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Anti-tax group misfires on TransLink mayors

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has been a consistent opponent of raising more money for transit expansion in Metro Vancouver. - File
Jordan Bateman, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, has been a consistent opponent of raising more money for transit expansion in Metro Vancouver.
— image credit: File

Anti-tax activists aren't waiting for an expected June release of proposed new fees or taxes to fund TransLink expansion.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) B.C. director Jordan Bateman says polling on potential options suggests Metro Vancouver mayors will go to referendum on multiple new revenue sources that could cost the typical household hundreds of dollars more each year.

He issued a news release estimating the combined increases at $595 per year.

In an interview, however, Bateman backtracked from that estimate, which assumed all sources under discussion would be fully used.

"We don't expect them to come forward wanting all of those tools," Bateman said, adding the aim was to make residents aware of the possible impact of each individual source when a proposed package is unveiled.

An Angus Reid online poll that Bateman takes as evidence of what's to come discusses a $75 per year vehicle levy, a new 0.5 per cent carbon tax in Metro, a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax for TransLink and road/bridge tolls of less than $1 per trip, as well as further increases in property taxes and transit fares.

TransLink, Metro Vancouver and the mayors' council all say they weren't behind the poll.

Mayors have indicated they will propose just a couple of new sources, not the entire menu, and they've consistently said road pricing is a longer-term idea that could not be on the ballot of a referendum expected by mid-2015.

TransLink strategic planning vice-president Bob Paddon said the CTF's estimate that  the region's average household already pays $1,060 annually to TransLink is way too high.

The actual figure is about $605, according to Paddon, who said the CTF wrongly counted all property tax revenue as coming from residential homeowners when 45 per cent of it – $145 million – comes from businesses.

Paddon said taxes paid to TransLink make up less than 10 per cent of total household spending on transportation, once the cost of vehicles and fuel are taken into account.

"Contributing to TransLink not only benefits those who use transit, but it eases the pressures of congestion and contributes to the livability of our region," he said.

Metro board chair Greg Moore said Bateman "should consider using his time more constructively and offer solutions to this region, instead of cheap press releases that do nothing."

There's strong support among Metro mayors for the need to raise more money for transit, as well as road projects like replacing the Pattullo Bridge, in light of existing congestion and projections Metro's population will grow by another million over then next 25 years.

"If we want a livable region we need to invest in a world-class transit system," said Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart.

"The alternative to properly funding transit is an enormous increase in property taxes to pay for bigger roads. Because no one wants congestion."

Bateman continues to oppose any more money for TransLink and said he hopes the mayors' delay in making an announcement means they're split on what to do.

"There's no magic taxes that aren't going to cost some group or most taxpayers more money," Bateman said. "We don't believe in giving pyromaniacs more matches. TransLink burns through enough of our money already."

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