In his latest opinion piece for the New Zealand Herald, Simon Wilson, described the new Auckland regional fuel tax as a "win for Auckland".

The crux of his argument is that Auckland wins because the Auckland Council can now take $150 million per year from the wallets of Auckland ratepayers which they will also be able to use to leverage additional funding for transport.

Mr Wilson's views on tax and transport are well known and he's entitled to them but many Aucklanders will strongly disagree.

They won't see an unnecessary raid on their back-pockets as a "win" when alongside the Ardern-Peters government's increase in national fuel taxes, they'll be paying hundreds of dollars a year in new taxes which they shouldn't have to pay for. What's worse, it will harm those least able to pay this new cost the most.

Advertisement

The regional fuel tax is intended to raise $150m a year, or about $1.5 billion over 10 years. But it's not necessary. Auckland's transport needs can be funded without it.

So how do we find this money if not through a tax? National has always said that Auckland Council should find the money through savings within its own spending, rather than through a raid on the wallets of hard-working Aucklanders. That would allow the council to still accrue all the benefits Wilson has argued can only come via a fuel tax, but will spare hard-working families in Auckland from the burden of new taxes.

But Simon Wilson and Phil Goff refuse to look seriously at finding savings as an alternative, and instead claim that the only other option would be to raise the money through a 14 per cent increase in rates. This is incorrect and misleading.

To fully replace the funding for the regional fuel tax, Auckland Council would need to find 4 per cent of savings in its budget. During the last mayoral election Phil Goff pledged to find 3 to 6 per cent of savings across Auckland Council's expenditure. When he won that election and became mayor he instructed the council to go about and find those savings.

Instead, council expenditure has risen by about $800m over the past four years.

Rather than threatening Aucklanders with massive (and mathematically implausible) rates increases or new taxes, the council should be held to account for its promise to ratepayers to find savings.

Another reason it should look at fulfilling its promise to find the funding from savings is because the new regional fuel tax punishes those who can least afford to pay it.

The impact of these new taxes will see Auckland families handing over hundreds of dollars more a year to the Government and council. The people who are harmed the most by this are low-income families. These are families who are more reliant on older, less fuel-efficient vehicles and who live further away from the city (so also won't benefit from the new tram project).

They are also the ones least able to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles like new hybrids or electric cars. This means that they will be consuming more petrol and be more reliant on it. In contrast, people who can afford to purchase a new electric car will be able to avoid the fuel tax entirely.

This is advice that Transport Minister Phil Twyford has been given by his own officials and Auckland Council has been aware of for some time – but which it has refused to listen to.
So how would we have funded transport in Auckland?

The Auckland Transport Alignment Project was designed by a partnership between the previous National Government and Auckland Council.

We designed and were progressing the plan to invest in the Eastern and Northern busways, fund Penlink, Mill Rd, the East West Link, public transport improvements and the vast majority of projects listed by the council without a regional fuel tax.

The big difference we had was that we would not be progressing with the multibillion-dollar tram project in the same form or timeframe as Labour because this is simply not the most cost-effective or best option for that corridor, at this time.

National was committed to funding transport infrastructure. Budget 2017 saw a record $32b dedicated to infrastructure over the next four years alone. We would have been able to build on that budget to fund key projects, just like we did to fund the City Rail Link, electrification of Auckland's rail, and the Western Ring Route.

We also would not have gutted $5b out of the state highway budget, which could have been used to fund the likes of the East West Link and Mill Rd projects.

Finally, we would also be expecting Mayor Goff to fulfil his promised savings across Auckland Council and would not be providing the council new ways to fuel its out-of-control spending.

Auckland does need investment in its transport system but the regional fuel tax is an unnecessary and irresponsible way of raising money.

Jami-Lee Ross is National's transport spokesman.