Judy Wasylycia-Leis may be the frontrunner in the opinion polls to become Winnipeg’s next mayor but she stumbled badly in the courtyard of city hall Thursday morning when she was unable to explain how she’d pay for the $20 million annual bus rapid transit financing costs.
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.
But city hall faces an annual $20 million bill beginning in 2020 to pay for its share of the $600 million BRT project.
Wasylycia-Leis has not made any provisions for the BRT financing. When asked repeatedly where she would find the $20 million, she said she is committed to completing the second phase of the southwest corridor to the University of Manitoba and referred to all of her other promises – but would not say how she would come up with an additional $20 million.
"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 for the full amount, or more borrowing, which will result in a smaller tax increase but add to the city’s growing debt problem; 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 Gord 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 BRT.
"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.
Before she got lost with BRT, Wasylycia-Leis outlined a winter services plan, very similar to what Paula Havixbeck announced last week. Wasylycia-Leis said the city’s priority for the winter would be snow removal, ensuring there is no repeat of the past winter’s frozen pipes situation, and overhauling the 311 information system.