Friday, March 30, 2007

Cost-overruns? What about airport, roads?

(Don't look for another Naked City post next week. I'm taking some vacation. Back in the office April 9. 'Til then, happy reading. Check out planetizen.com if you get bored.)

OK, gang, here are some transit-related tidbits (and some color art at the end) for you -- a little red meat for your weekend.

-- The cost of building the South Corridor light rail was estimated in 1998 in 1998 dollars at $227 million. As of 2007 the cost will be $463 million. That's a bit more than double the preliminary estimate. (In 2007 dollars, $227 million would be $282.7 million.)

-- The cost of building the third runway at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in 1998 was estimated at $80 million. The construction cost now is $240 million, according to City Manager Pam Syfert. That's triple the preliminary estimate. ($80 million in 1998 dollars would be equivalent to $99.6 million today.)

-- The cost to build the western leg of Interstate 485 was originally estimated at $385 million. Its current cost is $676 million.

-- The southern leg of I-485 was originally estimated to cost $78.3 million. It cost $268 million, or 343 percent over original budget. Most of us would say it should have cost a lot more, in order to add lanes in each direction.

How many local voters are out there howling about those airport cost overruns? Those highway cost overruns?

Here's an interesting quote from City council member Don Lochman, long the council's most fiscally conservative member, at Monday's council discussion about CATS: "I don't get bent out of shape over cost overruns." (He isn't a fan of rail transit, he made clear.)

A final tidbit before you get to the art: Since 1998 the city's contribution to run the bus service has been frozen at its 1998 level: $18.6 million. If the transit tax disappeared and the city continued to run bus service, that total would certainly rise. Inflation since 1998 makes $18.6 million worth roughly $23.2 million.

Below are comparisons: The first map is CATS bus routes today. Since the transit tax began the number of buses went from 134 to 328 and routes went from 47 to 76. The next map is a preliminary estimate of bus service IF the transit tax goes away and IF City Council decides to hold property taxes increases as low as possible but still run city bus service. (CATS is a countywide bus service, not limited to the city.)

Obviously, council could choose to cut the city budget to find bus service money to try to avoid raising property taxes. Some folks say that's an easy solution. They're dreaming. I've watched many councils over many years. They simply are not going to dismember police, fire or other city departments. They'd have done so already.
























138 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for continuing to unravel the complicated truths about public transit and city infrastructure costs. Charlotte's accessibility - by rail, road, and air - has always been , and will always be a catalyst for growth and prosperity. That is, unless the public (and the elected decision makers) become so shortsighted that they would choose the diminished bus service scenario. (which frankly, scares me) The second that Charlotte's transit network is no longer conducive to business and mass movement, growth will begin to go elsewhere and leave us behind.

Rick said...

Mary,

Please keep using the "2 wrongs make a right" argument. I think it will play so well with the voters come November.

No time today to slice and dice the numbers you present. I'll get to that later.

However, I will say this. The difference with the rail cost overruns vs. the others you sited is that the total costs of the rail project under current estimates - $3.5 BILLION to $6-$9 BILLION (depending on if you include construction, or construction+operational costs) - make rail a difference in 'kind', not a direct comparison.

Rail generates massive additional operational expenses which never end where the Airport runway does not.

Rail will serve 2% of the regional population where I485 serves the other 98%.

As for paying for CATS going forward...

In the event that a replacement sales tax to fund buses is not immediately implemented, there are several options. I personally believe that a replacement sales tax will be the ultimate solution because it is the easiest for the politicians to swallow, but it might take a little while.

1. Bringing CATS's cost structure in line with the other comparable bus services in NC would go along way to solving any budget gap. I believe about 25% was the last number I read.

2. Making CATS compete with other City needs will by definition make them more efficient. Right now they have absolutely zero motivation to be efficient in any way. They have a permanent source of funding that requires no justification or oversight. (They've proven that repeatedly recently with their delays and dodges in presenting information.) A little discipline will be good for them.

2. An across the board budget cut would require minimal impact to city organizations - 2.5% - hardly slashing as you state. However, there needs to be no impact to important resources such as fire and police. Simply stop building arena and Halls of Fame for billionaires and that would cover the cost. Stop giving handouts to every company that promises to create a handful of jobs.

Here's a specific example - Pam Syfert’s office currently has a $10 million/year budget with 170+ people. Do you think that's justified?

3. When a replacement sales tax takes affect, viola! problem solved.

Have a good weekend.

Mary Newsom said...

A few clarifications -- the $6 billion to $9 billion figure Rick uses includes construction of all five rail corridors PLUS operating all of them. The airport runway figures and I-485 figures are construction only.

The arena is already built, so that construction money isn't available for other uses in the city's operating fund. That money comes from a dedicated hotel/motel tax which by state law can't be used for general fund expenditures such as police, fire, etc.

Money for the Hall of Fame comes from an increase in the hotel-motel tax. It, too, is restricted by state law to tourism-related uses. There may be some of us who wish that money were being spent in other ways, but it's too late to win that battle.

In addition, because of the size of the city, CATS has to operate under federal rules that don't apply to other, smaller cities in N.C. Comparisons of bus system costs aren't apples to apples.

And finally, Rick made the same error I did a few years back, only when I did it it was actually in print, much to my dismay. It's voila. Not viola.

Have a good weekend!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rick said...

Mary,

Exactly my point on the first one. If you are going to include costs, let's include all the costs - which I didn't try to hide and was very clear about the totals. I didn't even mention the costs of the development subsidies along South Blvd which really should be included as well.

On the second point, they do apply to Raleigh I imagine, if not please correct me. Let's just try to get to their level. All costs are not federally mandated as you seem to be implying.

Arena and HOF are examples of money spent that should not have been spent regardless of the source. Giving money to billionaires is bad policy - period. If that had not been done, then the recent tax increase on rental cars would not have been needed to fund arts projects and the hospitality tax could have been raised to do that. Instead the car rental tax was raised - a tax that is dedicated to transit - that money was moved to the south corridor which freed up general fund money already being spent on the south corridor and then that money was funneled to the arts.

Please don't tell us that taxes are dedicated to one thing and can never be shifted. Our local government shifts money better than Columbian drug lords.

...on the spelling mistake - touché

Anonymous said...

He can't count either

Anonymous said...

Rick and his cronies are going to stick by their beliefs.

I, and my cronies, are going to stick by our beliefs.

Let's each build our voter bases and may the best team win in November.

Again, I don't believe this has much to do with taxes as it does with the changing culture of our city. There are those who want us to be the next Atlanta or Dallas, and those who want us to be the next Richmond or Spartanburg. Over the last couple years alone, the former has been quickly outnumbering the latter. Hey, I am one who loves to stick it to 'the man' every now and then, but in this case, I am fully on the side of the City and County Governments, the Chamber, the Observer, and all other supporters of our current transit plan. to let this repeal happen would be civic suicide.

As for November, "Bring it on!"

Danimal

Rick said...

It will be fun now won't it Danimal?

By the way, I'm a good sport, so if we end up charging into the black hole of train madness, you won't hear another peep out of me about the trains after November.

Until then? Well, that's a different matter all together.

Anonymous said...

"How many local voters are out there howling about those airport cost overruns? Those highway cost overruns?"

Oh, come on. The highway cost overruns are a STATE expense. The airport cost overruns are funded by airport programs, not by all of us. These are not LOCAL expenses.

By contrast, we are ALL paying an extra .5 cents sales tax to fund a program which MOST of us will NEVER use.

That's why many of us are upset.

JAT said...

Mary:

You understand that the airport gets revenue from boarding fees, correct? It is largely self-financing.

CATS, in contrast, has gone from users paying about 26 percent of costs in 1998 to about 14 percent today. The taxpayer subsidy of CATS is increasing not shrinking. This is totally forward looking operational costs, not sunk construction cost overruns.

In fact, cost-overruns are but a small part of what is wrong with CATS.

Bonus observation: Fascinating that airport construction spending suddenly gets interjected into the CATS debate by Mayor McCrory and John Lassiter.

Oh wait, that's right, McCrory's bud and Uptown fixer Stan Campbell is chairman of airport advisory committee.

Fascinating.

Clayj said...

JAT and Anonymous (from 3:52 PM) are both right on the money. Roads are a state expense which we all bear, airport expenses are financed by air travelers, and CATS is not being paid for by the people who actually use it.

Here's an idea:

1. Kill the 0.5¢ sales tax... let the people vote on it and DROP the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) from the discussion. I'm really getting tired of certain people using the hobgoblin of "We must raise taxes!" all the time.

2. Raise CATS rates so that the people who ride the busses and (eventually) the trains bear at least half of the burden of running them.

3. End all discussion of raising property taxes to pay for these programs. If I wanted to live in a fracking Communist society I'd move to Boston.

Anonymous said...

Clayj,
You are kidding, right ? Looking toward the future is now Communism ? As well is Boston ?
I suppose if all the tax money went to your precious wants that would be fine.
Screw everyone else ?
Total country bumpkin mentality. Charlotte still has some weeds to pull from its sod before it's pro course material.

Enough said.

Mary Newsom said...

One more clarification:
Almost half the cost to build the South Corridor rail line is federal money. Almost a quarter is state money. The rest is paid with local money, most but not all of which is transit sales tax revenue.

Of the revenue from the half-cent sales tax, in FY 2006, 65 percent went to bus operations and another 6 percent to bus capital expenses. The projection for 2009 (after the light rail is to begin) is for 68 percent of the sales tax revenue to go to run the bus system and another 7 percent for bus capital expenses.

Clayj said...

"Looking toward the future"? Give me a break. That phrase is just as hackneyed as "it's for the children". We can look toward the future without allowing ourselves to be taxed into oblivion, like they do in the People's Republic of Massachusetts (a sad-but-true joke which was obviously wasted on some of you). The general rule of what we should spend tax money on (and collect it for) is "Will this benefit most people?" The answer, in the case of light rail, is "absolutely not". Most people will not use the light rail... EVER. But we are ALL being forced to pay for it, and to add insult to injury we were LIED to about what it would cost and the entire project has been very poorly managed from the start.

