C-Tran sales tax proposal picks up business endorsements

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Two prominent Clark County business groups have endorsed a proposed sales tax aimed at preventing substantial cuts to C-Tran bus service.

On Wednesday, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and economic development group Identity Clark County both announced their support for the proposal. Voters will decide Nov. 8.

C-Tran leaders have said the transit agency would face major cutbacks in service should the proposal fail on Election Day. Among the proposed cuts are the elimination of 12 weekday bus routes, two Saturday routes and all Sunday, holiday and special event service. According to C-Tran, the agency would have to cut 35 percent of its service by 2013 — that’s when officials say reserve funds would dry up.

The proposed sales tax increase is 0.2 percent. That’s an extra 2 cents on every $10 purchase for consumers. It is expected to bring an additional $8 million to $9 million per year. C-Tran is currently spending down $6 million to $7 million in reserves each year to keep service intact.

“This is a small tax that will have a large return on investment in our community,” Jeff Woodside, chairman of the Vancouver chamber board, said in a released statement. “The 2 cents on every 10-dollar purchase will ensure access to transportation for employees, students, seniors and the disabled. (The chamber) stands firmly behind C-Tran in its request to the community for support.”

Ed Lynch, chairman emeritus of the Identity Clark County board, issued a similar statement of support. The two endorsements came after a vote of each organization’s respective board.

The C-Tran board this month formed two committees to write supporting and opposing arguments for this fall’s voter’s pamphlet. Opponents have said citizens can ill-afford the tax increase in a still-uncertain economy, or have questioned the efficiency of C-Tran’s existing operation.

This November’s vote is one of two sales tax hikes to be put to C-Tran voters. A second, likely to reach ballots in 2012, would pay for the operation of new high-capacity transit options in Clark County. That includes the proposed extension of Portland’s light rail system into downtown Vancouver.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.