U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler said Monday that she'll use a November ballot measure on a light rail sales tax to gauge the county's general feeling about paying for light rail on the Columbia River Crossing. The congresswoman's statement was quickly criticized by the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce.
The statement made by Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, referenced Proposition 1, which would increase sales tax to pay in part for operations and maintenance on a light rail extension from Portland to Vancouver as part of the $3.5 billion CRC project. The measure was proposed by C-Tran leaders, and it will go before those living in the C-Tran district only.
"It is unfortunate that the voters have not had the opportunity to weigh in until this far into the planning process, but now that their voices will finally be heard it would be a mistake not to listen," according to the Herrera Beutler statement. "I will keep fighting at the federal level for a new I-5 bridge, but if Proposition 1 fails, I will oppose any attempt to finance light rail into Clark County that does not win the approval of county voters."
Chamber President Kelly Parker engaged Herrera Beutler's office in an informal debate by email on Monday afternoon, knocking the first-term congresswoman about her interpretation of the measure.
"It would appear as though the congresswoman is telling voters they must approve a sales tax increase in order to receive her support for light rail funding," Parker wrote in an email on Monday afternoon to Herrera Beutler's office.
The chamber supports the CRC project, but it does not support Proposition 1. If approved, sales tax in the C-Tran district would increase from 8.4 percent to 8.5 percent.
Parker said Proposition 1 would raise "more than twice as much as we already need" for light rail. The remainder of the sales tax raised through the ballot measure would help pay to construct a bus rapid transit system on Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor.
If Herrera Beutler is interpreting the Proposition 1 vote as a vote to reject or approve light rail operations funding in general, then voters might be persuaded to vote for a sales tax increase they don't really want in order to prove a point about light rail, Parker said.
"Why would the congresswoman want us to raise our taxes if we don't need to?" Parker wrote to Herrera Beutler's office. "I understand she wants an election on the community's acceptance of this project. But when you tie an unnecessary tax increase into that question, it's no longer a valid question. It's politics."
In response to Parker's email, Herrera Beutler spokesman Ryan Hart said that the congresswoman is simply doing her best to gauge public opinion based on a too-little-too-late ballot measure on light rail.
"Frankly, Jaime would have preferred the voters were asked a different question, and asked a lot sooner than this November," Hart said. "If you want Jaime to go along with this project, then go to the voters with something they'll support. That's all she's asking."