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Transit plan doesn't add up on funding: Stone

Transportation Minister Todd Stone says Metro Vancouver mayors are trying to pull too much money from the provincial and federal governments for TransLink. - File
Transportation Minister Todd Stone says Metro Vancouver mayors are trying to pull too much money from the provincial and federal governments for TransLink.
— image credit: File

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said he's prepared to authorize a referendum next year on creating a new regional carbon tax for TransLink – provided Metro Vancouver mayors confirm by July 15 they want to hold one.

Stone gave a formal response to the mayors' call for new TransLink funding sources Tuesday, reiterating the province's refusal to reallocate any existing carbon tax revenue.

But he also said the mayors' ambitious transit expansion plan asks for too much, too quickly, in terms of federal and provincial government contributions.

He said the plan's expectation of $1.5 billion over 10 years from Ottawa is $500 million more than the federal government's entire Building Canada program allocation for B.C. and Stone indicated it may be too much to expect a similar amount from the province as well.

"The funding assumptions don't add up and call into question whether or not the plan is realistic," Stone said.

He said that could be resolved by extending the investment time frame from 10 years to 20 years to spread out the demand on senior governments.

Otherwise, he said, the mayors might have to contemplate either shelving some priorities or else raising more money within the region.

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The mayors' plan aims to invest $7.5 billion into new rapid transit lines in Surrey and Vancouver, a major bus system expansion, a replacement of the Pattullo Bridge and other projects.

Their preferred funding method was a reallocation of carbon tax on the short term – or a new carbon tax if the province refused reallocation – followed by a shift to yet-to-be-defined system of mobility pricing in several years time.

As for the government's appetite to introduce mobility pricing – which could involve per kilometre road tolls – Stone reiterated the province is prepared to discuss that.

But he noted it would be challenging to embark on major new transit system upgrades until there's certainty on how a mobility pricing system would work.

Stone also rejected the mayors' request for a 50 per cent provincial contribution on on new capital and operations costs for HandyDart, noting that has always been TransLink's sole responsibility in the past.

"Substantially, this would appear to be a good plan," Stone said, adding "a bit more work" is needed to determine how it will be financed.

If the mayors agree to hold the referendum sometime next spring – and not during this November's municipal elections – Stone said the wording of the question would not have to be decided until this fall.

The province would also have to determine how to implement a new regional carbon tax and assess all the costs and economic impacts from a higher tax on vehicle fuels, home heating and industry.

Although the mayors have consistently opposed further increases in property tax  over and above the extra three per cent lift TransLink is automatically permitted each year, Stone once again pointed them back to that option.

"As property taxes are not a new source of funding, any increases would not be subject to referendum," Stone's letter to the Mayors' Council states. "I encourage the Mayors' Council to give further consideration to this opportunity."

The Mayors' Council meets again Thursday to consider its next steps.

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