Voters in Vancouver were asked this past week to fund a 0.5-cent sales tax increase that would’ve generated an additional $250 million annually for the region’s transit agency. As with any failed vote, there was plenty of blame to go around among the region’s elected (and non-elected) officials. Kelly Sinowski from the Vancover Sun has more.
The motion comes a day after regional voters crushingly defeated a proposed 0.5 per cent sales tax increase, which would have generated $250 million annually for TransLink’s 10-year, $7.5-billion transportation expansion. Mayors argue the rejection, which was delivered by mail-in ballot as part of a regionwide plebiscite, was triggered not only by the public’s distaste for a new tax but its distrust of TransLink. They say service cuts are inevitable because there will be no new money for transit or even road maintenance.
“We will face, as I’ve mentioned earlier, a future that is more difficult, it certainly is going to be more congested until we have this long-term funding sorted out,” said TransLink interim CEO Doug Allen.
Without the sales tax, Allen said, TransLink will struggle to maintain the status quo, and will continue to shift buses from less-revenue-performing areas such as Port Coquitlam to crowded routes like Vancouver’s Broadway. It will also contemplate reducing frequency levels in some areas, meaning a 15-minute wait could grow to as much as an hour, as well as lower frequency on low-performing routes during weekends.
Some blame this failed vote as the result of a vicious regional battle for control of the purse strings, while others question why the tax increase was put before voters in the first place. Regardless, it appears that regional leaders are floating the idea of instead moving forward with the creation of a transit utility tax. This approach has been used successfully elsewhere (in fact, some might even draw similarities to Houston’s drainage fee). Whether Vancouver’s utility tax will go before voters, however, remains to be seen.
While public ballot initiatives can be a headache for elected officials who support the proposal, if successful it’s hard to argue a project runs contrary to the will of the people. At a time when people are becoming more sensitive to tax increases, elected officials can use the ballot initiative process as an opportunity to not only communicate to the public the efficacy of investment in infrastructure but establish a long-standing reputation of benefits good infrastructure has on its people. While more difficult, the ballot initiative can prove more beneficial in the long-run if executed well.