Vancouver light rail tax increase is bad policy and will hurt Washington businesses
In November, the Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Area Authority (C-TRAN) board of directors will ask all voters living within the agency’s taxing district to raise the sales tax rate to expand public transit in the Clark County region.
If approved, the measure would increase the current sales tax rate by 0.1% in the C-TRAN district for a total of 0.8%, and it would initially raise between $4-5 million per year. The money is supposed to fund Washington’s portion of the annual costs to operate light rail across a new I-5 Columbia River bridge and the capital and operating costs of a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in downtown Vancouver. C-TRAN officials assume that federal taxpayers would pay for the construction of the light rail segment of the project.
Our recent analysis makes the following key findings:
- The November vote is a referendum on light rail.
- If the measure is approved, the sales tax rate in Vancouver will have increased by more than 10% since 2005.
- Ironically, the new tax would subsidize a train to make it easier for people to shop in Portland, harming Washington businesses and undermining current public revenue streams.
- Significant unresolved issues could leave voters responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars more than they are actually voting on.
- Voters do not know whether the tax increase would pay for just their share or Oregon’s portion as well.
- Portland TriMet officials have a history of uncontrolled spending, lavish union payouts and a current labor dispute that could spill over to Washington taxpayers, creating major risk and uncertainty.
- The 0.1% sales tax increase raises more money than C-TRAN actually needs for Vancouver’s downtown BRT system, resulting in no real savings for taxpayers.
- C-TRAN’s operating expenses are rising disproportionately faster than ridership; officials should contain these costs and bring operating expenses in line with passenger demand before asking voters for more money.
Read coverage from The Columbian on the study here: Policy center report critical of C-Tran's Proposition 1