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Transport minister Simeon Brown and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown are battling over transport funding
Transport minister Simeon Brown and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown are battling over transport funding

The BulletinFebruary 14, 2024

Brown v Brown: mayor makes good on transport project threat

Transport minister Simeon Brown and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown are battling over transport funding
Transport minister Simeon Brown and Auckland mayor Wayne Brown are battling over transport funding

Auckland mayor Wayne Brown has requested work stop on projects funded by the regional fuel tax, including one near and dear to transport minister Simeon Brown’s heart and home, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Auckland mayor formally requests work stop on fuel tax-funded transport projects

National campaigned on removing Auckland’s regional fuel tax (RFT). The announcement last week that it would be gone by June 30 came as no surprise. Similarly, Auckland’s mayor, Wayne Brown, has repeatedly indicated there would be a hole in transport project funding in the city as a result and that he wouldn’t be putting rates up to fill it. “They’ll have to accept the consequences of it themselves so that when the Lake Road doesn’t go ahead they’ll know it was cancelled by them; I’m not going to replace it just by shoving rates up,” he told RNZ last week. Yesterday, Brown wrote to the chairperson of Auckland Transport (AT), formally requesting them to stop work on projects funded by RFT immediately. AT’s Dean Kimpton has said removing the tax will cut about $600m of funding. Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said removing the tax would lower the cost of filling a Toyota Hilux’s tank by $9.20 or by $5.75 for a Toyota Corolla. The Commerce Commission has already come out and said it will be watching to see if savings will be passed on to motorists. Auckland residents spoken to by RNZ last week all seemed to favour long term transport gains over alleviating petrol price pain.

Mayor flags projects dear to minister’s heart and in his electorate

On the list of projects the mayor wants reviewed is the Eastern Busway. It’s a project favoured by transport minister Simeon Brown and one he’s advocated for in his role as MP for Pakuranga. As Newsroom’s Tim Murphy reported in 2021, delays to the project had Simeon Brown “relatively agitated”. He told attendees at a meeting back then that a critical part of the transport project was “the first thing he thinks of in the morning, last thing at night, and is in his thoughts probably 100 times a day in between.”

‘A challenge to the mayor’s single most important desire’

Some of this may well be political brinksmanship or a game of three-dimensional chess, but the mayor, at least as far as perception goes, has become adept at positioning himself on the right side of the line, advocating for Auckland in the face of what might be considered arrogance or deaf ears from central government. As the Herald’s Simon Wilson wrote yesterday (paywalled), if the government isn’t listening to the mayor, “it’s starting to look like a challenge to the mayor’s single most important desire: for Auckland to lead the process of planning for Auckland.” Aucklanders are already trapped in a “traffic really is terrible” conversation loop, and March madness is just around the corner. Train commuters in the city have been told disruptions to service may continue well into March, and the state of the network could impact the city rail loop. Aucklanders’ sense of abandonment by the central government during lockdowns reared its head during the election. New economic data positions Auckland’s central city as a powerhouse, generating 8% of the country’s GDP. While the mayor doesn’t hold the big purse strings, he does hold some cards.

Transport minister says he will simply legislate priorities

For now, Simeon Brown has responded to the mayor’s letter by saying he will simply put his funding priorities into law. The throughline on this is how we fund infrastructure, and not just in Auckland. Councils really only have the rate rise lever to pull. As the infrastructure deficit swells further amid a climate crisis and ongoing cost of living pressures, that becomes untenable and unpalatable. As if on cue, following Monday’s announcement from the government on its plan for water infrastructure, three pipes broke in Auckland’s leafy suburbs. This gnarly issue isn’t going away, and it presents a particular set of challenges to a government that campaigned explicitly on putting money back into our back pockets while getting New Zealand “back on track”.

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