Transit referendum question: Do you support one-half per cent PST rise to pay for transit?

METRO VANCOUVER — Are you willing to pay half a percentage point more in provincial sales tax to fund the region’s transportation plans?

That’s the question that could be put to Metro Vancouver residents in next year’s transit referendum.

After months of back and forth with the province, the Mayors’ Council on regional transportation unveiled Thursday the ballot question and proposed revenue source for its $7.5-billion transportation vision.

The proposed revenue source is a regional 0.5 per cent increase to the existing seven per cent provincial sales tax, which mayors say will provide the needed $250 million in annual funding that is needed to fund the plan.

The plan includes light rapid transit (LRT) for Surrey, more buses throughout the region, extended Sky Train service and an extension of the Millennium Line along the Broadway corridor to Arbutus.

LRT was a promise made by Mayor Linda Hepner during the civic election in November. She committed to having operational LRT in the city by 2018.

In her inaugural address on Dec. 8 Hepner stated promoting a “yes” vote in the referendum would be her first order of business, which she said she plans to do through an engagement strategy.

The ballot question, which will be a straight yes or no question, is the following:

Do you support a one-half percentage point (0.5%) increase to the Provincial Sales Tax in Metro Vancouver, dedicated to the Mayors’ Transportation and Transit Plan, with independent audit and public reporting?

A group has formed to support the Mayors’ Council’s transportation plans.

Called the Better Transit and Transportation Coalition, the group includes the Vancouver Board of Trade, David Suzuki Foundation, Unifor Local 111, BC Chamber of Commerce as well as the Downtown Surrey BIA.

The group includes representatives from a wide variety of industries, including health, environment, business, education and more. It grew out of the Moving in a Livable Region initiative, aimed at engaging and educating citizens about transportation issues.

The coalition plans to develop a public engagement strategy to encourage a “yes” vote for the referendum.

Executive director of the Downtown Surrey BIA Elizabeth Model, part of the coalition, said the mayors’ plan is designed for future generations, with a clear focus on increased goods movement.

“It contains plans for managing congestion more effectively over the next 30 years. It starts with a specific 10-year plan that will begin next year if the public approves it in the regional referendum,” she noted, adding, “The real enemy here is traffic congestion.”

Model said she fully supports the mayors’ PST hike proposal.

“It’s equitable for everybody,” she said Thursday following the meeting.

“It’s a step in the right direction. I think everybody looked at the plan overall and at different methods and this was the most reasonable for everybody.”

Model is optimistic that the referendum will yield a “yes” vote.

“We have to do it now. Not only for us but for the future generations, and all the growth we are experiencing, particularly south of the Fraser,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has spoken out against the PST-hike proposal through its No TransLink Tax campaign.

“TransLink has wasted too much taxpayer money to be trusted with any more of it,” said CTF’s B.C. director Jordan Bateman. “TransLink burns through money, and taxpayers cannot give these pyromaniacs any more matches.”

Bateman said the proposed tax hike to fund transit means the average household will face an annual tax increase of about $258.

“TransLink already takes 17 cents per litre on gas, five centre per litre of the federal government’s gas tax, ever-increasing property taxes, a 21 per cent parking tax and a levy on BC Hydro bills. Then they waste it on over-budget projects, executive perks, and dozens of other bad decisions,” Bateman stated. “We’d all be better off if TransLink spent as much time and effort looking to save money and cut waste as it did dreaming up new tax grabs.”

The campaign against the PST hike calls on Premier Christy Clark to bring in rules forbidding TransLink to taxpayer money to fund a “yes” vote.

Click here to read more stories by The Province.

-With files from Amy Reid

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