Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Fuel, GST hikes eyed for Auckland

Mayor puts up tough options to get Auckland traffic moving. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Mayor puts up tough options to get Auckland traffic moving. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Higher petrol prices, road tolls and even a rise in GST are being dangled in front of Aucklanders as options to pay for a $2.4 billion inner-city rail loop and other transport projects.

Mayor Len Brown today releases a long-awaited discussion paper on transport funding options to stop dodging what he says are the tough decisions to get Auckland moving.

"We just can't do the same old, same old and just meander along and postpone everything to another generation," he said.

"We know what we have got to do, but that requires Aucklanders putting some real skin in the game."

Mr Brown said Aucklanders - faced with a rapidly growing population and an already congested roading network - had to make some hard decisions to meet a $10-15 billion shortfall for a package of major transport projects over the next 30 years.

This is on top of $50 billion of largely road-user charges and rates budgeted to be spent on transport over 30 years.

Mr Brown has launched a debate with 13 options for Aucklanders to respond to between February 24 and March 23, including tolling new roads, regionwide tolls, tolls on congested roads, a regional fuel tax, higher parking charges and raising rates.

The mayor has also put more novel options on the table, including higher income taxes and a rise in GST for Aucklanders, a hotel/motel bed tax and raising the airport departure tax.

Unlike former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who campaigned on a central city congestion charge, Mr Brown is not leading the debate with a preferred funding option for Auckland.

He said he wanted to get feedback from the community on where their comfort zone was before narrowing down the options to two or three.

By the time of next year's local body elections, Mr Brown said, Aucklanders would be under no misapprehension about his preferences.

The matter could go to a referendum, he said.

Auckland Chamber of Commerce head Michael Barnett said the debate on how to pay for Auckland's transport infrastructure was timely, but all funding sources, including asset sales, should be included in the debate.

Mr Brown, a member of the Labour Party, has ruled out selling the council's shares in Auckland Airport and the Ports of Auckland.

The Auckland Chamber of Commerce and the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development also want the debate focused on the transport network and prioritising projects.

Last night, Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee said Mr Brown had put together a discussion document to take to his community, but it was not a joint document with the Government.

"I have made it very clear to Len that anything that requires a change in central government policy is not something the Auckland Council can direct.

"I think fuel taxes are significant at the moment and would be reluctant to look at increases there."

The Auckland Council would need Government approval to proceed with new cash sources such as tolls.

Mr Brownlee reiterated the view of his predecessor, Steven Joyce, who last year ruled out a regional fuel tax and had "significant reservations" about tolls and congestion charges.

Mr Joyce said motorists already contributed about 11 per cent of their fuel taxes to public transport.

Despite many of the options, such as road tolls and a regional fuel tax falling on motorists, Mr Brown said there was a limit to building more roads and the city must invest in public transport and change motorists' behaviour.

The mayor said the council also had to take into account the ability of low-income individuals and households when designing any new funding tools for transport.

Transport funding ideas

* General rates - increasing rates.
* Targeted rates - rates to pay for specific projects.
* Development contributions - charges on new property developments.
* Regional income tax - new income tax paid only by Aucklanders.
* Regional payroll tax - new income tax paid by Auckland employers.
* Regional GST - raising GST in Auckland.
* Tax increment financing - tax on increase in property values from transport services.
* Regional fuel tax - raising petrol and diesel taxes across Auckland.
* Tolling new roads - charging for new roads.
* Tolling existing roads - charging on all roads or just congested roads.
* Carparking charges - increasing carparking fees.
* Visitor taxes - nightly charge for hotel and motel rooms.
* Airport departure tax - increasing departure tax on international flights.

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- NZ Herald

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