include:
*a doubling of the maximum retail sales tax rebate for the purchase of hybrid electric vehicles to $2,000;
*an allocation of $4 million to create a Bio-Energy Research Centre in Atikokan to conduct practical research for the province, the community and the Atikokan Generating Station; and
*a $10-million investment in Sudbury's Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation.
Ontario's 2006 budget contains no new taxes or tax increases and projects an interim deficit of $1.4 billion for 2005-06, down 75% from the $5.5 billion deficit inherited in 2003-04. The government remains on track to balance the budget by 2008-09 at the latest, possibly eliminating the deficit a year earlier if the reserve is not needed, said Duncan.