There is reason to be genuinely concerned about TransLink’s ongoing money woes.
As I sit here on SkyTrain – it looks as if it will take me up to twice as long to get downtown as I’d anticipated, due to yet another service delay – I’m pleased with the announcement that construction will finally begin on the long-overdue Evergreen Line.
But I wonder how the TransLink Mayors Council will actually pay for it, as well as expanded rapid transit and bus service throughout the region. My prediction? TransLink’s finances will continue to be a victim of political paralysis, and homeowners should expect big increases in their property taxes to close the gap.
Under TransLink’s newest governance structure, the provincial government has effectively downloaded the responsibility of operating regional transit to TransLink without giving them any way to pay the bills.
There was much hoopla last September when the Mayors Council approved an additional two-cent-per-litre gas tax to fund the first $40 million of its $400 million portion of the Evergreen Line costs. But a report in mid-December showed the transit authority came up eight per cent short on what it expected to generate from its existing 15-cent-per-litre gas tax in the region. The total shortfall came close to a hefty $26 million.
As TransLink’s many gas taxes continue to increase the price of gas, more and more people choose to buy their gas outside of TransLink’s jurisdiction – in Aldergrove or south of the border. Even more are choosing to buy less gas and opt to take transit instead of driving, only exacerbating the pressure already on the system.
It is safe to say that as the newest two-cent-per-litre tax raises the price of gas even further, the Mayors Council can’t possibly expect to raise the full $40 million they had predicted they would be able to.
The council and province have less than 12 months to come up with some sort of panacea funding solution for the $400 million they agreed to pay, minus what they are still capable of raising though the two-cent gas tax. If they can’t find the money, the Evergreen Line will be funded through – you guessed it – your property taxes.
And for those who believe that the provincial government may provide the Mayors Council with a host of new financing options to close the gap, think again.
History has shown us time and again, the provincial government is likely to veto any funding option deemed politically unpalatable, like a vehicle levy, especially given the prospect of a provincial election in May 2013.
It is high time the province overhauled its legislation governing TransLink to put local officials back in charge of its operation and finances. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer from taxation without representation.
Stephanie Ryan, Surrey