Premier backs TransLink gas tax hike: Lekstrom

Minister says he has Clark's full support in deal with mayors

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom.

Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom says he has the full support of Premier Christy Clark in agreeing to Metro Vancouver mayors’ plan for a two-cent gas tax increase for TransLink.

The province’s support of the tax hike was called into question Monday when Clark told a radio station she’s concerned about the affordability for motorists.

Without the extra gas tax, which would generate $40 million a year to help fund the Evergreen Line and other transit upgrades, the fragile deal to get the stalled SkyTrain extension to Coquitlam built would likely collapse.

“I stand behind what I’ve committed to,” Lekstrom said Wednesday, adding he has spoken with the premier and ensured they’re both on the same page.

“Nobody likes new taxes – I would concur with that.”

But he said the mayors can count on the province legislating the fuel tax increase this fall – as he promised – provided mayors formally vote for it in a pending financial supplement after public consultation and review by the TransLink commissioner.

“I will not waver one inch,” Lekstrom said. “This has gone on far longer than I think the public wanted.”

Clark has also penned a letter to mayors pledging her support, he confirmed.

Both the proposed gas tax hike and the prospect of either a $10-to-$40 vehicle levy or a second regional carbon tax to support TransLink’s expansion have stoked fierce objections from motorists who say they already pay too much for gas.

A secondary source beyond the gas tax is needed to generate a total of $70 million  for the full package of transit upgrades TransLink is proposing.

Mayors will be asked to commit to the funding supplement this fall even though the secondary source will not yet be approved by the province. If it ultimately falls through, a property tax increase of $23 per average home would take effect in 2013.

Clark previously told News 1130 she understands people aren’t excited about paying more for gas and that her focus is on how “we make life more affordable for people rather than less affordable.”

While several mayors last week voted against the plan, most of the dissenters are worried about its potential to trigger a property tax increase and still stand behind increasing the gas tax.

The package of upgrades includes an express bus route in Surrey on King George Boulevard, a new Langley-White Rock route, RapidBus service on Highway 1, more frequent SeaBus service, SkyTrain station upgrades and generally enhanced transit service.

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