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The Sun lead editorial today:

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Transit will be funded regardless of vote results

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Gregor Robertson said last week that Greater Vancouver could miss out on federal help from a new, $1-billion-ayear transportation infrastructure fund if people vote No in the transit plebiscite. Such a claim is misleading and, with just a month until voting on the plebiscite ends, Vancouver’s mayor is leaving himself open to charges he is scaremongering and panicking.

The transportation fund was announced as part of last week’s federal budget. The fund will launch with $250 million in 2017-2018 and ultimately grow to $1 billion a year by 2019-2020. It was welcomed by mayors across Canada.

They were not put off by the fact that the fund will not launch for several years because, as they point out, projects they envision are not yet shovel-ready. This, by the way, raises a question of why a 0.5-per-cent sales tax increase that Lower Mainlanders are now voting on would be collected starting in 2016 or thereabouts.

Robertson’s suggestion that the region would lose out on the benefits from the federal fund if voters do not approve the new sales tax — “If we do not have a Yes vote from the referendum, we don’t have funding locally to match the provincial and federal funds that are being promised” — was quickly refuted by federal Industry Minister James Moore, who said the region would definitely get its fair share.

Robertson’s statement relates to the fact that federal funding will be contingent on matching funds from municipalities.

But there is no specific federal requirement for municipal funding to derive from a sales tax hike, only that there be municipal money brought to the table.

While the Mayors’ Council was negligent in not outlining any Plan B alternative to voting Yes, logic dictates that if voters reject the sales tax increase, other means of finding necessary monies will be pursued.

Polls show a majority of No voters want municipal governments to find that money by reallocating existing revenues. Local mayors may not like that option, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be done, if it comes to that.

Surely, if the transportation plan is crucial, as mayors contend, citizens will expect them to find the resources to provide essential services and infrastructure.

Whenever politicians are unwilling or unable to do that, voters have a habit of turfing them from office in favour of politicians who can do the job.

Scaring voters into voting Yes is not a good strategy for the mayors. Nor should it be necessary given the mayors have had an overwhelming advantage in the plebiscite campaign, with $7 million of taxpayers’ money to spend, compared to the $40,000 raised and being spent by the No.

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A few points in response:

The transportation fund was announced as part of last week’s federal budget. …  This, by the way, raises a question of why a 0.5-per-cent sales tax increase that Lower Mainlanders are now voting on would be collected starting in 2016 or thereabouts.

The federal funds are meant for the large projects such as Surrey light rail and the Broadway subway, not the funding of much of the Mayors’ plan, notably the additional 400 buses, the express and rapid-bus lines, the funding for cycling, for the major road network – and importantly, for the additional operating funds to accommodate growth.  Rapid-transit lines on their own do not a comprehensive transportation system make.

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… other means of finding necessary monies will be pursued.

Please, some specifics.  Just what do you have in mind?  Vehicle levy?  Road pricing?  Carbon tax?  (Do not expect an answer.)

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Polls show a majority of No voters want municipal governments to find that money by reallocating existing revenues. Local mayors may not like that option, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be done, if it comes to that.

That does, however, mean some current expenditures must be reduced.  Again, specifics please.  What services should be cut sufficient to fund transit on the scale needed.  Minor cuts or reallocations won’t come close.

Behind the editorial, of course, is the real agenda: limit (preferably reduce) local government expenditures, even as more responsibilities are downloaded on to it.  From the senior government point of view, it’s worked for housing, now they’re trying transportation.

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 … citizens will expect them to find the resources to provide essential services and infrastructure.

When one sees the political pain the federal Conservatives have had to bear for the few hundred thousand dollars it has saved on the Kitsilano coast guard station, imagine that many times over in every municipality.  “We are closing your fire hall to pay for someone else’s bus service.”  Yeah, that should work.

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Then there’s unstated question of how a regional service will be funded by individual municipalities.  Would it be through an increase in property taxes individually approved in each municipality to fund TransLink?  How will that not be seen as a way around a No vote: a tax increase by other means.  That’s not likely in a post-HST environment.  And certainly not acceptable in high-assessment municipalities.

Behind the editorial The Sun is reinforcing the arguments of the Fraser Institute, the agenda of which is to limit government to 30 percent of the GDP and to reduce its debt and borrowing capacity – but without identifying significant services to be reduced or those not provided that produce a more equitable society, even as it’s expected local government will maintain existing levels of service, match or replace senior-government commitments and accommodate growth.