The Surrey Board of Trade is calling on the Ministry of Transportation to take leadership by framing its transit-referendum question – and releasing it to the public – immediately.
“They’ve had significant time to deliberate on this,” said board CEO Anita Huberman. “They need to take leadership. We need to have the question framed so we have time to evaluate it and educate the populace and the business community on what it is and what the implications are.”
Transportation Minister Todd Stone has said a referendum on future transportation funding, promised by Premier Christy Clark during last spring’s provincial election, will be included in November’s municipal elections.
Speaking on the issue last fall, Stone said 60 other jurisdictions in North America have had transit-improvement votes since 2012, and three-quarters approved higher taxes.
In December, Clark and Stone appeared to differ on the shape of the referendum, with Clark supporting a multiple-choice question on funding alternatives, and Stone favouring a yes-or-no question on a specific option, which has proven successful in U.S. jurisdictions where increased spending won support.
This week, Stone suggested Metro Vancouver mayors could jump-start a major transit expansion by raising property taxes now – without having to wait for the referendum.
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Huberman said Wednesday. “We’re already taxed heavily (on property). We’ve just heard a survey result that (Metro) Vancouver has the second least-affordable housing in the world.”
Huberman said the board has researched other transit referenda in the U.S. and notes in many cases “they’ve had way more time to educate people – in some places, a year-long campaign.”
“Transportation is a very complex issue – it’s like the HST thing all over again. I don’t think people understand how transportation is funded, how the governance works and all of the bodies, including TransLink, operate.”
What has to be recognized, she said, is someone has to pay for the future needs of transportation in Metro Vancouver – particularly in the context of an estimated million more residents by 2025.
Among other funding options the Surrey Board of Trade has advocated for are regional road pricing (“In which everybody shares the burden,” Huberman said) and tolling of bridges.
“But there is great pushback on the strategy of tolling, as we found when we released our position on it three or four years ago,” she said.
She also anticipates pushback on another option suggested by the mayors – a 0.5 per cent regional sales tax which Stone has said might have some chance of raising the necessary transit funding.
“There is a perception that business is already heavily taxed and (it’s feared) such a move is going to hurt business,” she said.
“We need time to evaluate this. The question needs to be framed – let’s start with that and figure it out.”