Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lots of criticism, few solutions

BRT plans take centre stage

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Gord Steeves set his sights on front-runner Judy Wasylycia-Leis for the third consecutive day, challenging her Thursday to explain how she'd pay for financing costs to complete the Southwest Transit Corridor.

The challenge caused Wasylycia-Leis to stumble through a later news conference, when she confirmed she'd raise property taxes two to three per cent annually to pay for existing services but made no provision for the $20 million annually city hall will need beginning in 2020.

Steeves returned to an empty field west of Pembina Highway, part of the transit-corridor route, for the site of his Thursday news conference, where he predicted Wasylycia-Leis will have to raise property taxes by an additional five per cent annually to raise the $20 million city hall will need for the corridor project.

"I do not believe Judy has contemplated the full and far-reaching impact of the cost of the second phase of bus rapid transit," Steeves said.

At the city hall courtyard, Wasylycia-Leis began her news conference detailing how she would allocate a three per cent annual property tax increase, which is a duplication of the plan city council adopted a year ago: one-third for core services and two-thirds for local and regional roads.

The former New Democrat MP and MLA was heavily criticized in her 2010 bid to unseat Sam Katz for failing to detail the financial costs of her promises and she appears to be following that route on the transit issue.

"You've got my reasonable commitment to complete the southwest transitway," Wasylycia-Leis said. "I know it's going to take some money...

"The bottom line is we have to finish it and we will find the resources without going to the public again for another (property tax) increase."

Finding the $20 million will be one of the priorities for the next council.

The civic administration has suggested the obvious options to find the $20 million annually: trim department budgets; raise taxes; increase transit fares; or a combination of all three.

Wasylycia-Leis said she was contrasting her platform for a modest, stable tax increase to finance the necessary civic work and criticized Steeves for promising to freeze taxes and sell city property to finance infrastructure projects.

Wasylycia-Leis also criticized Brian Bowman for claiming he can find $10 million within the existing city budget through department cuts, but when pressed by reporters, she twice said she would resort to the same "efficiencies" to find the $20 million for the transit project.

"We're going to find a way to do it, we're going to find a way to take on the infrastructure deficit," Wasylycia-Leis said. "If it's not enough, we're going to have to look for efficiencies in city hall."

Wasylycia-Leis said if forced to find funds through efficiencies, she committed to not cut front-line services.

Earlier, Steeves restated his pledge to kill the second leg of the corridor route because it won't improve service and he doesn't believe it will spark the kind of dense development associated with the original route close to Pembina Highway.

Though asked repeatedly, Steeves would not offer his vision for the next leg of rapid transit -- where it should run, how to pay for it, or when it could be completed. He also declined to offer a general statement in support of the notion of a high-speed line to the University of Manitoba.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 5, 2014 B1


Updated on Friday, September 5, 2014 at 7:13 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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