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Province pushes to get Lower Mainland residents to pay more taxes for transit

March 13th, 2010 · 117 Comments

Talking to all the parties involved in trying to resolve TransLink’s financial mess is starting to remind me of sitting at the dinner table every night with your about-to-divorce parents. They keep insisting everything is fine and they’re having long constructive talks about some differences they’ve been having. But then you overhear them exchanging bitter words about who’s going to pay for what when the split comes.

These days, that feeling is running high because of the continuing stand-off over who’s going to pay for the Evergreen Line in the region’s northeast sector. (I have to say, sometimes it makes me long for the days when the provincial government would just unilaterally pay for everything. Sure, they made all the decisions and not always in the best interests of the city. But we didn’t have to hear this back and forth about whose little pile of tax money should be depleted more to pay for these things.)

It’s taken me a while, but I think I’m finally beginning to grasp what the essential disagreement is: who is going to stick it to which taxpayers. (Here’s my MSM version of all this.)

Yes, all the money eventually comes from taxpayers in one way or another. But the local mayors are worried about hiking taxes throughout the region only to pay for the Evergreen Line, which will not be a pretty thing to explain in Delta or West Vancouver. (At least Burnaby, Vancouver and Richmond won’t gripe too much because they’ve had massive spending on transit in their areas.)

So they’d rather see the province put in the missintg $400 million or get it from something besides property taxes, which always creates ill will at the voting booth.

And the province doesn’t want to put in more than the $400 million it already has, because it’s not a pretty thing to explain in Nanaimo or Kamloops or Prince George that all your capital money went into transit projects for latte-swilling urbanites.

So each side is trying to make the case for why the other group should pay. Mayors would like it to be either everyone in the province or, at least, drivers in the Lower Mainland (through road tolls and vehicle levies) — which, in the latter case, is not the same as property-owning, tax-paying, voting residents. The province would like Lower Mainland residents to pay, which is why Transportation Minister Shirley Bond is sounding feistier with every interview and why she’s trotting out more arguments every time I talk to her about the low taxes that people in Metro Van pay.

The province is supposed to be making some kind of announcement by the end of the month. What I’ll be waiting to hear is — will it be something that will really resolve the issue of mega-transit-project funding forever? Or can we look forward to another five-year squabble over who pays for the Millennium Line extension in Vancouver as soon as the five-year squabble over the Evergreen Line ends.

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