COLUMN: Few benefits to gas-tax hike
Drivers in Surrey, Delta and White Rock will join others within the TransLink service area in paying two cents more in gas tax, likely starting early next year.
The boost to the gas tax was agreed to by mayors representing a majority of residents in the Lower Mainland on Friday. They included Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and White Rock Mayor Catherine Ferguson. Delta Mayor Lois Jackson voted against the additional taxes.
Watts joined with Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and several other mayors earlier in the week to state that they would back the tax increase, because they do not want to see the Evergreen Line in the Tri-City area shelved. TransLink had to come up with $400 million for its share of the line’s construction, and federal funding for the project would go away without that commitment.
She also said transit service in the South Fraser area would improve as a result of the tax increase, and a planned $23 increase in TransLink property taxes on the average home.
There are several key points which need emphasis in light of this latest boost to the gas tax.
The most important one was made by Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan, who opposed the latest gas tax increase. His point is that TransLink keeps running out of cash and going back to taxpayers every year or two, even when it says it won’t need to.
This has been TransLink’s history from day one. Set up by the NDP government of Glen Clark, it has never had enough taxing authority to fulfill its mandate of maintaining and adding to transit service. Its other mandate, to help maintain regional arterial roads, has been fulfilled — but that is a small part of its overall budget.
Watts and other mayors optimistically think that the current provincial government (Christy Clark is the fourth premier to deal with TransLink) will actually grant the agency more taxing power. I’m not so sure. The track record of all previous premiers suggests that it won’t, and the current government is in a deep fiscal hole, made deeper by the rejection of the HST by voters.
Metro Vancouver drivers will be paying the highest gas taxes in the country, and it is not impossible that they will be asked to pay more in the future.
Another point to remember is this: the Evergreen Line has been promised for more than two decades. It has continually been shelved to make room for other initiatives driven by the provincial and federal governments — notably the Canada Line and the Millennium Line. What is to say that another initiative, such as a SkyTrain line to UBC, won’t elbow the Evergreen Line aside again?
Another important point is that taxpayers, particularly those south of the Fraser, are being asked to pay more by almost everybody. The provincial government will be imposing tolls on all those who use the new Port Mann Bridge, starting next year.
When that is coupled to the added gas tax, drivers in Surrey who use the new bridge will be paying substantially more to get to work each year. Yet they are getting little in return.
While there will be transit service over the new bridge (after an absence of more than 25 years), many people will still have to drive.
The amount of time it takes to transfer from buses to SkyTrain and back to buses precludes that as a viable option for many commuters. A member of our household is currently commuting by transit from Surrey to Burnaby. It takes more than two hours each way, daily. Many people simply haven’t got that much time in their daily schedules.
One other thought went through my mind as I thought about this latest assault on taxpayers’ wallets: that the mayors most supportive of this tax boost are those who have minimal challenges in November’s election.
Watts may well be elected by acclamation — as yet, she has no announced rival. Ferguson isn’t running again. Jackson, on the other hand, has three challengers seeking her job.
• In last week’s column, I stated that RCMP members do not get overtime pay. I was incorrect — they do get paid overtime.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.