1 Dec 2021

Goff's climate levy a sly way to raise rates - ACT

6:29 pm on 1 December 2021

Looking through the fog of an ongoing pandemic, Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has proposed $1 billion to fight something he says will have a much greater impact on the world than Covid-19: climate change.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff speaks to media following Cabinet's extension of the alert level 3 lockdown.

Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

His budget proposal would put more buses on the road, electrify ferries, and provide better walking and cycling routes as early as in the next 12 months to entice people out of their cars and into more climate-friendly modes of transport.

But a catch: Aucklanders will have to pay even more in rates for it - around $57 a year for the average household. The Act Party said that's another cost to add to Auckland's already high, and rising, cost of living.

Goff said driving his climate ambitions are future generations.

"I've got grandkids. I'm thinking about the world that they will grow up in."

He described climate change as an ongoing crisis, and without action, "a disaster".

The city he presides over has one major source of carbon emissions: cars. They account for over 30 percent of the city's total emissions - far more than any other single pollutant.

Auckland's also one of the highest car-owning cities in the developed world. Goff sees potential to change that.

So, of the $1b he wants to spend on new climate-related projects, $627m - nearly two-thirds - is on more, and more frequent, buses.

Goff wants another 170,000 Aucklanders to be within 500 metres of a rapid or frequent bus, to add to the 600,000 who currently are.

Transport commentator Matt Lowrie of Greater Auckland said regular services are key to getting people out of cars.

"There's a saying: 'frequency is freedom'. If you have a frequent bus nearby, you are more likely to use it. If you have an infrequent bus, one every half hour for example, it's just not practical."

He said there are a lot of Aucklanders who would be willing to use public transport more if they could turn up at a stop and be confident one wouldn't be far away.

An Auckland Transport survey said the same: that frequency and geographical coverage were the two biggest barriers to more Aucklanders using public transport.

And driving may get more expensive too. Goff signalled the future likelihood of less parking and congestion charges.

Other projects include electrifying ferries, $220 million dollars for walking and cycling paths, and $13 million for more urban trees.

Goff was aware of the strong public support for the council taking greater climate action.

"Eight-nine percent of the people surveyed said yes. When we asked people about what they wanted Council to do a lot more of, one of the first things they nominated was public transport."

Just over half of the money would come from an additional levy on all homeowners, over and above regular rates.

For the average house, it would be $57 a year, or the way Goff put it, $1.10 a week.

This is bolstered by $344m in funding from central government, and $127m from the fares people will pay for these new public transport services. All of this is ringfenced for direct climate action.

"I think people will believe the return on the $1.10 a week they'll be paying if they live in a median priced property, is a great investment for their kids and the future," Goff said.

However small, if it passed it would be another cost for Aucklanders, with many thousands struggling financially due to Covid restrictions.

Simon Court, the Act Party's climate change spokesperson, said this proposal is a sly way for Goff to raise rates above his promised 3.5 percent.

And costs are piling up, Court said.

"Inflation is up 4.9 percent. Aucklanders pay an additional fuel tax. The Emissions Trading Scheme is putting up the price of petrol nine, ten dollars a tank. And that's before you mention the cost of housing and rent in our largest city. And now the Mayor wants to hit Aucklanders in the wallet even harder."

This proposal is just that: a proposal.

The 2022/23 budget has not passed, and will go through Auckland's elected councillors and consultation with the public before anything's finalised before 1 July next year.

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