CRC ally won't endorse C-Tran tax hike

Identity Clark County says other revenue sources available

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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A strong backer of the Columbia River Crossing project on Thursday announced it will not support a C-Tran sales tax measure on the ballot this November.

In a surprise move, Identity Clark County's board of directors decided not to endorse the measure that would, in part, pay for operating the light rail extension into Vancouver planned as part of the $3.5 billion CRC.

But that does not change the organization's support for the CRC, for C-Tran, and for light rail itself, said ICC President Paul Montague. The group simply couldn't get on board with a sales tax hike to fund it, he said.

"This was a hard decision for Identity Clark County," Montague said. "Given that it's a challenging time right now, and the fact that there are other revenue sources available, we really felt that C-Tran should go back and look at these other sources before coming out with a tax measure."

Earlier this year, C-Tran and city of Vancouver officials explored alternative light rail funding options that wouldn't require a sales tax increase. The effort, pushed for by Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt and others, turned up several possibilities, including an local employer tax, a car rental tax, vehicle license fees and a more direct contribution from C-Tran or the city.

Preliminary numbers showed that none of those options alone would generate enough money to cover the $2.5 million needed to operate and maintain light rail in Vancouver each year. A combination of funding sources would likely be needed. Local leaders ultimately ended up right back where they started — a sales tax to cover the entire amount — and finalized the ballot measure in July.

If approved, this year's measure would raise the local sales tax rate by 0.1 percentage point, or an extra penny on every $10 purchase. The estimated $4 million to $5 million generated annually would cover the light rail operations cost, plus some of the cost to build a proposed bus rapid transit line on Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor, according to C-Tran.

This is the second straight year C-Tran has asked for a sales tax increase. Voters last year approved Proposition 1, which C-Tran said it needed to maintain basic bus service levels — a measure Identity Clark County endorsed and helped campaign for.

This time around, Montague said, ICC and its board — which includes Columbian Publisher Scott Campbell — would like to see another funding route pursued. But he stressed that the economic-focused nonprofit still stands behind bus rapid transit and all elements of the CRC, which would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge connecting Vancouver and Portland and rebuild the freeway on both sides of the Columbia River.

"We believe in C-Tran," Montague said, "and we believe in C-Tran's mission."

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.