Metro Vancouver residents could be asked to vote on a 0.5 per cent hike in B.C.'s Provincial Sales Tax to fund new transit projects, during a referendum next year.
The proposal was approved by the majority of Metro Vancouver mayors, who considered it the most affordable solution for the majority of residents, at a meeting in New Westminster on Thursday morning.
It passed by a count of 109 to 19, under the weighted voting system of the Metro Vancouver Mayors' Council. It was opposed by the mayors of Burnaby, West Vancouver and Maple Ridge.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the referendum is the wrong way to go, because it leaves many questions unanswered.
"How are we going to decide which line goes first?" he asked. "Will it be Vancouver with the new tunnel down Broadway or will it be a light rail line into Surrey? We never made that decision."
Alternative is 'traffic congestion, pollution'
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, who voted in support, said the alternative would be detrimental economically.
"There will be a lot more traffic congestion, pollution, sitting in traffic ... it's a costly thing for our economy," he said.
The proposed sales tax increase would apply only in Metro Vancouver and would cost the average household about $125 per year, officials estimate. The poorest families would pay an estimated $50 per year.
It is estimated the tax increase would raise $250 million per year to fund the mayors' plan to spend $7.5 billion on regional transit improvements over the next 10 years.
Among the projects under consideration are a new subway line along Broadway in Vancouver, a light rail line in Surrey, a new Pattullo Bridge and improved bus and SeaBus services.
The full question to be posed to residents will be: Do you support a one half percentage point increase to the Provincial Sales Tax in Metro Vancouver dedicated to the Mayors' Transportation and Transit plan, with independent audits and public reporting? Yes or No.
The question still requires the approval of the provincial government before it will officially go ahead to a referendum.
It would then go out to residents on a mail-in ballot in late March 2015, with a final voting deadline sometime in mid-April.
TransLink's 'executive perks' criticized
"TransLink already takes 17 cents per litre on gas, five cents per litre of the federal government’s gas tax, ever-increasing property taxes, a 21 per cent parking tax and a levy on BC Hydro bills. Then they waste it on over-budget projects, executive perks, and dozens of other bad decisions," said Bateman.
"We’d all be better off if TransLink spent as much time and effort looking to save money and cut waste as it did dreaming up new tax grabs."
Bateman also called on the provincial government to prevent TransLink from spending taxpayers' money on any campaign to support the referendum.
"No taxpayer money should go to either side of the debate, and TransLink’s spending and advertising during the campaign should be vetted by the auditor general for local government for fairness."
Meanwhile Iain Black, CEO of the Vancouver Board of Trade, voiced his support for the proposed tax increase.
"Business people understand that there is a return when you make an investment and they will see this as an investment worth making," he said.