Do I care that tax money which *I* pay be used for things I consider useful? Absolutely. If you want to sacrifice yourself on the altar of the common good, be my guest... but don't expect me to commit suicide alongside you just because it "would serve the common good".

Mary said:

Almost half the cost to build the South Corridor rail line is federal money. Almost a quarter is state money. The rest is paid with local money, most but not all of which is transit sales tax revenue.

Let's correct that:

Almost half the cost to build the South Corridor rail line is federal tax dollars collected from all of us. Almost a quarter is state tax dollars collected from all of us. The rest is paid with local tax dollars collected from all of us, most but not all of which is transit sales tax revenue collected from all of us.

Yes, that's much clearer.

Ken Rogers said...

Mary,

What you are seeing in the debate regarding for repeal of the transit tax is the anger of the average tax payer with those who waste their money in a brazen and arrogant manner. They feel they have no voice because their wishes cast aside at every turn. They see themselves eeking out an existance on their own budgets, while government entities continue to nickel and dime them away without end. Where is accountability? Where is the discipline to be careful with money? Look no further than to the $180k spent to fix up the old trolley car that we can no longer use (Tober: "...was not a forseen problem"). Who's going to be in trouble for that decision?? Is it alot of money? No in a relative sense, but yes to tax payer making $40,000 per year before taxes!

Should we shout that I-485 was way expensive. You bet. But, it was just "Oh well" and move on. Doesn't make it any more right for the transit plan.

Should we shout that the airport runway has doubled in cost? Absolutely. We are in a period of airline consolidaton and capacity reduction and we want to add runway capacity? This would be a perfect time for Jerry Orr and crew to stop, re-evalute, fix and reinstate the plan if it makes sense. Doesn't make the transit argument anymore right.

We are at outstanding time in our young urban history to really achieve an efficient transit system. However there is little or no incentive for CATS or the government to be careful with the tax dollars taken from average, hard working citizens. A little fiscal discipline and financial awareness would go a long, long way in convincing an electorate to "...invest in the future". To them, the future is going to be nickle and dimed away from them if they don't do something (ie: repeal the transit tax). Think of the transit tax repleal as the new Boston Tea Party.

Anonymous said...

"If I wanted to live in a fracking Communist society I'd move to Boston. "

Yeah, and if I wanted to live in a fracking bowlegged hillbilly sociaty, I'd move to mississippi or Alabama! I'll take Charlotte turning into a Boston over some dead boring small minded southern town some of you want us to be.

Clayj said...

"Yeah, and if I wanted to live in a fracking bowlegged hillbilly sociaty, I'd move to mississippi or Alabama! I'll take Charlotte turning into a Boston over some dead boring small minded southern town some of you want us to be."

OK, first off, you misspelled "society", and the state is "Mississippi", with a capital "M".

Second, you act as if we have only two choices: backwater town or overtaxed metropolis. I would submit to you that there are all sorts of options in between those two... and it is possible for Charlotte to advance as a city without taxing us all into the ground. "World class" does not have "overtaxed" as a prerequisite, despite what we are told frequently.

I find it only slightly amusing that those who claim to champion openness and the "little guy" are often the least tolerant of anyone who dares to voice dissent. Just because I disagree with you, I must be some backwards hick, right?

Anonymous said...

WHEN can we have a freeway all around the god dam city; I want to bE able to get arond this fart town someday; And that railsystem they cant afford is giving the taxpayer a real scare; most peopl in Charlotte are constipated because of road news in the morning; I thik Charlotte is trying to CORNHOLE all of us on the bill.

Anonymous said...

Well obviously you don't like people who dissent to you, and you badly stereotype Boston as some communist society, so I sense some backwardness.

The fact is, Charlotte is a heck of a lot less taxed than many cities and towns that don't have near the amenities that we offer (or plan to offer). A great many of us are just willing to pay a little bit more if it will help speed up the metropolitan atmosphere that we would like Charlotte to become. If somebody doesn't subscribe to that view, I would suggest that they move to one of the outlying counties where life is supposedly more 'simple' and less 'communistic'. Sure, the sommute times will be longer and you won't get the services offer in a place like Mecklenburg, but perhaps those areas have more in common with your views. Not that's not hard, is it?

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:57...

Your views are right on target, except for one small detail. If one does not like to live in Charlotte (tax-opolis), moving to Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson or unincorporated Meck does not help either. Due to the unique multi-operating government (County and City) set-up, the ability to "spread" the pain is much too easy. And easily ignored by those who spend with arrogance.

Regarding low taxes, you are not considering the total burden. The average citizen pays Federal, State (...NC is the highest in SE by the way), Local (Property taxes, personal property taxes) and miscellaneous taxes such as motor fuel tax. For some citizens this approaches 40% of their take home pay. Illinois (...where I am originally from) has terribly high property taxes, but their income tax is multitudes LOWER than NC. Don't be fooled. Every government gets what they need to spend and waste...it's just taken from different pockets in the same pair of pants.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I pay the same taxes as you but I don't have the rabid distrust of our local governmant as you do. If you read my statement a little more closely, I said move to one of the 'outlying' counties, where you don't have to deal with Charlotte or Mecklenburg at all. If you don't like North Carolina's taxes, move to South Carolina. You have plenty of choices within 20 miles of where you are now to make yourself happ and everyone around you. I have chosen to stay in central Chalrotte and am willing to pay a little more to do so. I look forward to taking the train into town for a ball game, etc. some time next year. Come join me. I'll buy you the first beer.

Clayj said...

"Well obviously you don't like people who dissent to you, and you badly stereotype Boston as some communist society, so I sense some backwardness."

Again with the black-and-white, either/or analysis. If someone doesn't gladly offer up their wallets and their firstborn when asked to do so, they must be backwards. Right? After all, it's "for the children" or "looking toward the future".

And if you don't distrust government, there's something fundamentally wrong with you. Government is an unfortunately necessary evil which we have to have because we need structure and laws. The trick is having as LITTLE government as possible. Right now, we have too much of it, especially here in Charlotte. And if I just decamp to some other less-taxed place and leave everyone else to suffer, then the tax-and-spenders win. And I like living DOWNTOWN where I can WALK, not ride on a taxpayer-subsidized train, to football, basketball, and (hopefully) baseball games.

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, I do distrust some government. I distrust George W. Bush, Sue Myrick and Bill James (among others), so I guess you are correct in that respect. See you at the games. I'll buy you a second beer too.

Clayj said...

"Well, actually, I do distrust some government. I distrust George W. Bush, Sue Myrick and Bill James (among others), so I guess you are correct in that respect. See you at the games. I'll buy you a second beer too."

Ah, the truth comes out... hence your defense of Taxachusetts, light rail, and other socialistic taxpayer-subsidized projects, and your labeling anyone who doesn't agree with you as "backwards". The mark of a true, progressive, intolerant, tax-and-spend liberal.

Anonymous said...

And proud of it!

So distrusting government is the way to be unless it's for your favorite people in government. Yeah, uh-huh. Cavuto and O'Reilly would be proud.

My philosophy has always been if Charlotte wants to be a prosperous 'world class' city, it needs to get rid of its Southern right wing vestages and assimilate with the rest of the country and promote an egalitarian society that is open to everyone (including you). I believe that public transportation, sports, the arts and other public gathering spaces make that happen (as in Boston as a matter of fact).

Want another beer?

Lewis Guignard said...

Darn the bad luck, people attacking each other and I got left out.

Cost overruns exist in many places. In private business and personal affairs those making the decisions bear the burden of the mistakes and waste.

In government it is seldom that those who are responsible for the waste are accountable for the waste. The taxpayers pay.

The arguments about what is the best avenue for Charlotte to go so far as public transportation is all too often based on emotional desire and personal benefit rather than a cost benefit analysis (CBA). Then those who press the CBA point of view are personally attacked by those who are emotionally involved with the opposing viewpoint.

As transit is not the only issue where personal attack is the method of those advocating government programs, one learns to believe emotional rationale is the basis for many of these.

Global warming is one, but closer to home is CMS. The waste of rebuilding older schools continues. The cost to those who oppose this program is to be accused of racism or some such, yet it can be proved that this part of the building program has no - ZERO effect on educational results. If instead the education of poor students was the goal, money would be spent on something affecting classroom results. It is not due to the emotional rationalizations of those supporting the wasteful programs.

This same mindset is true of rail transit.

The numbers showing it to be a huge waste of taxpayer funding are ubiquitous, yet those argueing for rail seldom address the numbers. They press forward with ad hominem attacks, dissembling, and imaginary scenarios of how wonderful everything will be if only those of us expressing discontent would hush.

Ha, who do they expect to subsidize them: those who roll over and watch tv? Hardly, they have no money to take. It is the entreprenuers who are concerned with the bottom line and others of similar inclination who are required to pay the bills.

Yet we are supposed to pay willingly and make no fuss. Why are we suppposed to make no fuss?


Lewis Guignard

(for those who attack me, or others, personally - the amusement your attempts provide encourages me)

Clayj said...

Lewis, well said.

Anonymous said...

it just occurred to me that I never drive on 485, maybe I should ask for my gas tax money back?

Clayj said...

"it just occurred to me that I never drive on 485, maybe I should ask for my gas tax money back?"

But you do drive on roads in NC, yes? Your gas tax money goes to pay for roads all over the state (including Charlotte), not just 485. Nice try.

The difference between having to pay taxes towards roads versus light rail is that everyone uses roads or benefits from them. Light rail will be used by and only benefits a very small, geographically-defined group of people, i.e., people who live along the South Boulevard corridor and want to go Uptown.

