Stephen Rees's blog

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

Transit Funding Plebiscite FAQs

with 6 comments

Maria Harris is the Director Metro Vancouver Electoral Area A and thus a Member of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation. She wrote to me to tell of her creation of a list of Frequently Asked Questions – and of course – the answers. These are very thorough and objective. They are currently available as PDF File and will be available as a web page shortly.

She writes “I intend to update the FAQs if there are more questions that should be answered or if any of the answers need to be modified based on feedback I receive.” As you can probably tell, I have not yet sent any feedback but when I do it will be very brief. I am very impressed, and reading through her answers there was nothing that caused any surprise or instant urge to suggest a correction. Which is something of an unusual experience in general and especially in connection with the current plebiscite.

I wish I felt that people have generally open minds on this issue, and are seriously seeking out advice. I find it somewhat distressing to see reports of ballots being discarded in the recycling bin of apartment buildings, though these may simply be a reflection of the mobility of the population and their refusal to pay Canada Post to forward their mail. The least likely to look at the FAQs as a source of information are those who have already made their minds up based on the propaganda of the No side, who seem to be utterly impervious to either reason or good quality data. However if you know one of these rare people who actually do need one of these questions answered – or can suggest one that needs to be added – please click that link in the first paragraph.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 24, 2015 at 7:37 am

6 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on metrobabel and commented:
    Here’s a good FAQ linked to by Stephen Rees on the current transit plebiscite. If you have not voted and seriously pondering the plebiscite, this FAQ looks like it is for you.


    March 24, 2015 at 5:45 pm

  2. It’s still not quite clear why additional property tax is a non-starter. The FAQ says “If TransLink’s tax on property were increased by more than the rate currently permitted, it would make it all that more difficult to collect adequate revenues for municipal needs”. Why is that? Can’t an addition to the property tax be reserved strictly for transit improvements, just like the proposed addition to the sales tax would?


    March 24, 2015 at 10:54 pm

  3. You just need to do a bit of research: this blog has covered the issue ad nauseam.

    Stephen Rees

    March 25, 2015 at 9:43 am

  4. The only thing I can find on this blog or elsewhere (after a fair amount of searching) is that a) the mayors don’t like it because it’s not politically palatable, and b) that it somehow takes away from the other services funded by property tax. I get (a) but I don’t understand (b) and I can’t find any explanation of why this is true. What impact does an additional property tax have on existing property tax revenue?

    Even if this has already been covered elsewhere, it’s not adequately explained in the FAQ, the point of which (I assume) is to provide this information in one easy place.

    For the record, I strongly support the Yes side of this referendum, and am doing my best to convince other people to vote in favour. However, this is the one question for which I can only say that “the mayors don’t want it”. This isn’t particularly convincing.


    March 25, 2015 at 1:20 pm

  5. First – and I would suggest foremost in the Mayors’ minds – property tax is the main source of revenue for municipalities. It is therefore the favourite for the province to identify as the best source of funds for transit. The province also argues that transit is a local service for local use. Municipalities do not like the province dictating to them how their property tax is spent. And if you need a model of what they are afraid of, just look at your local school board.

    In the case of Translink, the resistance to the use of property tax was strengthened by the province removing it from the Mayors’ control. Even though Christy Clark recently asserted that transit is purely a Mayor’s issue, she is completely wrong about that. The Mayors do not think it right to commit more property tax to Translink when they have no control over how it is spent. Now I will accept your point about how that might be different under the separate funds supervised by some other body which has developed relatively recently as the plebiscite campaign got under way. But I think the Mayors would probably then say – it’s our money and we are perfectly capable of supervising it if you let us take back control of the Translink Board. Which, of course, is highly unlikely. Sales tax revenue will stay with the province, and the idea of a supervisory body was only developed to meet the claims of the No side that the province would be able to divert it to other ends.

    Transit in Metro Vancouver actually benefits the province in general, simply because the region is responsible for so much of the provincial GDP. While Christy Clark understands how talking about resources plays better to the voters of the interior, they are now much less significant in terms of GDP than services. Moreover, provincial taxes collected from Metro residents are used to support transit in communities across the province.

    The argument also stems from what a new revenue source was supposed to achieve. Increasing property tax has no impact on the demand for transportation services. Car use is indisputably subsidized, even if you only look at direct costs such as fuel, but also because it imposes heavy externalities on the community as a whole. Ideally the new source of revenue would send a signal to the market in the same way as the carbon tax. The sales tax increase, of course, does no such thing, but was adopted simply because it seemed more palatable and easier to implement than the alternatives. Even so the Mayors have committed to developing a road user charge system in the future, because that will have the effect of encouraging a change to more environmentally friendly modes. However, it cannot have that effect if people are deterred from using those modes: transit has not enough capacity to cope with existing demand (which has started shrinking in response to current service “efficiencies”) cycling and walking both need to made much safer and more attractive.

    You must also bear in mind that the province has been intransigent in its discussions with the Mayors. There has been a long process of the Mayors coming up with proposals only to see them airily dismissed by the Premier or one of her Ministers without any substantive discussion. Fuel tax revenue is declining, and that will accelerate as people switch to more fuel efficient vehicles and drive less. Carbon tax was supposed to be revenue neutral but has been used mainly for tax breaks for corporations, so has had very limited benefit for household budgets. The province refused to consider using carbon tax revenues to support transit. The province also refuses to look at distance based car insurance, but treats ICBC as its own piggy bank.

    As population increases, so does demand for local services. Every new household uses more local services than the increase in property tax revenues from their arrival. And that is for all sorts of services besides transit. So population growth puts a strain on municipalities: businesses on the other hand tend to pay more in property tax than they consume in local services – but that varies hugely depending on the nature of the business. There has also been growing resistance to increase in property tax from business (who tend to fund local politicians’ campaigns) but are happy to support a sales tax increase. Simply because more businesses are aware of the importance of alternatives to driving for the people who work for them.

    I am certain that none of this will be new to anyone who reads this blog, but I concede that I have great trouble finding things here too. See the next story I am going to write now to learn more about that.

    Stephen Rees

    March 25, 2015 at 3:04 pm

  6. Thanks very much for taking the time to write that response. That definitely clears a few things up for me, and, I hope, for others.


    March 25, 2015 at 3:19 pm

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