Translink tax revolt: the HST link

Yesterday’s “Drive Out the Tax” revolt against Translink’s increase in parking sales tax ran straight into the news from VANOC that this might be a good time to quit driving downtown altogether.

Never mind.

Downtown businesses are convinced the tax increase will reduce traffic downtown (translation: their parking revenues) and they’re slamming Translink for waste and mismanagement. Fire a few executives, they say, and this tax wouldn’t be needed.

(Those who pray for reduced traffic downtown are not the target audience here, nor are those hardy shoppers and office workers who walk, cycle or take transit — and will pay increased property tax and fares just to keep service at current levels.)

As the Vancouver Sun’s Don Cayo points out today in a review of Translink finances, the real issue is finding more money for Translink, not forcing it to get by with less.

For that, he says, the region will need to bring on “road pricing,” the catch-all term for tolls, vehicle levies, congestion charges and host of other measures designed to push up the cost of driving while funding the cost of transit. He’s right.

But here, as with the stall tax, the hard world of reality comes up against the Alice In Wonderland world of Campbell government transit policy.

My sources tell me that the downtown parking czars were hoping that Victoria would quietly wipe out parking sales tax when provincial sales tax disappears to make way for HST. Finance Minister Colin Hansen put that idea to rest in November, striking fear in the hearts of building owners.

Back in the Larry Campbell era, they were beneficiaries of the parking stall tax, which levelled the playing field between them and suburban mall operators, who gave away parking for free. But they stood quietly by when Victoria demolished that revenue source, imagining that somehow the tax burden would some day be raised from their customers as well.

Forget it. The parking tax stays, with HST on top.

Transport Minister Shirley Bond has been equally adamant that Victoria will not give Translink access to road pricing, nor will it allow the carbon tax to be used for transit investments, as proposed by Mayor Gregor Robertson, among others.

Despite Hansen’s declaration, yesterday’s media hits from the downtown businesses focussed exclusively on Translink. The Drive Out The Tax message lets Victoria completely off the hook.

So where does that leave Translink? Forced to raise gas tax, fares and property taxes, especially property taxes. We know how much business likes them.

By the way, none of this has stopped some parking lot operators from raising rates to their own benefit, as CTV’s Leah Hendry was careful to point out in her coverage.