The campaign hasn’t officially kicked off yet, but supporters of a proposed sales tax increase on the ballot this November didn’t miss the chance to reach a captive audience Saturday.
As riders stepped off C-Tran shuttle buses to the Clark County Fair, they were greeted by a small rally in favor of Proposition 1 — a 0.2 percentage point bump in the sales tax to preserve basic bus service. C-Tran officials have said the transit agency would have to cut service by about 35 percent if the measure fails. Those cutbacks would mean eliminating more than a dozen bus routes, plus service to special events like the fair.
“This is just one of those services where people who don’t ride the bus all the time can see the benefit,” said Heather Stuart, treasurer of Keep Clark County Moving, a political action committee campaigning in favor of Proposition 1.
The measure would raise C-Tran’s current 0.5 percent sales tax to 0.7 percent. That would translate to an extra 2 cents on every $10 purchase for consumers, collecting an estimated $8 million to $9 million more annually for C-Tran. The agency has said it now spends about $6 million in reserves for annual operations, and would run out of those funds in 2013 without a successful vote.
Stuart said supporters plan to wait until after Tuesday’s primary election to formally kick off their November campaign. But Keep Clark County Moving has been fundraising, collecting more than $60,000 since forming early this year. It has spent almost $29,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.
Saturday’s gathering of a few dozen people included C-Tran riders, local politicians and campaign organizers. Vancouver resident and bus driver John Shreves said he came between split shifts driving C-Tran’s No. 3 route.
“I’m here to save my job,” Shreves said.
Shreves, a part-time driver, said he worked his morning shift on the No. 3 line, then hopped on the shuttle to the fairgrounds. He planned to go back for his night shift.
Many C-Tran riders and voters don’t know much about Proposition 1 yet, Shreves said. But he sees many riders who depend on the services that could be cut if the vote fails, he said.
“I know how important it is to people,” Shreves said.
One of two votes
Proposition 1 is one of two sales tax votes on the horizon from C-Tran for Clark County voters. The second vote, in August or November 2012, would raise money for the operation and maintenance of new high-capacity transit options including bus rapid transit and light rail.
C-Tran officials have gone to great lengths to draw a distinction between the two planned votes. The C-Tran board passed a resolution last week stating that no revenue from this year’s sales tax proposal would be used for light rail, or any part of the Columbia River Crossing project that could bring it to downtown Vancouver.
Some opponents, particularly those against light rail, don’t see it that way. Upset with how C-Tran has handled the politically charged issue, some have said they view this November’s vote as a way to send a message to the agency.
Stuart called that a misguided approach to make a “political statement.”
“They know that this is not about light rail,” she said. “They know that.”
Of course, that’s not the only argument raised against Proposition 1 so far. Opponents have also said citizens can ill afford the tax increase in a shaky economy, and questioned how efficiently C-Tran runs its operation.
Saturday’s rally finished with a few speeches outside the fair, mostly from C-Tran riders singing the praises of a service they don’t want to lose.
Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, C-Tran’s board chairman, ended the gathering with an endorsement of his own.
“This is for the future of Clark County,” Boldt said. “What makes our county great.”
Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.