Charlotte excluded from North Carolina Legislature’s bill allowing for increased sales taxes
Because of the economic crisis, Charlotte has been losing tax revenue for its transit system, which is dependent on a half-cent sales tax to maintain operations and construct new lines. CATS, the city’s transit agency, now predicts a $242 252 million shortfall over the next fifteen ten years, forcing it to make hard decisions about what lines to build and which to cut. But now there’s talk in the North Carolina Legislature of allowing further sales tax increases in counties around the state to pay for transit – with the exception of Mecklenburg County, that is, Charlotte and its suburbs, which want to add another 1/2 cent sales tax to their existing taxes.
If the state agrees to the law, counties will be able to propose referendums to their citizenry; if a majority agree, counties can increase their local sales taxes by a 1/2 cent. This measure is most likely to help the Triangle area, including the cities of Durham and Raleigh, which have been desperately pushing for a stable funding source for transit and which have been hoping – yet not finding the means to pay – for a rail transit system over the last twenty years.
But State Representative Dan Clodfelter, who represents a part of Charlotte and chairs the Senate Finance Committee, won’t agree to allowing Mecklenburg to increase taxes on itself unless the city agrees to prioritize a light rail line to the southeast section of the city and a streetcar through Uptown, two areas he represents directly. The transit system’s current plans prioritize an extension of the existing south light rail line to the northeast and the construction of a new north commuter rail line to a number of small towns. Mr. Clodfelter is keeping the city hostage unless he gets what he wants built.
Obviously, the transit system, run by a board representing all of the county’s towns, not just Charlotte, will not agree to such a bait-and-switch, and Mr. Clodfelter’s actions may ultimately put the whole system in danger by depriving it of the funds it needs. The problem with the state system, in which localities have limited power to decide if and when to tax themselves and must get approval from the state to get anything done, is just this: powerful members of the state assemblies, thinking they’re acting on behalf of those that elected them, actually end up causing trouble by making a controversy into an epic battle.
Mr. Clodfelter should recognize that he doens’t have to blackmail the city to get what he wants; if he allowed the county to increase its sales tax by another 1/2 cent without saying a word, the transit system would have enough money to ensure that his priorities, already in the planning stage and marked for construction, get built.