What exactly will the vote determine? Some believe a vote, regardless of the scope, will write the obituary for the CRC project as it sits today. Others maintain the project is not in jeopardy, regardless of the vote – that it simply narrows the acceptable funding methods from which C-Tran may choose.
For the critics of the CRC, the fall vote is their opportunity to collectively demonstrate the depth of dissatisfaction with the manner the project has been managed and to force the sponsors to start anew, planning a more affordable and sustainable option, or even a third bridge (without replacing the old one).
Clarification on what the promised vote’s outcome will determine is necessary before the rhetoric begins in earnest. To allow the electorate to believe a majority “no” vote on a sales tax increase will stop the CRC project from moving forward would be disingenuous of our political leaders if, in fact, that is not the case. Likewise, if a majority “no” vote simply shifts the focus to figuring out how to cover the operating and maintenance (O&M) costs as the project moves forward, it is imperative for that to be clear as well.
Mayor Tim Leavitt believes a sales tax increase is not necessary and therefore voted against the city council’s motion Monday evening in a six-to-one passage of recommending the .1 percent sales tax increase as the measure to put before the voters.
City staff, along with representatives of C-Tran, looked at eight different alternatives and variations of a Transit Benefit District in the city of Vancouver, which does not yet exist. None of these alternatives, including an employee (head) tax, a sales tax on rental cars and fare surcharge (user fee), was deemed to be sufficient on their own to cover the O&M cost of a light rail system in 2019 through 2030.
Two of the council members, Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart, voted in favor of the motion because they want the voters to have a say in the matter, not because they endorse an increase in the sales tax. Others on the council having seen the report on alternative methods saw the sales tax as the only method that would provide enough to cover the O&M through the first 11 years of the service.
A slight twist was added by the city council – the addition of the Fourth Plain Corridor Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) initiative, which in the city’s motion would also be funded by the sales tax increase. The addition of this to the fall vote further clouds the issue of what is and isn’t going to be determined in a vote.
Not believing a vote is necessary given our representative form of government (though at this point it seems inevitable), it is imperative for the Vancouver City Council and the C-Tran Board of Directors to make it clear their expectations of what a “yes” or “no” vote will mean. Are the two bodies willing to state up front that the project will move forward regardless of the vote? If that is the plan, the voters should have that information. It is not acceptable for this measure to go to the voters and have them believe a majority “no” could put an end to the project if that is not the likely result.
If the project will move forward, which we strongly support, both the city council and the C-Tran Board of Directors should state so clearly and then let the electorate weigh in on the method proposed.