New Finance Minister Steven Joyce flatly refused to contemplate a fuel tax for Auckland when he made a speech on the economy yesterday.
Former Labour leader Phil Goff, elected Auckland’s mayor last October, expressed his disappointment at the decision and challenged the Government to come up with another workable & sustainable solution.
Despite that challenge indicating a divergence away from last year’s more co-operative stance by council & government, Mr Joyce (pictured above in his early days as a sod-turning digger driver) said the Government was keen to discuss other tools with the council.
Urban development authorities – a proposal out for public consultation – are one aspect of improving public bodies’ handling of infrastructure programmes, but both central & local government have avoided any advance in their thinking on financing infrastructure.
There are acknowledged ways to do it: they just have to choose. But one choice they shouldn’t make is one that’s on its way: charging for parking at park-&-rides, while not providing adequate parking for the growth in commuting by public transport. That would be a resolution by the unhinged.
For big projects which will interest the private sector, the Government & council need to establish a finance & project administration culture that will bring smaller partners in, especially local partners, in a way that project performance can be guaranteed. That, also, can be done: it’s just a matter of having the will to do it. At the moment, both sides in this standoff can only be congratulated for their intransigence.
Addressing a Massey University & Auckland Chamber of Commerce audience, Mr Joyce said: “First, we would expect that any road pricing initiative on existing motorways & highways would predominantly be a replacement for petrol taxes & road user charges, not in addition to them.
“And second, I stress that we are not interested in introducing a regional fuel tax. I have reiterated to Mayor Goff this morning that we do not see regional fuel taxes as part of the Government’s mix for transport in Auckland because they are administratively difficult, prone to leakage & cost-spreading, and blur the accountabilities between central & local government.
“However we are keen to have a more detailed discussion about demand management tools, and explore further options for longer-term funding for new infrastructure, including the use of private finance for certain projects, such as Penlink. Mayor Goff & I have agreed to work together on those.”
Mr Goff expressed his disappointment at the decision: “While the Government has the power to rule out a fuel tax, it has a duty to the people of Auckland to come back to council with alternative solutions. Aucklanders are fed up with sitting in their cars on the motorway for hours at a time. It’s lost time for them and lost productivity for the city.
“People want the Government to work with council to find an agreed solution. In my view, a regional fuel tax is a fair, effective & efficient way of helping close the current $400 million/year gap in transport funding.”
Mr Goff said putting the burden of resolving the transport funding deficit onto ratepayers would result in a rates increase of about 16% next year: “I don’t intend to do that. Ratepayers have been shouldering the burden for too long. We must find new revenue streams to fund our much needed housing & transport infrastructure rather than continuing to load the cost of growth on ratepayers.
“The Auckland transport alignment project was a good start in getting the city & Government working together. However, it doesn’t go far enough in solving Auckland’s congestion and already faces a funding gap of $4 billion over 10 years. We need a solution now and can’t afford to wait another 4-6 years to deal with this problem.
“I’m committed to working with the Government to develop new transport funding measures. If they remain adamantly opposed to a regional fuel tax, they need to urgently come up with another workable & sustainable solution.”
Attribution: Ministerial & mayoral releases.