Shoot... almost forgot all of the developers. They'll benefit, too. Nothing like a big, fat government payout to draw them all in.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Clay, and if Boston, New York and Washington closed down their Metros, EVERYBODY would feel the difference on the roads. With the Charlotte resion projected to have over 4 million people within the next 25 years, we can pay for some supplemantary infrastructure now or suffer 20 years from now wishing we did it in the first place. I-485 should have been completed 20 years ago, but a bunch of nimrods running the city back then thought if we didn't build roads, we'd stop growing. It's this same way of thinking I hear from light rail and public transit detractors today. Start thinking ahead buddy. You'll thank me a few years from now.

Clayj said...

Boston, NYC, and DC all have much higher population densities than Charlotte does. Why? Because those cities (1) are much older than Charlotte (in terms of being million-person-plus cities) and (2) they have geographical barriers that have forced them to densify... New York and Boston are essentially islands, and DC has to contend with the Potomac River and being, you know, the nation's capital. Given higher density, rail makes sense there because you really can save time (and money) by using rail. (Not to mention, they got their systems up and running a long time ago when this sort of thing was much, much cheaper.)

Charlotte, on the other hand, has no such geographical limitations. We are spreading OUT in other counties, not growing up into bigger and taller buildings, and the "4 million person Charlotte region" you refer to is a circle 100 miles in diameter, not a small area like Manhattan or DC. The lower density we have here lowers the usefulness of any rail system. If the train can't get you where you need to go (as it does in NYC or DC, but not here) and doesn't save you any time, what's the point of it? This is a total case of putting the cart before the horse: Rather than building rail because of the number of people demanding it, we're building rail in the hopes that it will draw people to it. "If you build it, he will come" is not a good public policy.

Now, if you want to start buying land for rights-of-way for future rail lines when the population does hit the levels where rail makes sense, I might be able to get behind you on that.

Anonymous said...

I love this:

"I don't get bent out of shape over cost overruns."

Typical politician. In my household, a cost overrun means having to do without something else.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could dip into everyone else's wallet to fund all your little plans and dreams?

Clayj said...

Oh, and Mary: Why do you, along with every politician, gloss over the notion of making up the CATS budget shortfall by, you know, RAISING BUS FARES? It's not like CATS is supposed to be a free transporation service for people who choose not to (or can't afford to) drive. If we get rid of the transit tax, wouldn't the LOGICAL option to be to raise riders' fares, rather than punishing all of the property owners with a jacked-up property tax?

Come on, let's have a little common sense here... or is that too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

You are one greedy bastard Clay. Why don't you move to some far away remote place where you can do as you please and not be bothersome to anyone?

Clayj said...

"You are one greedy bastard Clay. Why don't you move to some far away remote place where you can do as you please and not be bothersome to anyone?"

Nothing quite like an anonymous bomb-thrower. How very brave of you.

For what it's worth, I'm not greedy. I don't want anything more than I am capable of earning myself. The only thing I ask of government is that my tax dollars be spent in a useful manner. If I think my tax dollars are being wasted, I'm going to say so, and I'm going to say why I think so. If you have a problem with my freedom of speech, maybe you'd be better off living in China or North Korea. And if you're willing to just let the government take whatever they want from you, then I pity you.

I guess it's to be expected nowadays that a person will be attacked for not submitting to the will of the masses.

Uncle Dennis said...

I find it amusing that someone who complains about spending $50 on every $10,000 of purchases for a tax to support transit will spend around $50 per week just to have a place to place his/her car during the work week.

The low % of rider estimates is compared to the general population, when it should be compared to the number of people working in a downtown. Example being a downtown work force of 60,000 and a ridership of 10,000 tells me that the percentage is closer to 16%, a percentage that is likely to rise as the other legs get built.

Remember, as demand rises, so do prices. Surface parking lots used to be free on evenings. Now that the Bobcats and Checkers play downtown, those lots cost $5 - 10 a space at night, and they are filled.

We have complained about crooked government, out of control spending, old technology, and ignoring voters and have yet to talk about race. Most of the riders are black, and it would appear that most whites do not want to ride with them. I hate to bring that up, but that seems to be the reason people keep pointing to other reasons for their opposition.

UD

Anonymous said...

You nailed it UD. The old plantation mentality dies hard around here.

Anonymous said...

We should wait for 5 years before deciding whether to start on the other sections. This gives us enough time to see if anyone will ride the damn thing.

I wouldn't be surprised if the train is empty most of the time after the novelty wears off, getting around by car in Charlotte is simply very efficient and comfortable.

19th century, immobile, transportation technology isn't too appealing to me and certainly others.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Dennis, Your comments about race sound remarkably similar to assertions made about anyone who does not support a busing based assignment plan for CMS; i.e., anyone who supports having children attend school close to their homes is actually "afraid to have their children attend school with someone who looks different from them." This is an extremely simplistic viewpoint, sure to squelch any constructive conversation about important issues. I am beginning to suspect that those who make these racial assertions are actually the ones with the "plantation mentality". Could it be that they are unconsciously projecting their own feelings (which they have struggled to suppress and overcome) onto the rest of us?

Ken Rogers said...

Anon 3/30/2007 11:40:00 PM...I am truly concerned about the future of the US when our population thinks that keeping what you have EARNED is considered "greedy". The population does not live to serve and feed the government machine. You likely have the good fortune to afford a heavy tax burden and futher your American Dream. Unfortunately, there are a number of people that have to manage with significantly less after feeding the government coffers. For them, the dream is to simply stay above water. And to watch their hard earned money wasted with impunity goes beyond the pale.

Uncle Dennis...I would tend to agree with your $50 per $10,000 argument. I would say YES to the entire light rail if only the 1/2 cent sales tax funded it forever. But it breaks down when you look at the entire funding picture. Federal funds are paying (...and being wasted) for the light rail plan. That's your money, my money and others money. State funds are paying (...and being wasted) for the light rail plan. Again, your money, my money and others money. Federal and State funds are not free and never will be.

I would encourage you to get inside the numbers. I did on the Charlotte-Meck website for the budget. I posted my comments on Mary's previous blog regarding transit. The short version: the operation of the entire transit system will undoutably exceed the 1/2 cent sales tax. The only other revenue stream left is property taxes. The gift that keeps on giving. Look at the North line. Federal funding is gone and now they are implementing exotic TIF (Tax Increment Funding)...a fancy word for tax increase.

We are at a unique point in time to get this right. Let's stop drinking the Kool Aide being served by those who waste money with impunity. Let's force them to fix their broken financing models, be held accountable for horrible decisions that waste hard earned tax dollars and implement a better system. I don't think it's too much to ask. Acutally, it should be demanded.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Dennis;

Regarding your comment: "Most of the riders are black, and it would appear that most whites do not want to ride with them. I hate to bring that up, but that seems to be the reason people keep pointing to other reasons for their opposition."

If it appears to you that people don't ride buses because of the race of the person in the seat next to them, it is clear that you are speculating, and like all speculation it can only be based on what is in one's own mind, since it has no reference to the motives of others. Or put another way, that comment probably says a great deal more about you than it does anything else.

Anonymous said...

UD, you're a moron. I wouldn't generally call someone something like that, but then you've just referred to everyone who doesn't ride the buses as a virulewnt racist.

You have no particualr insight into why people make the choices they do, let alone enough to assign vile motives for those choices while simultaneously calling them liars.

On reflection, "moron" is not the proper term. You seem to be of at least normal intelligence. Sophistic, and lacking in character are probably more accurate descriptions of one who engages in such childish crap for the sake of protecting his viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

Uncle Dennis injection of racism is a tactic similiar to those of the other pro-transit-at-all-cost supporters. When presented with data and facts they fall back to platitudes (...world class, backwater, hillbilly) or racism to distract. The fact remains that the light rain is a tax funded boondoggle that is out of control.

Anonymous said...

...excuse me...light RAIL...

Anonymous said...

If you don't like the direction Charlotte is going in...MOVE!!!!

Anonymous said...

Choo choo go back and forth, back and forth. Me like choo choo.

--Pammy SeeNothing
--Mayor McCheese
--Ron TuberHead

Anonymous said...

And in response to 11:34, those who support transit have to put up with being called communists, thieves, stuck on emotions, etc. Please stop the hypocracy. There are a lot of things I don't like my tax dollars going towards (Iraq war, oil subsidies, bailouts of struggling high-fare airlines, pork barrel projects in Alaska, etc.) but somebody else seems to like these things, so they get funded. It's a part of give and take in society as a whole. I voted for the transit tax back in 1998, and I will oppose the repeal this year because I believe in the big picture of this being a good thing for Charlotte as a whole, not for a select few. A major city with lots of diversity provides its citizens choices whether that be mobility, housing options, or catalyst projects that spark further development in certain areas. It's a shame that some of you don't see Charlotte's potential to be one of America's great cities. You can continue fighting the forward momentum that the greater part of the community supports, or you can move to the sunurbs and stay out of the way. It's a free country, you can move around as you wish.

Clayj said...

BTW, in case any of you didn't realize it:

If Charlotte was just now applying for Federal funding for light rail, we would not receive any funding. Why? Because in just the past few years, the Feds have very much tightened the restrictions on where they are willing to fund light rail... specifically, they now require much higher population density. Even the South Boulevard Corridor, which has by far the highest density of the 5 proposed Charlotte light rail corridors, does not meet the new Federal guidelines, nor will it when all of the condos currently being built along the rail line are completed. Raleigh and the RTP applied for Federal funding for their proposed light rail and they were turned down in a heartbeat. Why? Not enough density. The rationale is that without the riders, a train system cannot support itself.

So there will be no more Federal funding of light rail in Charlotte for a very, very long time. And with no Federal funding, there will be no matching state funding.

And if the plutocrats uptown think that Charlotteans are going to fund light rail all by themselves, they're delusional.

Anonymous said...

Oh Please! Failure to agree with you must only stem from an inability to see the potentially great city Charlotte can be! What horse dung! You might consider arguing facts rather than trying to de-legitimize those who disagree with you. It is the same tactic that one can see in Uncle Dennis' branding of those who don't support wht he does they way he does as racist, and it is every bit as logically fallacious in the form you use as it is in his.

