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Taxpayers Should Keep Hissing For Savings From TransLink Mayors

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GREGOR ROBERTSON
CP
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There's an old political philosophy, coined by the French court of King Louis XIV 350 years ago, that still rings true: "The art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of hissing."

The TransLink mayors forgot that axiom last year when they spent millions trying to convince taxpayers to hand over a new sales tax to TransLink -- an agency widely reviled for its wasteful spending. The people hissed loudly in the plebiscite vote, voting down the mayors' plan in a landslide.

Fast forward 15 months to a public consultation process on other tax hikes for TransLink, and we can see the TransLink mayors only partly heard the hissing.

The TransLink mayors want three increases: a 25 cent hike in fares, a $3 increase in property tax and a new development cost charge (DCC) on housing.

First, a little bit of credit. Last year's sales tax plan did not include a single dollar of efficiencies at TransLink. This new plan changes that, with $124 million in surplus property sold to help cover the upfront cost, and $16 million per year in TransLink efficiencies reallocated to the operating costs of the new service. It's very modest ($16 million is about 1 per cent of TransLink's annual spend), but it's a start.

Still, there is room for improvement from a taxpayer point of view.

Still, there is room for improvement from a taxpayer point of view. The proposed property tax increase of $3 for the average Lower Mainland home worth $678,313, comes on top of the baked-in annual property tax hikes (up to 3 per cent) handed over to TransLink.

Business property owners should also be aware that the tax hike will be much larger for them -- $45 more for the average business property.

As tax increases go, $3 a year would be pretty light, if it was the only property tax hike facing the people already struggling with the Lower Mainland's high cost of living. But it comes on top of the legislated hike for TransLink and the usual big increases for cities themselves.

All across the region, property taxes went up. Surrey raised its taxes by $88 on an average home last year. Vancouver, $100. West Vancouver, $242. Port Moody, $97. Coquitlam, $63. Richmond, $48.

A better solution for taxpayers would be for every city council in the region to announce that they will reduce their own property taxes by the same amount TransLink is raising theirs. Given the eye-popping increases we have seen at city halls, it is very doable for mayors to find the equivalent of $3 a year on savings in their own city halls and pass those savings on to taxpayers to cover the TransLink hike.

Such an effort would no doubt be appreciated by many of the taxpayers across the region, and would help restore some trust in the TransLink mayors, who were so soundly rejected in the sales tax vote.

The DCC plan also offers an opportunity for city politicians to show they sincerely care about affordability in their communities. Adding another tax to new housing will make new homes more expensive, so mayors should be scouring their cities' overly complicated development processes to find ways to cut costs, red tape and processing time for new homes. Vancouver, for example, already has 107 different taxes, fees and levies on new housing -- there is a lot that could be done to offset a new TransLink DCC.

TransLink mayors claim these tax hikes are needed for a healthy region. But being able to afford to live here is also necessary -- that's why taxpayers should continue to hiss for more savings at city halls and TransLink itself.

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