Whenever a transit authority cries poor in British Columbia, the NDP inevitably rush in with a claim that the carbon tax is the perfect way to pay for it. In reality, the vast majority of British Columbians would be better off if the carbon tax was killed, not repurposed.
Nevertheless, calls for higher carbon taxes happened again this month, when TransLink (Greater Vancouver's transit authority) requested its independent commissioner increase fares by 12.5 per cent. NDP transportation critic Harry Bains recycled the old "use carbon tax for transit" plan-- a spin as predictable as a cheap hit by a Boston Bruin.
Last year, the TransLink area mayors approved another two cents per litre gas tax for transit and upped property taxes. The transit commissioner has decided on a different tact, putting together a plan to examine TransLink's bus service for cost savings. The mayors, on the other hand, simply took TransLink staff at their word, choosing to believe that every loonie of the $1.36 billion it spent in 2010 was fully maximized.
If the commissioner's experts follow up on research by the media and the not-for-profit Canadian Taxpayers Federation, along with tales from the riding public, there should be some significant cost savings that can be realized in this process. The commissioner's approach is the correct one -- not immediately raising fares, rubberstamping increased taxes, or reallocating the carbon tax.
B.C. drivers are already overtaxed, with much of that money flowing to transit. In the Lower Mainland, governments collect 50 cents of tax on every litre of gas pumped, 17 cents of which goes directly to TransLink. Giving TransLink access to another 7.7 cents per litre in carbon tax is unacceptable.
The carbon tax is revenue neutral for the provincial government. Under B.C. law, every penny collected in carbon tax must be returned to taxpayers through corresponding tax cuts. So the idea of using the carbon tax means rolling back those savings. It's a tax increase to pay for transit.
While the carbon tax is revenue neutral for government, it certainly isn't for taxpayers. Some are hit harder than others by the tax -- shift workers, ranchers and farmers, delivery drivers, rural and suburban residents, and those with no access to transit. The corresponding tax cuts do little to mitigate those costs for those people -- indeed, the carbon tax is really a tax shift off urban dwellers and on to the rest of the province.
That's why it's unfair to use the carbon tax for transit. One cannot expect drivers in Lac La Hache to fund transit systems in communities they never visit.
Even if an NDP government allocated carbon tax revenue to be spent within the communities they are collected, it's still unfair to the driver who has no option but to take a vehicle. That's a significant number of disenfranchised taxpayers paying for a service they do not use.
Drivers already pay for transit at the gas pump. Asking them to pay even more is wrong and will damage the long-term economy of B.C., as the vast majority of our goods and services are transported by fuel-powered vehicles. Adding cost to those items hurts both business and consumers.
As of July 2, 2012, the carbon tax will be frozen until the B.C. Government can figure out what to do with it. The best solution is not to hand it over to transit bureaucracy--it's to kill it and give taxpaying drivers 7.7 cents of relief at the pump.