Should sales tax increase? No: C-Tran proposal is flawed

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Proposition No. 1

Resolution BR-12-009 and RCW 81.104 authorize a proposition to increase the sales and use tax by 0.1 percent, or one penny on a $10 purchase, to fund the C-Tran share of the maintenance and operations costs only of the Columbia River Crossing Project light rail extension between Expo Center and Clark Park & Ride and the local capital share and operations and maintenance costs of the Fourth Plain Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit project.

Should this proposition be:

• APPROVED

• REJECTED

It sounds like a trick question: Is this community voting on whether we want light rail?

Or are we voting on how to pay for it?

When you get your Nov. 6 ballot (they will be mailed on Oct. 17), it's worth a read.

Proposition 1 asks voters whether or not we want to increase our sales tax by one-tenth of a percentage point to pay for the light rail operations and maintenance costs.

It's a simple yes-or-no question.

I think light rail is a reality that will allow us to build the Columbia River Crossing. Light rail not only will deliver desperately needed federal dollars to the project, it provides transportation choices to our community. It is a wise investment. With one in four jobs in Washington state being trade dependent, the new bridge will provide long-term jobs, create a vital freight capacity corridor for future commerce and remove the century-old pilings in the river that threaten our safety. The current funding plan is leveraging those early light rail project funds to pay for a proportionate share of the construction of the bridge.

So, as a strong supporter of the overall project which includes light rail, one would expect me to vote yes on the sales tax increase.

But here's the tricky part of the question.

What if we don't need to raise our taxes to pay for light rail O&M?

It's a question the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce began to ask six months ago based on staff reports from C-Tran and later the city of Vancouver outlining other revenue sources more readily available.

No one source is enough to cover the $2.3 million light rail O&M. But several smaller revenue sources when pooled together cover the costs. The largest piece is within the C-Tran agency.

On Monday, the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce will present its case as to why the business organization will oppose the sales tax increase. We remain a fierce supporter of the Columbia River Crossing project, as currently designed, the approved locally preferred alternative.

Our board recently re-affirmed this unanimous support. But the Chamber of Commerce won't be pressured into supporting a bad tax for a good cause. The Chamber believes there is a better way to pay for light rail O&M without raising the sales tax in the C-Tran service district from 8.4 to 8.5 percent.

Opponents of light rail have called this a referendum on light rail. They expect people will vote no to raise their own taxes. They have misconstrued the no vote on taxes to mean no on light rail.

But when you read your ballot, you will not see the question, "Do you support light rail?" The question you will see is, "Do you want to raise your sales tax?" This is not a trick question, it's a tax question.

When it comes to taxes, the Chamber of Commerce wants to be very clear. A sales tax increase is not needed to pay for this project. There are better ways to fund this project without adding to the burdens on local businesses and families.

Tim Schauer serves as chair of the board of directors for the Greater Vancouver Chamber Commerce. Schauer is president and CEO of MacKay & Sposito, a civil engineering firm in Vancouver.