Like so many others in recent years, we moved to Charlotte in 1999 to start this magazine. After examining over a dozen cities in the Southeast region, we studied the greater Charlotte area in even more detail to learn about its quality of life and the likelihood that our business-to-business magazine could add value to business success in this community. We wanted to move from Washington, D.C., to a city that offered growth opportunities in a hospitable business environment. We affirmatively chose the greaterCharlotte marketplace for all that it offered as well as its commitment to growth in the future.
At the time, Charlotte had just passed a half-cent sales tax (1998) for public transportation because of the growing congestion in the region, the need for cleaner air, and the expected population growth. In retrospect, the need for the tax seems even more compelling with the addition of 30,000 additional cars on our highways each year, the rapid expansion and growth of our residential suburbs, and the increased business activity using Charlotte as its distribution center for the entire east coast. Even more important to many, rapidly increasing fuel prices and global warming are additional reasons for expanding our public transportation and adding the light rail system.
This fall Mecklenburg voters will be asked whether that transportation tax should be repealed. Repealing the transit tax makes no sense at all. The average taxpayer contributes only about $40 per year as a result of the transit tax. Losing that half-cent tax will do more harm than good. Eliminating this existing funding for public transportation will diminish our bus service while our government remains under the obligation to pay back hundreds of millions of dollars of government bonds out of general operating funds. We cannot choose to default on those bonds; they must be repaid. Repeal may even mean an increase in property taxes to offset the loss of transportation dollars.
The present tax will provide nearly $77 million for transportation in 2009, and will result in an even larger amount when matched by state and federal government monies for the light rail transportation system. Over $300 million has been contributed to this project thus far from the federal government alone. If the transit tax is repealed, not one new dollar will be spent on highways. In fact, it is likely that repeal would place more pressure to take highway dollars and spend them on public transit.
We need dollars for improving highways and for public transportation. Light rail and commuter rail are important elements of a balanced transportation system. Having lived in the D.C. area for many years, I rode the metro nearly every day. I know the value of a public rail system. The metro was being constantly improved as was the region’s highway system to keep up with growth and development; they first added one beltway and then another.
The vote on this issue is really about Charlotte’s future. We need to reconcile that we must prepare for growth from many different perspectives. We need highways, we need schools, we need green spaces, we need clean air, and we need public transportation.
Charlotte is growing while many other cities are failing. We must grow responsibly and manage growth to maintain our quality of life. We must prepare for our future.
Our battle should not be with each other over the future of public transportation.
Our fight should be in our state capital for the highway funding that will bring r roads up to the quality and quantity that supports our population and its growth. We need light rail and public transportation corridors along South Blvd., Independence Blvd., I-77 to Lake Norman, and a northeast route to UNC Charlotte.
A vote AGAINST repeal of the half-cent sales tax for public transportation on
November 5 is a vote FOR the smart growth of Charlotte.