Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Metro Vancouver mayors want carbon tax millions for transit

with 3 comments

Vancouver  Sun

Some inspired leaking of confidential documents that the the Mayors will be discussing today. It does of course make obvious sense that in this region. Transport is the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions here. Instead of giving people tax rebates (though the initial $100 was a one off) and funding dubious “offsets” (cutting down mature trees to plant small ones may not actually reduce ghg emissions very much)  give them a real alternative to driving.

Of course, this government is only paying lip service to carbon reduction. The carbon tax is too small to have any discernible effect and has been greatly overshadowed by the dramatic drop in oil prices. The Gateway program will produce far more greenhouse gas emissions – even using their own flawed methodology for forecasting. And the real issue for Translink is that it has had capital funds assistance from other levels of government but so far not nearly enough for operating funds. Expanding the system is a good idea only if you can afford to operate it. And there is no new source of funds for this much increased expense. Hiking fares is the obvious response – which of course does not help to fill all those new trains and buses. Property tax is the one thing that the province itself cannot touch – so is the obviously the one that they want the municipalities to raise. That allows them to trumpet how much they have reduced income and sales taxes – simply by down loading as much as possible. The other favourite for “fiscal conservatives” is fees for services. BC is, for example, one of only two provinces that levies a fee (“Medical Services Premium”) for healthcare. Flat rate fees are, of course, deeply regressive. They hit poorer people much harder than the rich. But the rich, it is said, must have tax cuts  – and as a result now pay much less than the poor do.

Of course if the Liberals don’t get back into power, and Carol James axes the tax – as she has promised – then some other source will have to be tapped. Increasing income tax of the wealthiest would be my choice but I wonder if she has the intestinal fortitude for that.

UPDATE April 22, 4pm

Campbell is already pushing back, according to The Tyee’s Hook blog. 

“The carbon levy is not a revenue generator,” Campbell told reporters Wednesday, swapping the word ‘tax’ for the more neutral term ‘levy.’

“… Every single cent that is raised from the carbon levy is going in tax reductions.”

This stems from the notion that somehow the carbon tax is “revenue neutral” – as far as the government is concerned. The revenue coming in to the government is not going to be increased – it is just going to be shifted from one source to another. This is, of course, regressive. Because the tax is on expenditure not income. I don’t now why but I am pretty sure I read something recently about the government buying carbon offsets. Now of course if their theory is right this would not have been income from the carbon tax they were spending but from some other source. But it seems to me that transit would be a better payback in this region: for transport is the biggest source of ghg emissions – and there is very little choice for many people for whom current transit really is not a practical choice. Like the people who need to get between North Surrey and Coquitlam for example. 

“We recognize the difficult choices to make,” Campbell. “But if they decide they want to expand transit services, they’re going to have to be part of the partnership that funds that, just like they are in Prince George, or Kelowna, or Victoria, or Campbell River.”

Now this is just sophistry. Of course we pay for our transit in this region. The gas tax is six cents higher here than in the rest of BC. And Translink also dips heavily into property taxes too. This was of course exactly the same argument that used to play out between the Mayors and the Province in the days before Translink, when the province insisted that the gas tax was provincial revenue – even though it was then 4 c higher here than in the rest of BC. The GVTA was supposed to put a stop to this silliness – but of course we now no longer have the GVTA its now the SoCoBriTCA. And the same tired old controversy that somehow this region is trying to get a ‘free ride’. Which has never been true, but that does not stop premiers from trying it on.

Written by Stephen Rees

April 22, 2009 at 7:09 am

Posted in transit

3 Responses

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  1. I think all intelligent people realize that any “revenue neutral” tax is simply doublespeak for shifting tax from one group to another. In this case giving the rich more tax breaks and dumping the cost on the poor. It’s classic right wing behavior.

    I’m not fooled by lower income taxes because I know I’m paying higher property taxes and more at the gas pump.

    Nobody changes their behavior on the basis of a revenue neutral tax and nothing useful can be achieved if the tax isn’t used for alternatives.

    We need the carbon tax to be increased, probably by a factor of 5, and all the money put into clean transportation and electricity generation (LRT, wind power, etc.)


    April 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

  2. This is a great way to Fix the Tax and stop the increasingly annoying Axe the Tax campaign.

    No one cares that the tax is revenue neutral. For most people it is not. For the ones paying more, they aren’t going to be that happy. For me, I would much rather have better transit than an extra $100 a year from some poor shmuck in a pickup truck from Fort St. Bob.


    April 22, 2009 at 12:18 pm

  3. […] is, of course pretty much along the lines of what I wrote earlier this week when the Mayor’s said they want a slice of the carbon tax revenues. They do not want to keep […]

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