Uncle Dennis said...

As I tried to indicate, in polite good old southern society, if you don't talk about a subject, it doesn't exist.

My comments were an observation, one that any poster here could make. If my bringing it up offends someone, or lumps me into a classification, sorry!

As Lewis pointed out way back in another post, light rail goes from point A to point B. In many cases so do bus routes, though they may change their course. Why do many people within easy walking distance of a transit stop choose to drive their own vehicle to their work and back home again, and pay between $5 and $15 per day to let their car sit near their work? More stressful, slightly more convenient, and significantly more expensive than using transit.

Traditionally people flock to low cost alternatives, the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs have lowered prices, and driven up demands for more imports at the expense of jobs locally. Yet with transit, we seem to be doing the opposite.

I am sure there are many reasons why people willingly spend more for one thing while in almost all other things they seek to spend less.

Anyway, call me what you will.

UD

Clayj said...

To Anon at 2:01 PM: Oh, please. I've presented nothing but facts...

FACT: The Charlotte light rail system would currently NOT qualify for Federal funding because, in their minds, we lack the population density necessary to support a light rail system.

FACT: Light rail is way, way overbudget, partly due to poor management and partly due to the boneheaded decision to hire the same morons who built Boston's Central Artery Project (a.k.a. The Big Dig) and went about $10 BILLION overbudget.

FACT: Light rail will serve a very small percentage of Charlotte's population, just those living along the (artificially created through government interference) South Boulevard Corridor.

FACT: CATS' operating budget isn't even halfway, not even a QUARTER of the way covered by fares. To any logical person, this is a problem.

Do you dispute any of these FACTS?

Oh, and I'm not trying to delegitimize anyone. Just pointing out that many of us think the light rail is a huge waste of OUR money. If you want to pour your hard-earned cash down the toilet, be my guest... but keep your hands off my wallet.

Anonymous said...

Feet of Clay, you have done an excellent job repeating the John Locke talking points down to a T. And like a good little Ann Coulter loving McCarthyite, you have followed the procedure of stating your opinion as 'Fact'. The federal funding formula quickly changed under one regime, and can easily change under a new one. With a Democratic Congress in session and a Democratic President likely to be elected in 2008, I wouldn't be surprised if that formula changes back in our favor sooner than later. I say we wait and see how the South Corridor does, and if the results are similar to that of Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City where ridership is much higher than anticipated, Charlotte will be no different. I will not try to persuade you otherwise, but I will concentrate on us by staying the course by making sure any repeal referendum is defeated. If you don't want Charlotte's hands on your wallet, Delta is ready when you are.

Clayj said...

Ah... there's nothing quite like being called an "Ann Coulter-loving McCarthyite" (neither of which is true, BTW) by someone who signs their name as Anonymous. Tell me, how do you get around considering your utter lack of a backbone?

BTW, you completely failed to debunk any of the facts I listed. Rather, you resorted to the time-worn tactic of labeling everything I said as "opinion". Well done. I could hardly have expected you to do any better than that.

But I will ask you again, anyway: PROVE any of the facts I listed as incorrect. Do it.

Anonymous said...

Dude, if the poeple of Charlotte want a comprehensive transit system, they are going to vote for it and support it no matter what rhetoric you say. I could go on and on about the excessive costs building and maintaing roads, sewer systems, schools, etc. but I doubt you'd listen. All I can do is make sure you are on the losing end of a referendum. Now go move to Gastonia please.

Anonymous said...

Ahhh...yes, the "They got theirs, I want mine..." argument. My 6 1/2 year old uses it quite often.

Based on that, I will petition Charlotte for helicopter transit service since the light rail people got theirs...and I want mine. Oh wait, no, I would like blimp transport service since the light rail people got theirs...and I want mine. And I need it subsidized so that I only pay 10% of the true operating cost. No, to be truly "World Class" we need something like a Space Shuttle type of service. Yes...and because the transit folk got light rail there is no reason for me not to have Space Shuttle service...at 25% of the true operating cost.

This type of rationale will only lead us to tax oblivion.

Clayj said...

There's nothing comprehensive about the light rail plan. Nothing. I'd rather they spent the money on more busses and improving roads than a static rail line that only goes from A to B. Busses are flexible; trains are not.

And we all benefit from roads, sewers, schools, etc. I'm not disputing why we should fund any of them, although it would be nice if we could minimize cost overruns for them.

Please, O Spineless Anonymous One, try to put a little thought into your responses before you post them.

Anonymous said...

clayj said.....

"The difference between having to pay taxes towards roads versus light rail is that everyone uses roads or benefits from them. Light rail will be used by and only benefits a very small, geographically-defined group of people, i.e., people who live along the South Boulevard corridor and want to go Uptown."

Huh? roads benefit everyone?

When was the last time you (or anyone you know) drove on NC 770 to Ayersville?, What about NC65 to Wentworth?) Tell me how these roads benefit everyone?

According to NCDOTs numbers about thousands more people will ride the S Blvd light rail than travel on these roads. If you take expected growth into account over half of NC highway spending is in places that are expected to lose population. If you are going to be outraged at least direct your attention to true waste.

Anonymous said...

anon 10:29 said....

"getting around by car in Charlotte is simply very efficient and comfortable."

have you EVER been on I-77 between 4 and 6pm?

Anonymous said...

UD, I can think of many reasons why people forego mass transit in favor of their cars. If you can think of only one, you either have a failure of imagination or an obsession that blinds you.

And that "explanation" of yours does not -cannot, whitewash your comments. You acknowledged that people state many reasons for their choices, and then opined that there must be only one, and it must be racism. The hubris is stunning: YOU know the truth, even if all those other people don't know their own truth! Everyone but you is a racist. Everyone but you is a liar.

But here in the overly polite South, you tell us, it's actually obvious that it's racism and you're the only one bold enough to break convention and point it out. HORSEHOCKEY! Try this: you have a large ego and a guilty conscience, and you're attempting to serve them both through the ultimate Southern "holier than thou" of admitting racism on eveyrone's part but your own. But of course you have utterly nothing to indicate that other than what's in your own head. And what's there, apparently is a closet racist.

If you don't hop on the bus because you're an unevolved, moronic racist, don't project that onto others. And if you're a clever fellow, you'll take more opportuities to pontificate less and in so doing preserve some shred of dignity and the fiction of intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Anon 6:56...I totally agree or disagree with your comments regarding Uncle Dennis. But his comments are not the main issue.

The ploy Uncle Dennis has taken, similar to the other pay-my-way-transit supporters is to deflect the discussion somewhere else or pull out the emotional platitudes when presented with the facts of train madness.

It understandable for you to be fired-up by his comments. However, the pressure we apply to Uncle Dennis and his cohorts should remain on the train boondoggle.

Anonymous said...

This is so obvious it's painful.


People will use the airport and the roads.

The train will be empty.


We wait forever at teh airport and are stuck in traffic on the roads because demand to use those things exceeds their capacity.

And by the way, why does McCrory, Siefert, Tober, et al continue to avoid the obvious funding method for mass transit?

Simply charge RIDERS to use mass transit.

If it costs $5 to ride the bus, then charge $5.

Don't charge $1.65 for a $5 bus ride and wonder why you have money problems.

Anonymous said...

I addition to the rpevious note, if it costs $10 to drive on a certain segment of freeway, charge a $10 toll instead of letting people hop on and off as they please. Folks, your are getting subsidized goods and services every day from roads, schools and public universities, down to the milk and eggs you buy at the supermarket. Yeah you can bring up ever gas tax you pay for roads, but it still a pittance compared to their true cost. A public transit system is not going to break your back financially, but it will take enough people off the road in a city that is going to be a lot more crowded real soon. Once the greater population of Charlotte starts thinking as a city instead of our own little worlds, the better off we will all be.

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:33...

Ok...why don't you put your money, pun intended, where your comments are. Show me the EXACT DATA on how much my ride on I-77 or I-85 costs per day. For giggles, assume I get in at Exit 23 and off at Exit 6 (17 miles). Just be up front and honest by giving the parameters and assumptions you used in your calculation.

We already know that 15-10% of the true operating costs of transit are subsidized. Plus, we all know that subsidies will grow as the system grows (ie: adding North Line, Northeast Line ,etc). That's a fact that is well established in most gov-co reports.

Bring it on...

Anonymous said...

I am originally from the Chicago/Northern Illinois area. The toll systems are a way of life. Until recently, a driver on I-90 from Rockford to Chicago (~97 miles) paid a $0.40 toll every 20 or so miles. The toll was originally inacted to "pay" for the interstate. However, it actually became quite a lucrative business due to the number of drivers. There is now a huge arm of the gov-co machine funded and operated only on tolls, with some well paid public servants to boot. Imagine everyones surprise when the scenario went from "pay" to "keep it going". Now Chicago only has 2 seasons...winter and road construction. And most of the road construction is self-imposed to keep the toll commission and their jobs in tact.

My point: the amount we subsidize for I-77, I-85, I-485, I-40, etc is likely a drop in the bucket based on ridership. The transit system couldn't sniff that type of fiscal efficiency if it tried.

BTW: the ruse of reduced congestion is complete bull. Chicago is one of the most congested cities I know and it has a huge transit system. Atlanta and DC have trains and traffic jams. Don't buy the hype.

Anonymous said...

My previous post was incorrect. It should be only 15-20% are paid by ridership. The remaining 80-85% are paid by overtaxed taxpayers.

Anonymous said...

You want it? You got it!

http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_000010.htm

http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_pointlog2007q1.htm#DAL_20070129

http://www.redefiningprogress.org/newpubs/1998/wpts3_execsum.html

http://www.trainweb.org/moksrail/advocacy/resources/subsidies/transport.htm

http://www.trainweb.org/moksrail/advocacy/resources/subsidies/california.htm

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report04/

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/report00/solutions.asp

Anonymous said...

