In mid-March, residents of Metro Vancouver will receive mail ballots giving them a chance to vote in the region’s transit and transportation referendum. Ballots must be returned by mail by May 29.
Specifically, Metro Vancouver voters are being asked if they support a 0.5 percentage point increase to the provincial sales tax (officially known as the Congestion Improvement Tax), applied only in the Metro Vancouver region, in order to fund new public transit and transportation infrastructure.
On balance, for the reasons stated here, we think the benefits of a YES outcome outweigh the negatives.
- Referenda are a terrible way to make tax policy. But a referendum is nevertheless before Metro Vancouver residents, and we can’t afford to ignore it.
- We all have a legitimate list of grievances with Translink. But this referendum isn’t about Translink; it’s about new transit and transportation infrastructure and services. All the money raised from the proposed tax increase is earmarked for these new investments.
- Funding a third of Metro Vancouver’s transit and transportation plan via a 0.5 percentage point increase in the local sales tax isn’t perfect. But it is a reasonable approach.
- While sales tax increases can have a regressive impact (hitting lower-income households harder as a share of their income), in this case the new investments will go mainly to transit improvements, which benefit lower-income people in particular (since they rely more on public transit). As a result, the proposal is likely progressive overall.
- Given the political will (and enough pressure), the provincial government could off-set any negative impact by increasing the PST credit for lower-income people, boosting the low-income carbon tax credit, or extending the discount U-pass to lower-income people.
- These new investments are needed. A YES vote would significantly enhance transit services, boost local employment, and represent an important next step in local climate action.