Instead of focusing on the budget deficits for police, fire and parks, the Vancouver City Council continued to make funding for Light Rail and a massive new Bus Rapid Transit project their top priority. After months of exhausting every possible means including a new “head” tax that would charge businesses a monthly fee for each person they employ, adding $20 to car registration fees, charging regular bus riders higher fares, and hiking the sales tax rate on the CRC light rail tolling project itself (charging taxes on taxpayer costs), the council decided that another sales tax increase is the only way to pay for the massive new projects.
No legal way could be found to avoid a vote of the people to raise the sales tax again for the full C-Tran service district that would raise enough money to cover the costs for the operation and maintenance cost of light rail and a new bus rapid transit (BRT) project on Fourth Plain Blvd. So the council voted Monday night to ask the C-Tran board to add a ballot measure on the November ballot for another sales tax increase. The $40 million to $55 million dollar BRT project would require new million dollar super buses to replace all of the already-paid-for buses that serve that corridor. C-Tran already has 17 extra buses sitting idle during rush hour.
Individual council members voted Yes for opposite reasons. Bill Turlay and Jeanne Stewart voted Yes, not because they endorse a sale tax hike, but because they want citizens to have a vote. Jack Burkman, Bart Hansen, Jeanne Harris and Larry Smith voted Yes because they want Light Rail and a vote of the people to approve a sales tax hike is required by law to get it.
Tim Leavitt is a different story altogether. Leavitt stated that he believes that if people had a chance to vote on the tax hike for Light Rail that they would vote against it. For that reason, he voted No to prevent a vote of the people. He still insists that there must be a way to raise taxes for Light rail without raising taxes. Calling a tax hike a fee instead of a tax hike would allow a Light Rail tax hike without a vote of the people.
Leavitt will be forced to vote in favor of a vote of the people as a member of C-Tran on Tuesday evening since voting No would be violating the same rule they used to kick Jeanne Stewart off the C-Tran Board. She was kicked off two years ago for voting her conscience as a representative of the people rather than submitting to the council majority.
The ballot measure sales tax hike will be for Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit. The council decided that the ballot measure title should say HCT (High Capacity Transit) instead of Light Rail. So even though the vote is for Light Rail and BRT, it appears that the ballot measure title will not mention Light Rail.
Washington Law prevailed. After exhausting all possible alternatives, the council could find no legal way to fund Light Rail without allowing a full C-Tran district-wide vote of the people. In the end, the cry of the other six cities in Clark County will finally be heard: “Let the people vote”. None of this takes effect unless/until a majority of the C-Tran Board approves the ballot measure Tuesday evening. All indicators point to an easy passage Tuesday. But the plot may yet thicken.
Leavitt and the majority of the council shared that even if citizens defeat that ballot measure this November, that they will still find a way to fund light rail, one way or another. Leavitt and Burkman are up for re-election next year about the time that they may be working on another way around the people.