EDITORIAL: Our two cents' worth on new gas tax

  - Evan Seal / The Leader
— image credit: Evan Seal / The Leader

More pain at the pump is imminent, as the regional mayors’ council has decided the way to finance TransLink’s long-awaited Evergreen Line to Coquitlam is to ding motorists an extra two cents per litre when they fuel up.

The proposed measure – increasing the gas tax take for the transit authority from the current 15 cents to 17 cents effective next April – has the agreement of the provincial government.

This is on top B.C.’s carbon tax on gas, which just went up on July 1 to 5.56 cents a litre. (It will rise again to 6.67 cents per litre in 2012).

In fact, feeding government coffers now account for one-third of the cost of a litre of fuel, with Metro Vancouver motorists paying the highest gas taxes in Canada.

No one welcomes user fees, but how to fund much-needed services, such as the Evergreen Line and other transit expansions?

Here’s one suggestion: ICBC.

The profitable publicly owned auto  insurer has boasted healthy reserves over the years – topping $3 billion in 2010 – and hefty annual profits continue to stack up, mainly from investments. (The money comes out of the optional insurance side of ICBC’s business, where the corporation competes with private insurers).

In prior years, ICBC issued rebate cheques to drivers to help spread the wealth, but has so far resisted calls from taxpayer groups and unions to lower insurance rates or boost ICBC workers’ wages.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Victoria from raiding the kitty.

In a controversial move last year, the B.C. Liberals funnelled $487 million from ICBC’s cash reserves into general revenue to help offset the provincial deficit.

What’s more, budget documents filed last spring showed the province intends to extract around $145 million annually from ICBC, starting this  year.

That’s more than triple the $40 million in revenue that is expected to come each year from the proposed two-cent gas tax hike for TransLink.

If ICBC’s successful track record is any indication, and if ideology dictates that those who use the roads should pay for them, then what better way to finance transportation projects than with surplus ICBC shareholder dollars?

Vehicle levies, property tax increases, road pricing and bridge tolls pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars already forked over by B.C. motorists.

It’s time to redirect this particular cash cow from the finance minister’s pasture to the people’s pavement.

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