VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The yes and no campaigns are still divided on the effects, a year after Metro Vancouver voted down an increased regional sales tax to fund TransLink expansions.
Last year, 61.7 per cent of voters rejected a new 0.5 per cent sales tax to help fund the major infrastructure projects including the region’s mayors’ $7.5 billion, 10-year transit plan.
On the one hand, B.C. Canadian Taxpayer Federation director Jordan Bateman who headed up the NO campaign says transit is no worse off and governments were forced to reprioritize and find efficiency without just reaching into taxpayer’s pockets.
“Magically, TransLink found $125 million worth of surplus property to put into phase one of that plan. That’s something they never would have contemplated if we’d given them the sales tax,” Bateman says.
Port Coquitlam Mayor Greg Moore says that was the original plan and it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the funding the mayors want.
“I don’t know if there’s any more juice to squeeze. At a certain point you actually have to invest back into the system,” Moore says.
He says Vancouver’s transit plans are less ambitious than Toronto’s and other U.S. cities, who also have denser tax bases.
Moore also stressed he still feels many voted no on the referendum as a protest against TransLink.
However, as home owners struggle with rising property taxes and increased costs of living in the region, Bateman says there’s only so much you can also squeeze out of taxpayers before you need to let them breathe and refresh the tax base.
“The government needs to take a hard look at what their priorities are and if they actually do want to tackle everything at once, they do need to reprioritize some of their own plans,” Bateman says. “City hall revenues grow at five per cent every year… If they allocated now just .3 per cent of that growth rate, they could pay for their entire plan, but mayors don’t want to reprioritize their spending and they themselves if you put them on truth serum don’t really trust TransLink that much either.”
In May, B.C. TransLink Minister Peter Fassbender announced a $246 million commitment over the next three years to fund TransLink improvements.
He also called on local governments to raise $124 million through increased property taxes for homes around transit stations in order for the two lower levels of government to match Ottawa’s promise of $370 million.
Originally the plan was for all three levels of government to split the funding responsibility evenly, but since then Ottawa has pledged to fund half of the first phase of the project, reducing the municipal burden to 17 per cent.
The federal Liberals have promised if they win the next election they will have more tax money for projects like the Surrey LRT and Broadway subway line in the 2020/21 budget.