I’m sure The Sun didn’t intend to do a point/counterpoint juxtaposition in today’s issue, but if you read the letter from Todd Stone, the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, on the op-ed page and compare it with columnist Barbara Yaffe in the Business section, that’s what you’d get.
So for your convenience, I’ve merged the two, putting in italics Stone’s complete letter (Why a transportation referendum is needed) interspersed with snippets, in bold, of Yaffe’s column (Referendum on transit funding must be ditched) which serve as suitable response.
STONE: Taxpayers must have their say once consultations produce a focused vision.
YAFFE: … people generally don’t like to raise taxes on themselves. That’s why B.C.’s HST went down in flames in 2011.
STONE: To improve transportation in Metro Vancouver, big decisions lie ahead — decisions that the people who live, pay taxes and commute in the region need to be a part of.
YAFFE: It (the referendum) always was a bad idea, born of desperation, an attempt to raise extra cash from a Vancouver population that’s financially pressed, pinched and pummelled.
STONE: Transportation improvements are supported through taxes and fees like property tax, gas tax, transit fares, and tolls for new crossings. And while there are many taxes, there is only one taxpayer.
To support expanded transit and road networks for the region, many local government leaders have advocated for additional sources of funding to be created, on top of existing taxes and fees.
The provincial government does not disagree with this idea. But our position is clear. If the people of Metro Vancouver are being asked to pay new taxes or fees, then taxpayers must have a say.
YAFFE: “Stop wasting money, you scum-sucking pigs, also known as TransLink,” Zale Lawton snarled recently on a Postmedia website gathering comment on the referendum.
“First, get rid of the excessive level of (TransLink) executives, then come to the taxpayers if needed,” wrote reader Al Dinis.
“Just as long as I have a ‘none of the above’ option,’ ” wrote John Dueckman, “you can do whatever you want with that referendum.
In any referendum debate, these factoids would be blown out of proportion and just one more reason to vote into oblivion the idea of more taxpayer cash.
STONE: This is why the provincial government is committed to a public, region-wide referendum. It’s a commitment we made in the last election and that citizens supported.
YAFFE: . … the options are too complicated to outline in a concise referendum question.
For example, responsibilities for maintaining the Massey Tunnel are provincial but TransLink would run a Millenium Line to University of B.C.
And how could one clear referendum question address the spaghetti-bowl of TransLink and/or bridge projects that would need funding? What if voters favoured some projects but not others?
This same dog’s breakfast of options would be the on the table in terms of new revenue sources — do citizens want bridge tolls? A vehicle levy? Or both. Or neither. Maybe they’d favour a hike in PST or property tax? Or both. Or neither.
The referendum question would have to be 20-pages long to give anyone a substantive say.
STONE: But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Asking people to vote on a new transportation vision comes after governments and citizens work together to clearly determine and articulate what that vision actually is.
If you’re following the news, you’ll have heard about important transportation projects that individual local governments are behind. The job ahead is to bring this into a common vision.
YAFFE: .. it is up to politicians to lead, to set appropriate policy and raise revenues, and to keep faith with their constituents by bringing them onside, convincing them of the validity and necessity of their plans.
STONE: Success depends on a vision that is affordable for taxpayers, fair for all communities, and secures the movement of people and goods for generations to come.
YAFFE: …. perhaps the most compelling reason to ditch the referendum — itself to cost many millions of dollars — is the almost-certain prospect of a “No” vote.
That would then stall spending on any transportation projects for an indeterminate period, to the region’s serious detriment.
STONE: I will continue to work with the mayors to facilitate a process to bring focus to the regional transportation vision, so the people can decide what’s best.
YAFFE: Politicians need to step up to the plate, reach consensus among themselves, then promise to find at least a portion of needed revenue from belt tightening.
Then, they need to convince Vancouver residents of the merits of their case, and proceed to get the job done.