Opinion Column

TIELEMAN

Bridge tolls a regressive tax on lower and middle income earners – good riddance!

By Bill Tieleman, News, Views, and Attitude – 24 hours

BC Premier John Horgan announced at a press conference Friday, August 25, 2017 that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges would be cancelled September 1. (Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)

BC Premier John Horgan announced at a press conference Friday, August 25, 2017 that tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges would be cancelled September 1. (Photo by Jason Payne/ PNG)

"We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

- Leona Helmsley, New York hotel owner

Eliminating tolls on the Port Mann and Golden Ears bridges on September 1 is welcome news for lower and middle income earners – but only a good start.

Because tolls are regressive taxes – taxes that disproportionately favour the rich over “little people”.

So B.C. New Democratic Party Premier John Horgan deserves credit for wiping out those tolls and quickly keeping a campaign promise to do so.

But there are many other regressive taxes in British Columbia – sales taxes, the Medical Services Plan premiums, wine, beer and liquor taxes – it’s a long list.

And the one true progressive tax is on income – because the more money one makes, the more tax they pay – based on ability to do so.

Unfortunately, rather than applauding Horgan tanking the toll tax, Green Party leader Andrew Weaver claims ending the toll tax is “reckless” and others are upset.

But tolls are simply unfair – here’s why:

· The Port Mann’s toll cost weekday drivers $1,500 a year and up to $4,500 for commercial truckers – whether your income was $30,000 or $3 million – but millionaires didn’t suffer to pay it;

· Only those who used the two bridges paid tolls, while driving the $600 million new highway to Whistler cost nothing;

· Even with tolls, both bridges were losing hundreds of millions a year;

· Tolls distorted traffic and disrupted neighbourhoods as drivers evaded paying them;

· Tolls are costly to administer – only adding to the expense;

Those – like the inconsistent B.C. Liberals – who complain that removing bridge tolls is “subsidizing” Metro Vancouver drivers – are wrong, because we don’t ask northerners to pay for snow removal on highways or other government services that cost far more there. And they backed ending tolls in their post-election throne speech.

Weaver likes tolls mostly because he wants to force vehicles off the road in a well-intentioned but wrong-headed approach to reduce air pollution. He says: “Tolls are an excellent policy tool to manage transport demand.”

But that approach doesn’t work in Metro Vancouver because of the high cost of housing and lack of enough public transit to make commuting feasible for many.

British Columbia needs to keep working to reduce regressive taxes like tolls to make the province more affordable – and fair for all.

Bill Tieleman is a former NDP strategist. Read his blog at billtieleman.blogspot.com. Twitter: @BillTieleman