Laura Jones: Reasons to think twice before voting Yes in TransLink referendum

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      Are you prepared to pay a regional sales tax on top of the GST and PST? That’s essentially the question Metro Vancouverites will answer in a March referendum. TransLink’s cleverly marketed “congestion improvement tax” would add a half-percentage point to the PST and be precedent setting for Canada.

      Mayor Gregor Robertson captures the Yes argument in an email sent a few days ago to solicit support: “With Metro Vancouver’s population growing by another one million people by 2040, we have to invest in more buses, better roads, and new rapid transit.”

      On the surface, this sounds compelling. But there are several good reasons to think twice before casting a Yes.

      First of all, TransLink is already well funded. It currently spends $1.4 billion a year, courtesy of the many taxes it collects such as property taxes and its 17 cent/litre gas tax. I agree with Mayor Robertson that population should be a significant driver of transportation spending, which is why I was curious to see how TransLink’s spending over the past number of years compares to population growth in the region.

      The data shows TransLink increased its inflation-adjusted operating spending by 50 percent compared to the much more modest population growth in the region of 13 percent between 2005 and 2013. Does this look like an organization in need of more tax revenue?

      Secondly, TransLink’s revenue will continue to grow without a new regional sales tax as population grows. A No vote is not a vote against transportation; it is a vote for a less aggressive approach to funding transportation. TransLink would have to prioritize, slow down some of its ambitious plans and maybe even find cost savings in its own budget.

      This brings us to TransLink’s trust problem. TransLink does not have a great reputation for being fiscally responsible. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has done a good job of pointing out small and big examples of waste from grossly inflated salaries to spending $30,000 on a poodle statue, apropos of nothing to do with transportation.

      Is giving more money to a government agency that clearly has work to do in getting its own house in order a good idea?

      TransLink’s trust issue with small business runs very deep, dating back to the last time they wanted more money and introduced a punitive “parking tax” on bike racks, truck turnarounds, and driveways. The tax was so boneheaded that the province had to step in and get rid of it. I have never seen small business owners as mad as they were about that tax. Then there was the terribly disrespectful way that small businesses along the Canada Line were treated during its construction.

      As with its failed parking tax, TransLink seems pretty cavalier about the impact of the current tax on the wallets of families and the bottom lines of small businesses. A few hundred dollars a year may not seem like a lot to a well-paid TransLink executive but most families struggle to prioritize mortgage payments, ballet classes, and education and retirement savings.

      Businesses worry about lost sales and the costs of resetting equipment and prices due to the tax change. And if the tax is introduced, how long would it be before it goes up?

      We all want better transportation, better health care, more retirement savings, a nicer house or apartment, and more to spend on our kids. The upcoming referendum gives us a chance to think about these trade-offs and to remember, in the words of the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you just might find, you get what you need.”

      TransLink wants more but does it really need it?

      Comments

      34 Comments

      Bill

      Feb 10, 2015 at 4:05pm

      Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but telling people to vote 'no' because Translink spends too much on salaries and poodle statues...that really doesn't hold water.
      You can't fund a multiple billion dollar plan by cutting executive salaries and putting a freeze on canine art -- that might save you a couple million at most?!
      We all can shake our heads when CEOs like the one at Translink makes $600k but that isn't going to fix anything. Jordan Bateman and the CTF are a one trick pony (he lives in Langley by the way, and drives a gas guzzling SUV of course he doesn't want better public transportation) I don't want to rest the future of our region on his ideas.
      We need more B-Lines, we need a Broadway Corridor Subway (not for the hipsters and the UBC students but because of the economic stimulus it would provide the entire province -- Canada Line anyone?) and Surrey needs their LRT.
      If we can point the finger at anyone, we should point it at Christy Clark -- her government is refusing to back the 'yes' side because if the vote fails, she won't have to wear it and she can blame it on the mayors.
      It's time for the premier to step up and be a leader.
      So people, fork over the extra 0.5% -- it might cost you $50 a year -- not that much to ask for making the entire region a more liveable place. It is this kind of thinking that makes Canada a great place to live.

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      frances

      Feb 10, 2015 at 4:16pm

      Can't believe people are stupid enough to fall for yet another snow job by voting yes. Baaa, the sheep bleat, "Transit Good!". Yeah, well so is motherhood, but approving this tax will give De Jong wet dreams. Anytime he's short of cash, there'll be another surtax on the table.
      How about they reinstate the bank tax that Campbell rescinded as soon as he got into power or have people forgot about that too??

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      James Blatchford

      Feb 10, 2015 at 4:33pm

      The poodle statue was to honour of Jordan Bateman...vainglorious and barks on command....ruff! ruff! no taxes! ruff! ruff!

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      James Blatchford

      Feb 10, 2015 at 5:35pm

      Busmen - good comment; just more proof that CFIB and CTF are joined at the hip. So predictable.

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      Rico

      Feb 10, 2015 at 7:49pm

      Pretty disappointing article parroting the CTF position without any critical thinking. Hope the author displays better business sence in their business, unless it is located on a Freeway onramp it should benefit from improved transportation options in the region.

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      Finbarr Saunders

      Feb 10, 2015 at 8:29pm

      "We need more B-Lines, we need a Broadway Corridor Subway (not for the hipsters and the UBC students but because of the economic stimulus it would provide the entire province"

      What on earth are you talking about?? Building a subway down Broadway is going to provide an economic stimulus for the entire province? Incredible the things that get posted...

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      Syd

      Feb 10, 2015 at 9:59pm

      Did you know that the Compass Card readers are running Windows?

      I rest my case.

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      No-sey Parker

      Feb 10, 2015 at 10:18pm

      Translink's governance is broken, and its mandate is an exercise in conflicting responsibilities.
      The Board has no real representative for customers, and two lousy seats is hardly representative of taxpayers, who fund the entire company.
      Goods movements has already been mentioned too many times for me to believe this is about moving people on transit.
      Tolling legislation is presently punitive to one part of the region, with no promise of correction.
      Road pricing will be pursued, regardless the outcome of this vote, in the name of 'fairness', but will result in a two-tier system that some will not be able to afford to use, resulting in no net gains for the overused 'secondary' routes.
      Tolling will be instituted on every bridge going forward, calling 'replacement' spans 'new' so that they qualify under current legislation, and conveniently ignoring the requirement of a free alternative, by pushing the idea of 'close proximity' to the ridiculous outer limits.
      In short, this won't be the last dip into our pockets, in the name of 'providing for our needs'.
      I think I'll pass on this one, since you gave me the choice 'n all.

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      Hmmm

      Feb 10, 2015 at 11:04pm

      We need community design solutions that reduce the need for both cars and mass transit.

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