The B.C. NDP is promising to break the gridlock over Metro Vancouver transit expansion if it wins next spring’s provincial election by boosting the province’s traditional one-third share of capital funding for new projects to 40 per cent.
A 40 per cent provincial share, coupled with the federal government’s commitment to contribute half of major transit capital projects, would greatly reduce the required regional contribution to just 10 per cent of capital, plus operating costs.
Metro Vancouver mayors have pressed the BC Liberal government to also commit to a higher provincial share, but the Christy Clark government has not yet agreed, nor has it revoked its legislated requirement for a new referendum on any new transit funding source in the region.
“We’re stepping up while the B.C. Liberal government continues to stall,” NDP leader John Horgan said Thursday.
“Instead of leading the way, Christy Clark has continually stood in the way. The premier forced an expensive, made-to-fail referendum on voters, she picked fights with Lower Mainland mayors over funding, and she has stalled and dithered and blocked the way forward for years now.”
A 10 per cent regional requirement would be much smaller than the previous one-third burden, which mayors wanted to cover with a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax that would have generated $250 million a year, had it not been defeated by voters a year ago.
Metro Vancouver mayors earlier this year, anticipating a 17 per cent regional share, proposed enabling TransLink to raise an extra one per cent every year from property tax payers, a $50 million new funding source enabled by the province, as well as a new system of regional development cost charges and another transit fare increase.
The funding gap for TransLink has recently narrowed further since SkyTrain faregates closed. Officials say fare evasion is down and fare revenue is up by at least $25 million a year.
Horgan said the NDP supports the mayors’ council vision for transit.
“We’re going to work together to break the gridlock on our roads, fight climate change, and create thousands of good jobs as we move ahead.”
The NDP also reiterated past promises to put area mayors back fully in charge of TransLink, which is currently overseen by an appointed professional board of directors that includes the chair and vice-chair of the mayors’ council.
The NDP pledge for a higher provincial share of costs drew praise from environmental and labour groups that were part of the ‘Yes’ coalition in last year’s referendum.
“Investing in transit is a political home run for any party hoping to win the election,” said Ian Bruce, science and policy director of the David Suzuki Foundation. “Public transit bolsters the economy, provides people with better access to jobs and social services, improves public health by bettering air quality, and reduces carbon emissions and traffic.”
Canadian Taxpayers Federation B.C. director Jordan Bateman questioned whether the extra money for TransLink projects would come at the expense of other transit investments outside of Metro Vancouver.
“All this money comes from somewhere,” he said. “The proof will be in the pudding – where does the NDP expect to get this additonal revenue from?”
Bateman said there is no reason to hold another referendum so long as Metro mayors are willing to raise TransLink property taxes to make up the gap.
Mayors have previously discussed options like creating an annual vehicle levy, but property tax is an existing source that would not trigger a new referendum.