Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Transit Tax Opponents Touch A Nerve

Charlotte NC - While I still believe that repealing the transit tax in Charlotte will ultimately hurt public transit more than it will help it, I am leaning more and more towards siding with the tax opponents based on many recent events.

The focus of the transit tax repeal effort is focused on the light rail line in Charlotte. An expensive line that many believe isn't being built for transportation but for developmental reasons and I completely agree. A commentary piece in the Charlotte Observer by two Mecklensburg County commissioners helps back that point up as well as shows the rabid response they received from the pro-rail crowd for opposing the line. Mecklensburg County commissioners Karen Bently (R) and Dan Bishop (R) penned the piece that appeared in the paper, primarily in response to another commentary piece in the paper by Observer columnist, Fannie Flono.

Flono calls for a "serious debate" without the exaggerations. Exaggerations such as that the line is being built for development rather than transportation is one of them. Ms. Flono, that is the point. I don't believe that you want a "serious debate" as when a well documented fact is presented to you it is brushed off as an exaggeration and you claim "What's next? The mass transit tax is a conspiracy to steal our babies?"

The simple fact of the matter is that the Charlotte line is being built for development purposes. It has been stated as such in many news reports as well as in public meeting that development is the main focus of the line. Moving people is just a side benefit and therefore it isn't placed where it should be for moving the most people.

The Commissioners bring up an important fact in response to the pro-tax critics. That fact is that the transit plan has been hijacked. It isn't focused on improving public transit. The plan is really a development plan but needs to have a rail line to help the development goals move forward and to get the rail line, you have to classify it as a transportation plan.

"The first aim of transportation spending should be improving transportation, not creating lifestyle choices." A good quote by the Commissioners. That is exactly what is being done with rail under Charlotte's transportation plan. I would also go a bit further and add that the plan also is designed to displace the poor so that they are forced to move elsewhere and become another community's problem. That is also another well documented fact of light rail placement when done for developmental purposes.

The commentary I made in this Laurels & Lances article states it well: "What is often overlooked in these deals are that the poorest residents, the same ones that the politicians claim they want to help, will be displaced. The poorest residents will be pushed out so development can occur. This little fact is one of the most glossed over items of revitalization efforts in any city. The politicians and pro-side activist groups will end up getting the residents all excited about having their neighborhood and life quality improving so that none of them will question anything until they get a court order to move out so a developer can build a condo. Rather than actually improve the lives of its residents through proper education and proper investment in the community, cities opt for unneeded capital projects which ultimately force the "problem" out of their area and into another area."

In addition, CATS can't afford the luxury of a rail line that hauls a few percent of the population while sucking down more than half of the budget needed to run the entire system. The transit tax will help there but only to a point as the tax will not generate enough money to even remotely offset the losses generated by the rail line. CATS also needs to work towards fixing what it already has in place rather than rushing out to plan many more rail lines, with city leaders who steering the proposed lines towards areas they want to redevelop.

The more I learn of the Charlotte transit tax fiasco, the more I favor the efforts of those that wish to repeal it. CATS hasn't learned much at all over the negative response nor have many of the politicians. Perhaps losing a precious revenue source might be the only way to wake them up.

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