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Gas tax fuels discontent

Support for increasing gas taxes to fund TransLink improvements has some White Rock councillors predicting even more people this side of the Fraser River will head south of the U.S. border to fill their tanks.
Support for a plan to raise gas taxes as one means of finding funds for TransLink improvements has some city officials predicting more people will be filling up in the U.S.

Support for increasing gas taxes to fund TransLink improvements has some White Rock councillors predicting even more people this side of the Fraser River will head south of the U.S. border to fill their tanks.

“Any of us that can, we should make a statement here,” Coun. Al Campbell said Friday, in response to last week’s majority vote by the TransLink Mayors’ Council.

“All (an increase in gas taxes) is doing to me – and it’s doing to you – is driving us to go south.”

The Mayors’ Council voted July 6 in favour of a plan to raise gas taxes by two cents a litre and pursue a vehicle levy for improvements – including the Evergreen Line – with property tax hikes as a last resort.

According to the 22-member group’s vice-chair, Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, support for the funding plan was “overwhelming.”

Eight representatives, including White Rock Mayor Catherine Ferguson, voted against the move.

Ferguson said Monday she believes funding for transportation improvements should come from a source that, unlike a property tax, is transportation related, so it would make sense to taxpayers.

“So that it adds up, so people understand the reason they’re paying this,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said a long-term funding solution is needed and she would like to see a graduated system in place; one that would see those who have good access to services pay more.

Campbell said as far as service to White Rock goes, the transportation authority hasn’t done the city any favours, he said.

“We’re done. I think everybody’s done with the tax thing,” Campbell said. “I don’t think we’re getting well-served down here. Everything seems to come south of the river but north of White Rock.”

Campbell said projects like the Evergreen Line – for which TransLink is trying to find $400 million – should benefit from carbon-tax revenue instead. That tax went up at the beginning of this month, to 5.56¢ cents per litre, and is scheduled to rise by another 1.1 cents this time next year.

Campbell noted rising gas taxes in Canada have driven him to fill his tank in the U.S. for the past year. The difference in price amounts to a savings of up to 40 cents per litre, he said.

“This gas business, it just frustrates the hell out of me,” he said. “All this does for people like me and people that’s able – you’re going to get your gas somewhere else.”

Coun. Grant Meyer agreed. He, too, fills his tank in the United States.

“I think this is only going to drive more people to do that,” he said.

Disputing the claim 14 votes out of 22 indicates “overwhelming” support for the funding plan, Meyer said a more fair way of generating the funds would be to toll all Lower Mainland bridges or add a sum to drivers’ insurance fees. He also suggested cheaper alternatives to a SkyTrain model, such as a return of the interurban line, could soften the hit to taxpayers.

Ferguson stopped short of saying she supports a gas tax, but said there is no doubt a funding source is needed if improvements are to be made.

“I’d like to know where the money’s going to come from. If we’re going to have improved transportation, we’re going to have to fund it somewhere,” she said. “There isn’t the money available at this point.”

After Wednesday’s vote, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie – while supportive of a gas-tax hike – questioned how any mayors can as yet support the package when funding options like the vehicle levy or road pricing are undefined.

“The vehicle levy has been very controversial in the past,” he said. “Who knows whether it is going to be acceptable in the form it is ultimately structured.”

Brodie, Delta’s Lois Jackson and Pitt Meadows’ Don MacLean all said they are against a scenario that opens the door to a property tax hike being used to fund the Evergreen Line.

Brodie said he would have preferred mayors just fund the Evergreen Line and leave out a broader set of transit upgrades designed to appeal broadly across Metro Vancouver.

A King George Boulevard express bus, a new Langley-White Rock route, RapidBus service on Highway 1, more frequent SeaBus service and generally enhanced transit service are some of the add-ons.

Langley City Mayor Peter Fassbender, who helped broker the initial understanding with the province as mayors council chair last year, said the additional improvements are important.

“This is not just about the Evergreen Line,” he said. “It also has significant other benefits to the rest of the reigon and especially south of the Fraser.”

Since the levy ($10-$40 per vehicle) wouldn’t be passed in legislation by the province before next spring, mayors will have no firm guarantee of what they get when they vote on a formal TransLink financing supplement this fall.

The plan must go through public consultation prior to the council’s vote.

- with files from Jeff Nagel

Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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