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Campbell to Metro mayors: Hands off the carbon tax

Premier Gordon Campbell is pushing back against local mayors, all but telling them not to count on provincial revenues from his controversial carbon tax to be diverted to transit.

“The carbon levy is not a revenue generator,” Campbell told reporters Wednesday, swapping the word ‘tax’ for the more neutral term ‘levy.’

“… Every single cent that is raised from the carbon levy is going in tax reductions.”

The 21 mayors who sit on the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, set up by the province to ostensibly provide oversight to the TransLink’s private board last year, flexed their muscles for the first time as a group Wednesday. They said they would support in principle TransLink’s plan to take on $450 million in added yearly costs rather than cutting transit service – but the extra money on top of the current $1 billion budget must not come from cash-strapped municipalities in the form of increased property taxes.

Instead, the mayors want the province to redirect portions of the carbon tax paid in Metro Vancouver.

But Campbell is fighting back against the mayoral push, stopping just short of suggesting local municipalities have paid less than their fair share compared to other regions.

“We recognize the difficult choices to make,” Campbell. “But if they decide they want to expand transit services, they’re going to have to be part of the partnership that funds that, just like they are in Prince George, or Kelowna, or Victoria, or Campbell River.

“The region’s got to share in the funds.”

But the mayors say local taxpayer dollars already go towards funding two-thirds of TransLink’s budget, compared to one-third from the province.

The question over who funds transit expansion has become a highly-charged debate in the Lower Mainland, where cash-strapped TransLink is warning it will have to cut services if new revenue can’t be found.

Already, it’s plugging a yearly $150-million budget shortfall with money from its reserves, funds that will run out in 2011.

The $450 million price tag is what is required to meet the transit plan laid out by the province last year.

Irwin Loy reports for Vancouver's 24 hours.

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