>>I addition to the rpevious note, if it costs $10 to drive on a certain segment of freeway, charge a $10 toll instead of letting people hop on and off as they please. Folks>>


This could not be more false.

Refer to the bureau of transportation statistics, which will provide the data to show that roads not only pay for themselves via fule tax and other auto fees, but actually return a surplus to government of about $2 per 1,000 passenger miles.

You are preaching dogma, not facts.

Rail, buses, etc. as massively subsidized. The most 'successful' tranist system in the US, New York City, loses $4.5 BILLION per year and relies on tax subsidy to make up the difference.

So move on to your next talking points such as 'pollution' or 'social costs' or whaveter the next argument for this is.

The bottom line: since when did your ride to work become a birth right?

Government needs to just end this disaster and privatize mass transit.

They would immediately lay off 50% of the workforce, raise fares, and cut the routes that have 2 people on the bus at 7:30 in the morning.

Mass transit is just another badly run government program with no competition, and tax payer funding to boot.

What is the incentive for this system to ever work of Tober and co. know the money will keep flowing?

Pull the plug on the $$, can Tober, and give the next guy 6 months to make this thing break even.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:54...per your links"

http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_000010.htm says:
"... estimates that car drivers pay about 60 percent of the total cost of their travel. The remaining 40 percent consists of costs of highway construction, maintenance and control (traditionally subsidized by all three levels of government), "free" parking (subsidized by employers, store owners, schools, federal tax laws, and so on), and various social and environmental costs absorbed by society." Sounds like we get a far better cost vs benefit ratio for cars on roads than we EVER, EVER will from light rail/transit. Transit riders pay 16% currently. Let's make pay 60%, as described in the uber liberal website, and then we can talk.

On http://www.lightrailnow.org/myths/m_pointlog2007q1.htm:

"Let's look at the 90,000 rider-trip figure on DART's light rail system another way. There are about 283,000 people residing in the LRT service area (assuming an average of 1 mile either side of the line). The 90,000 trips were probably made by about 40-45,000 individual travellers. That's a volume of passengers equal to about 14-16% of the people resident in the corridor area served – on that single transit line – and on a Sunday!" If all we can hope to aspire to and be joyous about is 16% ridership of the population near the tranist system?? If so, our multibillion dollar investment and multimillion dollar operational subsidies are better spent elsewhere.

Stop train madness.

Anonymous said...
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Clayj said...

To Anon at 7:03 AM:

Nice. Good to see that when the facts fail you, you can always resort to profanity. Of course, I knew you wanted to say that even before you said it... the question is, how much of my shooting down your idiocy would it take before I could get you to swear at me.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Clayj said...

Anon: Profanity doesn't bother me at all, but this isn't my blog... so don't be surprised if those little nuggets of wisdom get removed when Mary returns.

And if you have to resort to profanity (especially something as useless as THAT), then you've pretty much lost the argument. I don't swear at anyone here because (1) I have respect for the blog owner and (2) I have no need to swear when the facts are on the side of the argument I'm supporting.

I have yet to see anyone here debunk the facts I posted above. You know why that is? Because they're FACTS, not opinions, and no logical person can argue with the facts. In this particular argument, it seems pretty obvious that the anti-transit tax folks are employing logic and reason, while the pro-transit tax folks are employing emotion and opinion. I don't know about you, but I know which I trust more.

And with that, I am done with this particular blog entry... when someone starts throwing out stuff like "[profanity] you!" instead of trying to, you know, ARGUE THEIR POSITION LOGICALLY AND COHERENTLY, any further comment is probably irrelevant.

BTW: Are there no profanity filters here?

Anonymous said...

See, it does bother you, Mamma's Boy.
Keep searching for the filters.

Anonymous said...

I don't need to swear, but your arrogance has been overwhelming on this bliog Clay. Other counterpoints have been stated here, but you refuse to accept them and then you proceed to take jabs at folks by calling them socialists, et al, when they don't agree with you. We'll have to wait until November to get this argument settled once and for all. No matter what your opinions are Clay, the people of Charlotte will make the final call. I hope you are cool with it if they don't go your way.

Anonymous said...

I think Charlotte will overwhelmingly vote to keep the transit tax come November.
But if I am wrong I would bet that we will see a drastic increase in property taxes just as they have threatened.
The city isn't going to halt the light rail. They see the value of offering alternatives to sitting in traffic. It "will" work if you ride it. If you don't then congestion will stay the same. As with any city there will always be congestion. Just because you throw a train in the mix don't expect traffic to go away. But just imagine if it weren't in the mix. That is the nightmare Charlotte is heading for if we don't push for the rail and bus system.
Now that increase in property tax is going to hurt way more than the $50 or so dollar a year you are paying in transit tax fees.
I propose we start a website, "stopthecul-de-sac.com"

Anonymous said...

1. Trump coming to town.
2. Light rail leaving.
3. Get real PoDunk folks.

This cities leaders know how to generate income.
While you know how to generate loads of crap.

Anonymous said...

OK, if it is really about efficiency then lets stop paying city, state or federal funds to maintain or build any road that carries fewer people per day than the LRT.

I'll make that trade.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:57...I was impressed by your complete circular logic in your recent post:

1. No light rail, same congestion
2. With light rail, same congestion.

Ok, so I want to invest a multi-BILLIONS and subsidized multi-MILLIONS and congestion stays the same? Sorry, I just don't get it.

Anonymous said...

Mary and all Pro-Light Rail Anons...

I think I have a relatively easy proposal to get my NO vote on the transit tax repeal,

1. Since Gov-Co pulled out the property tax boogey man if the tax is repealed, then I want their absolute PROMISE (...via legally binding vote) that property taxes will NEVER, EVER be increased to cover ANY portion of this light rail system (debt service or operating costs). This must be clearly demonstrated in the budget process without financial hocus-pocus. This only seems fair since repeal of the tax will CERTAINLY require a tax increase per Gov-Co, so the reverse MUST be true.

2. The next cost over-run due to program management negligence (Gov-Co or Program Contractor or Both) will result in a meaningful punitive actions taken by Gov-Co. This could be demotion, termination, suit against contractor, etc. No more huffing, puffing, posturing and do-nothing like what happened on the the South Rail. (Did you hear that clearly Tober & Seifert??)

3. CATS user fees must be increased to cover at least 25-30% of the total budget (debt service and operation costs).

I can bet how many Gov-Co people will say yes to the above proposals: ZERO. Why? Because they know it's inevitable that property taxes will be increased to pay the light rail operational subsidies and debt service. The 1/2 cent sales tax simply cannot do the entire job forever...and they need to be HONEST about that.

Rick said...

Here are some numbers for you to go along with the 63,000 petition signatures reported yesterday and today. These are from the CharMeck.org website.

54510 = the number of votes that stopped a wasteful school bond package 2 years ago.

57545 = the number of votes against the arena in 2001. That's 57545 angry people who were ignored in a non-binding referendum, but can't be ignored in a binding referendum.

62378, 44123, 41868 = the number of votes received by Pat McCrory in 2001, 2003, and 2005. Anybody else see the trend here? The big drop from 2001 to 2003 was due to his participation in the arena shenanigans. Do you honestly believe Mr. McCrory wants to run on a platform of massively raising property taxes?

How about if Craig Madans runs again on a platform of stopping wasteful spending like he did last time when he got 32021 votes? What if Madans (or any other candidate of either party for that matter) promises to push for a replacement sales tax to fund buses and roads, rather than raise property taxes to continue funding rail?

What do you think Mr. McCrory will do then?

Now let’s looks at some other numbers:

80899 and 59052 = equals the number of people who voted for/against the transit tax in 1998. How many of the “for” votes do you think have changed their minds now that they know the facts about costs, delays, and the overall plan that pushes low-income neighborhoods to the back of the rail line schedule? How many of the against?

Oh, and one more number...

63,000 = the number of voters who can be directly targeted for get out the vote campaigns with known names and addresses.

Interesting numbers…

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Anon 4/02/2007 08:52:00 PM

"1. No light rail, same congestion
2. With light rail, same congestion."

uh, I love how you fools state that someone said one thing when they actually didn't.
I said we will still have congestion. I didn't say it would be at the same levels.
Easy scenario:
1. 500,000 cars on road.
2. add 100,000 more cars
3. equals 600,000 cars now on the road

Or

1. 500,000 cars on road.
2. add 100,000 more cars
3. equals 600,000 cars on the road
4. Now take 100,000 of them off the road and onto the light rail
5. Total =500,000 cars.

No matter how many more people more to the area your roads will be congested. Just HOW congested will be determined by how many different avenues of transportation are available to us.
Trust me, you will all be crying your eyes out if we keep growing and just add more lanes. Grid lock is coming. Like UD said "have you all forgotten what only 6,000 more cars did to us last year".
Anyway, it doesn't matter. I have faith that the inner core of Charlotte "city limits" will do the right thing and vote to keep the measly 1/2 cent tax.

Lewis Guignard said...

Rail Light hits the hot buttons! UD says people are racist if they don't ride public transit. People take offense. Clayj gets told someone wishes to procreate with him, because he writes something about facts.

What is the issue one might ask?

Charlotte/Mecklenburg - metropolitan area is growing very quickly.

Transportation is already a problem in one fashion as the poster who asked if one has ever been stuck on I-77 during evening rush hour.

Congestion is going to get worse.
People are going to continue to use cars.
More people are going to use transit.

The question would seem to be the most efficient use of tax dollars.

Light rail is not an efficient use. The dollars spent per rider are more than other forms of transit, which leads some people to think we should spend OUR money on other forms of transportation.

Why does this position attract such venom?

Another poster asks why transit riders are not asked to pay more of the cost of ridership.
Interesting thought. Any of the pro transit people care to comment?
UD, you seem one of the few who are not ANONYMOUS. Any of the ANONs?

I venture 2 guesses. 1. Transit is seen as a welfare program, where people are not expected to pay their way. 2. It helps inflate ridership numbers, which would decline if more than partial payment was required.

But what of continuing growth and congestion?

