Charlotte NC - The Charlotte Observer reports on a drive to repeal a sales tax dedicated to mass transit because of massive cost overruns and poor planning of the new light rail line.
The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) and the city are taking notice of this drive too. They have basically warned the people that if they vote to eliminate the tax, they'll get their money by raising other taxes such as property taxes.
CATS basically put itself in this position of risking their dedicated funding by the mismanagement of the light rail line that is set to open in November 2007. In addition, they are already spending millions in planning the expansion of the line without even knowing if light rail will work in Charlotte. These two issues are primarily what is driving the petition drive to eliminate the dedicated sales tax for CATS.
The big problem for CATS is that the dedicated sales tax also helps pay for the bus operation. Since the passing of the tax in 1998, CATS has greatly expanded bus service. Without the tax and the first line of CATS new expensive toy just about ready to roll, bus service will literally have to be sacrificed at the alter to pay to run the LRT line. Not just the recently expanded service but the service that existed prior to the tax being passed.
While the City and CATS are threatening property tax increases to cover the loss of the sales tax, it will put the money that CATS gets into a more unstable funding environment.
What the supporters of the petition drive should be doing rather than trying to repeal the sales tax is to get something like the following on the ballot for the next election:
Do you support eliminating the planning for the expansion of the existing LRT line for a period of XX years?
By forcing CATS to stop planning future extensions of the line for the time being, they will then learn if LRT works for Charlotte or if it's just a huge white elephant. It will stop the spending of millions on studies and plans on extending a rail line that hasn't proven itself. If the line proves to be successful, then after some number of years, CATS can then expand it. If it's a waste of money, then pressure can be more easily used to keep CATS from expanding the rail line.
The bottom line is that by repealing the mass transit tax in Charlotte is like cutting your nose off to spite your face. It will hurt the bus operation that many do depend on.