Opinion

COLUMN: TransLink border tax should be deported

Might drivers have to pay a toll just before they cross the border? That
Might drivers have to pay a toll just before they cross the border? That's one of the ideas floated Friday at a summit on road pricing in Metro Vancouver.
— image credit: Black Press file photo

In a year where TransLink apologists seemed to have thrown every possible tax grab – sales tax hikes, vehicle levies, road pricing, carbon tax – at the wall to see if anything would stick, one idea stood above the rest for its sheer ludicrousness. The envelope please…

“The award for the dumbest public policy suggestion of 2013 goes to… (dramatic pause…) the TransLink border tax!”

This toll-the-borders loser was suggested at one of the dozen or so transportation summits/conferences/gabfests funded by your tax dollars this year.  While initially pooh-poohed as “a bit tongue in cheek” by attendees such as NDP MLA Selina Robinson, the idea continues to surface in the media and has even been sent south for some number crunching.

Essentially, a toll would be slapped on B.C. drivers just before they crossed the border into the United States from Point Roberts to Sumas. Toll booths would be set up on 264th St., 176th St., Highway 99, Highway 11, and 56th St. A U.S. organization claims such a $5 round-trip toll could generate $38 million for TransLink.

There is no doubt that lower gas taxes are drawing Canadians south. In May, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation released calculations showing that the untaxed cost of gasoline is virtually identical between Blaine, WA, and Surrey, B.C. It is the 34 cents/L gas tax gap that makes Washington State gasoline so attractive – saving drivers roughly $18 per fill-up.

Add in the savings on groceries, milk, cheese, flights, and consumer goods, and it’s no wonder why Whatcom County is seeing its highest number of Canadian visitors since the mid-1990s.

But the solution to the gas tax gap is not to tax Canadians even more; the better plan to address Canadian issues like the federal government charging GST on gas purchases – a tax-on-tax.

The TransLink border tax is rubbish, but keeps getting media attention. Main proponent Eric Doherty, who holds an M.A. in planning and is a former director of both the BC Sustainable Energy Association and Society Promoting Environmental Conservation, is over the top in his push for this silly plan: "There's a perception that whatever we do needs to be fair,” he said. “And it's not fair that people are evading paying their fair share of taxes."

Hear that, Canadians? Every time you cross the border, according to Doherty, you are breaking the law by “evading” taxes. You’re just like Leona Helmsley, Martha Stewart, Al Capone, Heidi Fleiss, Pete Rose, O.J. Simpson and other famous tax evaders.

Such a statement is utter nonsense, of course. There is nothing illegal about crossing a border. Undoubtedly Mr. Doherty must also think those who buy local craft beer are also evil “tax evaders” as they pay less taxes than if they had purchased one of the big name brands.

You can bet proponents won’t stop at tolling the U.S. border. In their minds, Lower Mainlanders who go east for cheaper gas must also be “tax evaders.”

After all, from 2007 to 2010, Abbotsford’s population grew 5.3 per cent, while diesel and gasoline sales grew 16.8 per cent. Perhaps border tax proponents should also consider taxing every road in and out of the TransLink taxation area.

Roads to and from Mission better get taxed too. From 2007 to 2010, the TransLink tax-free community grew 3.6 per cent in population, while fuel sales jumped 14.7 per cent.

This year, B.C. taxpayers have endured property tax hikes, BC Hydro increases, ICBC rate hikes, MSP premium increases, TransLink tax and fare hikes, CPP and EI premium increases, BC Ferries fare hikes, and a myriad of other increases handed down by various government agencies. The sooner TransLink supporters understand that everyday Canadians are stretched thin, the quicker we can move on to figuring out how TransLink can live within its means.

Jordan Bateman is B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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