Rail will never address that as it is radial and can only offer service to a limited part of the population, of which only a small fraction of them will ride.

Why, it doesn't matter. Let us call that choice personal.

The metro area needs more roads for cars, and a better bus system.

I have written about how a better bus system could work previously.

It will require roads, which cars and trucks and school buses need also.

Rail is a singular service, useful only to commuters carrying two small bags or less.

The money would be better spent improving our road system.


Finally, Clayj is not arrogant. When one is right it is not arrogance.

Uncle Dennis said...

Lewis, transit welfare for the poor? Well, maybe it is. As I ride the busses, I notice a lot of CPCC Students riding them, students who might not have other ways to get to school, and are working on a tight budget.

I see housecleaners, or nannys taking the # 20 bus up Queens road to go to work at a McMansion. They may not be in a position to get there without assistance.

I see clerical types coming uptown to work, when paying $5 or more per day for parking, assuming they have a car, might mean that they cannot buy a lunch that day.

Then I look at some of the major employers in the uptown area. They pay a transit incentive of $40 per month to their uptown employees to be used as seen fit, parking or transit. Perhaps another form of welfare.

When I go to the library, I see people using the computers there, free, who might not have a computer at home. Is that welfare for the poor?

I believe the constitution said something about providing for the "General Welfare". I guess the debate here is the meaning of "General Welfare". I believe that our elected officials need to be the determiners of that, not me, not Lewis, not Clayj, and not anonymous.

The topic here is cost overruns. It has morphed into everyones special interests, including mine!

Since Mary will be gone until April 9th, we have 5 more days to play in this blog. I can't think of any public project that has ever really kept to budget with the exception, ironically, of the Bobcat Arena!

In private industry, things are not always so easy to determine. I have seen examples where structural cost containment processes have been ignored due to the bonus structure of managers in that business.

There are no philosopher kings, as Plato called for, in either public or private business. There will always be "what can I get from this" people in any business.

So, how do we want to handle cost overruns?

UD

Anonymous said...

Uncle Dennis,
I don't believe Lewis said that transit was seen as a welfare program "for the poor". He merely said it was seen as a program where users do not have to pay their own way. I would assume he means it's publicly subsidized for every rider no matter what his or her income, since the price is the same for all.

Clayj said...

The debate seems to have returned to a more civil mode... Lewis, thank you for your support. I agree, I don't think I'm arrogant because I deal in facts. It does seem to be the modus operandi of certain groups of people to resort to personal attacks when they are confronted by facts they don't like.

Back to business... I quote a paragraph from much higher up:

"CATS, in contrast, has gone from users paying about 26 percent of costs in 1998 to about 14 percent today. The taxpayer subsidy of CATS is increasing not shrinking. This is totally forward looking operational costs, not sunk construction cost overruns."

This is a horrible statistic. If CATS users are covering only 14% of the CATS budget, then the local fare of $1.20 translates into a real cost (against the CATS budget) of $8.57 per fare (rider/trip) and the express fare of $1.65 translates into a real cost of $11.78 per fare... and it's probably fair to say that most bus riders ride the bus at least TWICE a day. So we are subsidizing most bus riders to the tune of $14.75 - $20.25 for each day they ride... multiply that by 5 working days per week and we're talking a subsidy of $73.75 - $101.25 per rider PER WEEK or $295 - $405 PER MONTH. That's for ONE regular bus rider.

What does this all tell us? CATS is either horribly inefficient, or fares are way too low... but more likely it's both of these. And we already know that the situation for light rail will be even worse, since the operating costs for a light rail system will be much higher on a per-rider basis (never mind the initial construction costs) than they are for busses.

So TPTB are (stupidly, if you ask me) threatening to jack up our property tax rates if the transit tax is repealed. This should be the very LAST option that's considered, and ideally it will NEVER happen. In order to get CATS back where it should be, CATS needs to do ALL of the following:

1. Carefully analyze the CATS budget and eliminate ALL wasteful spending. This may include eliminating jobs within CATS. There should be no sacred cows here... if it's wasteful, it's gone.

2. Raise fares. Immediately. It should be a law (in my opinion) that CATS user fees should account for no less than 50% of the CATS budget in any given fiscal year. Ideally CATS would operate at a profit, but unfortunately it's unrealistic to expect that any government program would ever do this (aside from the IRS, of course).

3. Sell ads on the sides of busses. Immediately. CATS is not some vanity program where we can be "pure" and avoid advertising. Take the money and place the ads. No one outside of CATS cares a whit about the CATS "brand". It's a bus; get over it.

4. Continually analyze route usage and eliminate routes (or cut back their service) which are underutilized. A CATS bus driving down the road with one or two riders is something we should never see. We all know that a single bus is more wasteful than a single car in terms of gasoline use and causes more congestion (since it's bigger and slower), so empty or near-empty busses are a BAD thing.

5. Eliminate ALL service outside of Mecklenburg County, unless other counties are willing to pony up some money to help pay for this subsidized service. (Maybe they already do, but if so, I'm unaware of it.) It's HUGELY unfair to expect residents of Mecklenburg County to make it cheaper for people who choose to live elsewhere to work in Charlotte. If you want to take advantage of our "amenities", then live here. Part of doing this might involve building park-and-ride lots just inside Mecklenburg's borders, so that people from other counties could drive to our county and THEN get on a bus.

6. Halt all consideration/discussion/speculation of any more light rail lines until the South Corridor line can be shown to be operating at or close to a profit. If light rail really is "all that", then there's no reason why it won't operate at a profit... right, pro-light rail people? Or are you willing to admit that light rail is just a money sink?

Anonymous said...

Well, the fact is that any good city looks out for the welfare of ALL of its citizens, not just a few antitax folks that love to blog and collect signatures. This is not just about the poor, but also elderly, disabled, those too young to drive, those sickm of $3/gallon gas and those who want to take a car off the road and ease congestion and be environmentally conscious. These are people not trying to get a free ride as much as it is those who have no other choices or those who believe in a collective attitude of an egalitarian sociaty. One person per car is much more wasteful in our society then a bus with just a few people (which are full during peak hours by the way). Perhaps we should go to mandatory car pools on certain roads or in certain zones. This vote will come down to what kind of city we want to be. I think most people know were all in this together and will vote accordingly.

Danimal

Bob said...

clayj said....

6. Halt all consideration/discussion/speculation of any more light rail lines until the South Corridor line can be shown to be operating at or close to a profit. If light rail really is "all that", then there's no reason why it won't operate at a profit... right, pro-light rail people? Or are you willing to admit that light rail is just a money sink?

I think everything in this post is reasonable and I am glad the debate has returned to a more civil tone. I do want to ask about your definition of profit here. Do you include a component for increased property tax revenue alopng the line to to new projects? Do you include a component for the emissions eliminated from moving people without an internal combustion engine? What about the value of taking 10, 20 or 10,000 cars off of I-77 that day?

Clayj said...

Annotated:

Well, the fact is that any good city looks out for the welfare of ALL of its citizens, not just a few

Obviously "a few" is defined as 63,000 or more (so far). How would you define "several"? 200,000?

antitax folks that love to blog and collect signatures. This is not just about the poor, but also elderly, disabled, those too young to drive, those sickm of $3/gallon gas

Hey, we're ALL sick of $3/gallon gasoline... but many of us bear the cost. All many of us are asking is that the bus riders bear their fair share of the costs involved with their transportation. If they don't, then it really is a welfare program. The same applies to the light rail... if it can't support itself through fares, then it's a subsidized program. Light rail does NOT benefit all of us... not even MOST of us. It only benefits a FEW of us.

and those who want to take a car off the road and ease congestion and be environmentally conscious. These are people not trying to get a free ride as much as it is those who have no other choices or those who believe in a collective

Collective = Communist. If you don't believe me, look it up.

attitude of an egalitarian sociaty. One person per car is much more wasteful in our society then a bus with just a few people (which are full during peak hours by the way).

Except for the fact that those of us who drive our own cars are not only bearing the cost of our own transportation, but also that of others. Full busses are great, but the riders should bear their fair share of the cost so that the rest of us are not paying for 86% of their ride.

Perhaps we should go to mandatory car pools on certain roads or in certain zones. This vote will come down to what kind of city we want to be. I think most people know were all in this together and will vote accordingly.

I think most people don't mind paying their fair share. All we request is that we all be treated EQUALLY and fairly... and that means no more free (or nearly free) rides.

Maybe we should financially screen bus riders and require those who can afford to drive, but choose not to, to pay a higher fare so as to minimize their hit on the CATS budget? (He suggests semi-facetiously.)

Clay said...

Bob: Profit means profit. The money generated directly by fares and advertising should exceed the cost required to operate the line. No property tax subsidies, no factoring in the "value" of decreased carbon emissions (if for no other reason than operating the light rail will itself entail generating carbon emissions at some point... let's not even get into the whole scam of carbon credits), none of that.

As far as property taxes for new properties being built along the light rail corridor go: They shouldn't be treated differently from any other property taxes in Charlotte. They should go into the usual fund and used to pay for law enforcement, schools, sanitation, and other things that benefit us ALL.

What we DON'T need is increased property taxes to make up for some program that only benefits a few people and which is a huge money sink (i.e., something that will NEVER make a profit or even come close to doing so). If Ron Tober and Pat McCrory want to play with trains, we can take up a collection and buy them some HO model trains and a couple of conductor's hats.

Clayj said...

Dang... typed my name incorrectly on that last post... should've been "Clayj". :-)

Anonymous said...

I see nothing communistic about people thinking as a member of the community rather than as themselves all the time, to hell with the rest. It's not like I want to ship you to a gulag for disagreeing with me. This discussion has gone on in Denver, Dallas, St. Louis, Salt Lake City and many other cities similar to Charlotte and the people in those cities have embraced their new systems, warts and all. I expect Charlotte to be no different once everything is up and running. That said, I would suggest that if you don't like the Charlotte of the future, please move to one of the outlying counties where you won't have to bear the tax, and perhaps be around people who share similar values and philosphies as you do.

