Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Was light rail at root of odd council budget vote?

A source with good Charlotte City Council information tells me this morning it's highly likely the bizarre 6-5 City Council vote Monday night to spike the proposed city budget (but proposing no other budget, either) was related to an attempt in the N.C. Senate to kill any state funding for Charlotte's Blue Line Extension project. (Click here for more on the council's budget vote.)

The proposed Senate budget, released Monday, as reported by the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, would cut the state's transit programs by eliminating the New Starts Program and transferring the $28.9 million to the General Maintenance Reserve. The Charlotte light rail Blue Line Extension is the only project in the New Starts Program. The budget bill specifically says public transportation appropriations shall not be expended on any fixed guideway project in Mecklenburg County. There is an additional provision that says fixed guideway projects can compete for Highway Trust Fund dollars under the equity formula.
What's the connection to the city budget? My source believes the issue is Republican opposition to the city's proposed streetcar project, which would have cost $119 million, part of the almost $1 billion, multiyear capital projects budget City Manager Curt Walton proposed. The capital program is what would have required a property tax increase of 3.6 cents per $100 in property value.

Council member Michael Barnes, a strong supporter of the BLE, which would run through his district, asked several questions during the council meeting to make Charlotte Area Transit System chief Carolyn Flowers  specify publicly that the 30-year CATS plan, funded with a countywide sales tax, does not include money for the proposed streetcar project, which would come from city money only.

My source speculates that the four council members who raised barely a peep against the budget through months of council discussion and who were part of a 9-2 straw vote for it May 30, but then voted against it Monday Barnes and at-large members Patrick Cannon, Claire Fallon and Beth Pickering will try to get the streetcar removed from the capital budget. Why? Because influential Republicans at the state level don't like it, and may be using the BLE as a bargaining chip. I won't identify whom my source named as behind it until I can get that person's comments.

And I'm seeking comment from some of those council members. Will update this when I have more information.


Anonymous said...

How can the State even bargain with the BLE when CATS already has a binding State Funding Grant Agreement in hand?

Anonymous said...

I too thought this was binding? Secondly, could this be a scare tactic by the republicans on the council to scare democrats to dump streetcar?

Bob Roberts said...

I also was under the impression that the FFGA signing in April had committed the state to pay its share of the BLE. If this was not the case I would really like to know why. If it is the case (that the state has been committed to BLE funding since April) then we have some unbelievably incompetent people governing us.

Anonymous said...

Here's an excerpt of the minutes of the May 2012 NC Board of Transportation meeting in which they authorized the SFGA (emphasis added):


Upon a recommendation by the Multi-Modal Committee, Board Member Szlosberg-Landis
made a motion, seconded by Board Member Perkins, to approve the grant contract and request the General Assembly to appropriate funds for the Blue Line Extension project.
A copy of this agenda item is made a part of the record of this meeting and filed as an
addendum to Minute Book 27A.

So that's how the NC Senate can pull this little stunt. The money was never appropriated.

Anonymous said...

So, can the feds sue NC for violation of the SFGA, and collect the money from the state even if it hasn't been appropriates (as damages for contract violation)? Or do I misunderstand the "dual sovereignty" theory of American government?

Anonymous said...

Come on, Mary, Do you really believe the trolley is in trouble "Because influential Republicans at the state level don't want it". Is it remotely possible that the four democrats who voted against the budget heard from their constituents and decided the trolley is not what the citizens (you know, the ones who ultimately pay the bills) want? And could it be that they also had second thoughts about the size of the tax increase in rough economic times?

Anonymous said...

"Come on, Mary, Do you really believe the trolley is in trouble"

I'll answer for Mary. Absolutely. Have you not been paying attention to how the Republican majority in Raleigh is operating. They're in full takeover mode. They don't like street car funding, why wouldn't they be any less underhanded than they've been in the past - with all those last minute 1 am votes and such?

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