Anonymous said...

clayj said...

"Light rail does NOT benefit all of us... not even MOST of us. It only benefits a FEW of us."

tell me what road benefits 'all of us?'

Clayj said...

Ah, yes, the eternal mantra of the pro-taxation folks: If you don't like high taxes, leave. If you don't like our politics, leave. I never get tired of hearing those. Here's my counter: If you DO like high taxes, maybe you should move to Massachusetts or New York City or San Francisco... places where the cost of living is sky-high and $1000 a month will get you a coffin-sized apartment to live in.

I don't mind paying taxes to support the community at large. What I do mind is when my tax dollars are wasted on projects that do not benefit us all. That's the real difference between us, not some red/blue thing. You act as if I (and people like me) don't want to pay any taxes, but that's not the case. We just don't want to pay too much in taxes, or for our taxes to be wastefully spent.

Oh, and let's not forget that all of those light rail systems you mentioned in other cities are all operating at a loss. Do you always subscribe to the theory that we have to do what everyone else does, even if it's a bad idea?

As far as roads go, maybe not ALL roads don't benefit you personally... but you do use SOME of them, I guarantee it. And the groceries you buy are delivered by road, and you probably get to work by road. Conversely, the light rail will only be used by a very small number of people who live in a specific area, and nothing vital will be conveyed by the light rail. Most people will never make use of light rail and it will not benefit them even one iota.

So can we please STOP comparing roads to light rail? Aside from the fact that they both are a means of moving people, they have nothing at all in common.

Anonymous said...

We'll stop comparing light rail to roads when you realize that many people in this city support many programs, even if they do operate at a loss. It's not as much about the bottom line as it is about the quality of life for those that choose to live here. As for moving to New York, Boston or San Francisco, i have lived in or near the fisrt two off and on throughout my life and may do so again. I do like the fact that Charlotte is well on its way to trying to bring some of the benefits of living in a city such as one of those down here. Making this city more diverse and cultured with a convenient public transportation system leads to a central hub in the middle of the South that will provide options and enlightenment well beyond its city limits. This is a great thing. I am willing to pay a little more to help make that happen.

Clayj said...

Oh, one point I wanted to make about the statement that the light rail could take 10,000 cars off of I-77 every day:

The South Corridor line will go from the intersection of South Boulevard and I-485 to downtown. The closest the line gets to I-77 is about one mile, in the area near Uptown, and at its southern end, the line is about 3 miles from I-77. So, I think it's safe to say:

Number of drivers from SC (who come up I-77) who will use the light rail: approximately zero (maybe a few people will detour over to South Blvd and get on the train)

Number of drivers from north of Charlotte (who come down I-77 from Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, etc.) who will use the light rail: zero

Number of drivers who get onto I-77 from I-85 each day (coming from Concord, Kannapolis, Gastonia, etc.) who will use the light rail: zero

So, who WILL use the light rail, given the complete lack of tourist or shopping destinations on the South Corridor once you get south of South End? Basically, it'll be people who live in the South Corridor or Pineville and who work Uptown... and most of those people don't even drive on I-77 to get to work. They drive up South Blvd.

If you think the light rail is going to stop 10,000 cars a day from driving on I-77, you're way off target.

Clayj said...

"We'll stop comparing light rail to roads when you realize that many people in this city support many programs, even if they do operate at a loss."

I do realize that many people support programs that operate at a loss. (It doesn't mean I agree with them.)

So, you'll all stop comparing light rail to roads, then?

Anonymous said...

Clay said...

"Number of drivers from north of Charlotte (who come down I-77 from Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, etc.) who will use the light rail: zero

Number of drivers who get onto I-77 from I-85 each day (coming from Concord, Kannapolis, Gastonia, etc.) who will use the light rail: zero"

...and will stay zero unless we stay the course, and implement the planned lines up to Morresville and University City.

As for the south Corridor, you could easily add some Ballentyine and Hwy. 51 residents who will get off 485 and take the train in in order to avoid I-77. Add to that bus feeder routes that will being in those who live in neighborhoods beyond walking distance. The South Corridor is going to provide some choices that you seem to conveniently forget.

Anonymous said...

"I do realize that many people support programs that operate at a loss. (It doesn't mean I agree with them.)"

But do you accept the fact that many of your neighbors are willing to live with this? If so, I'll personally quit bringing up roads, even though they do operate at a loss as well. I cannot speak for all the others on this blog though.

Clayj said...

So (using hypothetical numbers here), if we lose $100M per year on one line, how much money will we lose per year on two lines, or three, or four, or five? Let's not forget that the South Corridor is the most densely populated of the five proposed lines, so the number of riders for other lines would be even LESS. I don't know where you learned math, but adding a negative value to another negative value does not result in a positive value... no matter how many times you do it.

And I didn't forget the folks along Hwy 51 or in Ballantyne... that's why I said the number who'd ride the line from the southern end would be approximately zero, not zero. I question whether that many people are really going to be willing to sacrifice their freedom of transportation in order to avoid 10 minutes of congestion (taking into consideration the time and money required to park your car, wait for a train, etc.). It's called the convenience factor, and I think most pro-light rail people are completely disregarding it.

PS: If people are getting onto a bus to get to the light rail, why not just have the bus drive Uptown? Oh, wait, they already do that.

Lewis said...

Oh come now UD.

There are many forms of welfare, and many, probably the majority, of the recipients are not needy.

Which is why taxes are so high.
If transfer payments and welfare programs were only for the poor, we could probably cut taxes 25% overall, if not much more.

Clayj said...

Anon @ 1:01 PM: Yes, I acknowledge that other people are willing to allow themselves to be taxed into oblivion. I can say this without weakening my position at all because doing so says nothing about the viability of any particular program.

Again, however, I emphasize: We ALL benefit from roads, because we ALL use them, most of us on a daily basis. So, it's more acceptable that they may operate at a loss because the loss per user is minimal. On the other hand, we will NOT all benefit from the light rail because most of us will NOT ever have occasion to use it... the loss per user will be quite high, especially compared to the roads. (You get the light rail to earn an actual profit all by itself, with no subsidies, and I'll be more supportive of it.)

Do you agree with this statement?

Anonymous said...

We can agree to disagree.

Anonymous said...

clayj,
That's some nice artwork that you are pimping.
Would go perfectly in my new uptown highrise.
But I don't knowingly spend my cash at businesses that openly have the exact opposite civic values as I do.

Anonymous said...

"As far as roads go, maybe not ALL roads don't benefit you personally... but you do use SOME of them."

I do use (and benefit) from some roads, but why shoudl I pay for the ones which I do not use? (I never go up to the lake, or to Ballantyne so why should my gas tax subsidise these roads from which I recieve no benefit? (I doubt my local harris teeter really requires Ballantyne commons parkway to get deliveries).

The reason we have these wasteful feeder roads (non of them pay for themselves, all of the smaller roads are heavily subsidised) is because of the network effects, roads become more efficient as we make them more accessible. The same holds true for rail, if we make the system larger, more will have access (and more will ride).

Clayj said...

Anon @ 2:33 PM:

I don't get the point you are attempting to make.

Anon @ 2:54 PM:

Strictly speaking, it's disingenuous to say that you are paying for specific roads that you do not use. What you are paying for is a road system which you DO use. The fact that you only use parts of it is really irrelevant; you pay for access to the system and you use the parts of the system you need, whenever you need them. (Following this logic, you pay for Internet access even though you do not necessarily use the entire Internet.)

The light rail, on the other hand, is a very isolated system which we are ALL being asked to fund even though most of us will never use ANY of it.

And it's also telling how the two systems are funded. Roads are funded by gas taxes, which are paid by people who USE roads, while the light rail is being funded by sales taxes paid by ALL people in Mecklenburg County, even if there's no chance that they will ever use the light rail. It's like if we go to dinner and you order a filet mignon while I just have a salad, and yet you expect us to split the bill evenly.

Your point about network effects is appreciated, but it raises the question: Why do we need a new network that, at best, would pretty much duplicate the functionality of the existing system, but at much greater expense? We've GOT roads, and they go virtually everywhere. So explain why we need light rail, when busses would serve almost an identical purpose?

Anonymous said...

"Why do we need a new network that, at best, would pretty much duplicate the functionality of the existing system, but at much greater expense?"

because some (mostly those stuck in rush hour gridlock) would argue that the current network is on the verge of collapse. No matter how much you expand road capacity congestion remains at peak periods. Its known as traffic generation. (been to Gwinette county GA in the past 20 years?)

Anonymous said...

ClayJ,
Point is I put my money where my mouth is. There are many restaurants and businesses that I have stopped frequenting due to their stand local and National politics. I think more people should do the same in all facets of life. If it's not what you stand for, right down to where you shop or eat then go somewhere that is.
Most people bitch and moan about things and then go right out and support the things they complain about.
An example would be Wal-Mart. I can't tell you how many times I hear people complaining about all the jobs "going to China". Yet these same people shop at Wal-Mart because they are too cheap to pay a few dollars more.
Granted, some people cannot afford to shop elsewhere. But these are not the people complaining. The complainers rather get mass quantities of crap instead of getting quality at a little less volume.
If you are for light rail, don't eat or shop where they are against it.
If you are against the war don't spend your money at conservative stores.
Etc., etc., etc.
This is not an easy task and is not possible all the time. All I am saying is that if is well known that their beliefs are different then don't support them.

Anonymous said...

Two things UD:

1. You probably shouldn't appealtothe U.S. Constitution is you believe that it empowered government to do whatever it found desireable so long as it was providing for the general welfare, since you clealry do not understand that thing.

2. So someone rides the bus uptown who would, if they paid their own way, perhpas not be able to buy lunch? First of all, let us note that that and the entire remainder of your list of beneficiaries was wholly speculative: you don't actually know that any, let alone most, of the riders face those choices. If we are to assume that that person actually faces that trade off, what you are really in that case saying is that person should expect their neighbor to either pay for their ride or pay for their lunch. I would suggest an alternative: a bologna sandwich is cheaper than a bus ride, and won't steal their dignity by treating them as helpless.

Obviously that is sarcasm, but only partially. There are very few people in our community who are genuinely needy in the terms by which most of the world defines that idea. Nonetheless, there ARE people for whom transportation would be an unbearable cost and who do not spend on other than genuine necessities. But since we don't needs test the massive subsidy that a train ticket will represent, there really is no argument to be made that it is an efficient method of delivering trnasportation subsidies to the genuinely needy.

Indeed I suspect that we could spend less by paying cab fare for neceesary rides for the genuinely needy.

Anonymous said...

I won't be using 485 in the northern part of the county. Should I start a petition drive to stop that since I won't ever use it? light rail, whether you plan to use it or not, helps get other workers to jobs. Jobs that are created when companies, looking to relocate, consider things like public transit, the arts, incentives, taxes, and other quality of life issues. Whether you like it or not, Charlotte is growing. Do you start planning for the future now, or, wait? Besides, I'd rather see less asphalt, and more green. Building more roads and lanes can't always be the answer

Anonymous said...

As usual Mary attempts to use misdirection and dishonesty.

The Airport's financing system is called an ENTERPRISE FUND. This means it is OFF-BUDGET from the City and County, and fees paid BY PASSENGERS AND BUSINESSES WHO ACTUALLY USE THE FACILITIES are the ones paying for it.

Likewise, highways and roads are primarily financed by GASOLINE TAXES and VEHICLE TAXES AND FEES - again, the DRIVERS WHO ACTUALLY USE THE RESOURCE are the ones paying for it.

Even in New York City, mass transit is used by less than 10% of commuters, yet it is subsidized by everyone.

Make CATS a "pay-for-play" system - that is charge the rider the actual cost of the ride, and it will be on an equal playing field with roads and airports.

C'mon Mary - telling the truth ONCE won't hurt you. Will it?

Anonymous said...

"Even in New York City, mass transit is used by less than 10% of commuters, yet it is subsidized by everyone."

Hello??? Having lived and worked for many years in Manhattan, I would guess that about 100% of commuters (by definition) use buses, trains and subways.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and we've seen what happens to new York when the transit system shuts down...the whole city shuts down. Can someone please provide a horse and dirt road for our "stop the train" folks? It seems to reflect their way of thinking.

Anonymous said...

Don't waste your time with this blog. Come November the majority of Charlotte will AGAIN pass the tax.
Don't sweat it.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear readers,

Many of you seem to be having a wonderful online talk about the role of government, society, taxation, etc.

BUT a few people are acting like jerks. Stop. Keep it clean, please. Comments with obscenity, profanity or otherwise unacceptable discourse get deleted.

And even if you get truly steamed at another's comments, try to refrain from childish name-calling. This is an interesting and provocative forum. Please help keep it that way.

Mary

Anonymous said...

Mary and Pro-Light Railers...I never saw a good reply to my proposal below. More than likely it's because the commitments could not be made:.....

I think I have a relatively easy proposal to get my NO vote on the transit tax repeal,

1. Since Gov-Co pulled out the property tax boogey man if the tax is repealed, then I want their absolute PROMISE (...via legally binding vote) that property taxes will NEVER, EVER be increased to cover ANY portion of this light rail system (debt service or operating costs). This must be clearly demonstrated in the budget process without financial hocus-pocus. This only seems fair since repeal of the tax will CERTAINLY require a tax increase per Gov-Co, so the reverse MUST be true.

2. The next cost over-run due to program management negligence (Gov-Co or Program Contractor or Both) will result in a meaningful punitive actions taken by Gov-Co. This could be demotion, termination, suit against contractor, etc. No more huffing, puffing, posturing and do-nothing like what happened on the the South Rail. (Did you hear that clearly Tober & Seifert??)

3. CATS user fees must be increased to cover at least 25-30% of the total budget (debt service and operation costs).

I can bet how many Gov-Co people will say yes to the above proposals: ZERO. Why? Because they know it's inevitable that property taxes will be increased to pay the light rail operational subsidies and debt service. The 1/2 cent sales tax simply cannot do the entire job forever...and they need to be HONEST about that.

Ken Rogers said...

I've found most of the threads in this blog are quite enlightening and well thought out. A relative few have decided the low road was a better way to go and it took away from the decorum.

In any case, some light rail supporters say they are willing to pay "a little" more for the system. When presented as a "little more" it does not seem quite as bad. When viewed in total, all the "little mores" we have accepted are adding up:

1. Remember when the State could not provide the funds to the county for legally mandated programs? That's the origination of the other 1/2 cent sales tax for Mecklenburg. Better yet, it was to be temporary but it still continues today. And the State income tax has not decreased in kind. This was one of those "little mores".

2. CMS. Year after year increased budgets are proposed and the increases are funded to some degree. A couple of years ago this resulted in a 10% increase in county property taxes. Another one of the "little more's".

3. On the ballet with (...possibly) the transit tax repeal will be a CMS bond request near $500MM. The bond issue will not increase taxes immediately, but as the bonds mature in the future they increase debt service, one of the biggest components of the county budget. This delayed payment will be hitting us in 5-10 years and will require us to pay "a little more".

All these "little mores" have increased the local tax burden on the average family.

If the pro-light rail crowd is willing to pay "a little more" for transit, then they should do it directly. Increase the user fees for the system. How can any defend paying only 16% of the operating cost? Those willing to pay more should have no problem paying increased fees.

I will not even touch the parallel argument of the horrible waste of money that has occured recently (South Line contractor screw-ups, CATS office leasing fiasco, Unusable Old Trolley Car, etc). All it has done is show a lack of respect for those who provide the tax dollars. Waste a dollar now and another will come in to replace it, no problem. That is not right and should not be accepted, condoned or continued.

Unfortunately, it's always easier to spend someone else's money. I am not sure how many "little mores" the average tax payer can handle.

Anonymous said...

The sales tax is also paid for by people who do not live in Mecklenburg but shop there. If the sales tax is repealed, then Mecklenburg voters will be the ONLY ones paying for it (most likely property taxes).

Anonymous said...

I go to UNCC and even though I will graduate before the light rail is built up to the University, I still support it. I know how boring and disconnected the Univeristy Area is and how nice it would be to hop on a train and head to NoDa, Downtown, or South End for some fun.

Anonymous said...

People might say transit is "old news" and is only for "older cities" but last time I checked, roads are a lot older than transit and no matter how wide or how many you build, they are still congested. It is pretty sad that Charlotte traffic will be worse than Chicago traffic in 20 years and even with all the growth Charlotte will still be half the size of Chicago population wise (yet, traffic will be equal to or worse than Chicago).

Anonymous said...

You anti-transit people should really be complaining to NCDOT - now they know how to waste money! They are building more roads in Eastern NC where counties are losing population! The gas tax is high and the urban areas of NC are not getting back half of what they pay. If you really care about government spending, this is what you should be focusing on and not seem measley half cent sales tax.

Ken Rogers said...

Anon 5:14...

You are absolutely right. The Charlotte region has been short-changed by Raleigh for years. Our representatives are too Carolina polite and go along to get along. We should have voted for Vinroot into the Governor's mansion when we had the chance. And if Jim Black was so great, how did we get jobbed at every turn? That is a discussion for another blog another time.

Please refer to my original post. I did not just talk about a "measly" 1/2 cent sales tax. My point was adding "measly" upon "measly" upon "measly" will get us to big bucks before we know it. And don't buy the hype that the "measly" sales tax will cover light rail forever. If so, then we should get a promise from local government that a property tax will never be increased to pay for operational subsidies.

There is a lot more local spending to come (CMS, etc) and lets not forget what will happen on the Federal level. Retirement of the boomers will start a negative cash flow from Social Security in 2018 and the Pension Guarantee Benefit Corporation will need propping-up as well. The ratio of workers to retirees at that time will create a new tax burden that will make us wish for "measly" sales tax.

Anon 5:07...I am sorry how bored you are with Northern Charlotte. But, I don't see how it's fair for tax payers to help you have a good time. Like a previous poster said, it would be similar to you and I dining out. I have surf-and-turf and you have macaroni and cheese, and I demand you to pay 1/2 the bill.

Anonymous said...

But you have no proof that the half cent sales tax will go up and the only way it can go up is with a vote.

Ken Rogers said...

And you have no proof of the reverse either.

According to data presented to City Council, repeal of the 1/2 sales tax would increase the property tax between 4% (bus only) and 22% (bus + 1 train line). The revenue generated by property tax is forecasted at $247.4MM for '07, with an additional $17.6MM from county assesment for shared services (ie: CATS, police, etc). Based on this, the bus only plan incremental is $10.6 MM and the bus+1 line is $58.27 MM. So, one light rail line costs 4.5 times more to operate than the entire the bus system.

It can be extrapolated that a bus + 3 train lines would have an incremental cost of $153.61MM based on '07 dollars. Per the Char-Mek budget, the transit sales tax revenue is forecasted at $62.2 MM in '07. When the full system is online, the operating expenses will be 2.5 times greater (...deficit) than the transit sales tax revenue. Where will this deficit be funded? An increase the transit portion of the sales tax to 1.15 cents would fill the gap, but what politician will approve a measure allowing Mecklenburg's sales tax to balloon to 8.6%? Sale taxes are not generally progressive, as their revenue tends to decline as the rate increases. The next available revenue stream is property taxes

However, the proof is in the pudding: if the property tax increase is automatic if the 1/2 cent sales tax is repealed, then property taxes should never go up to subsidize light rail if the tax is continued. Pretty simple really. Anyone care to sign up for that promise? Probably not...

Anonymous said...

Do you still not understand that a vote is needed to raise the half cent sales tax just like a vote is needed to repeal the tax?

Ken Rogers said...

Anon 7:32

It's not necessarily true that all sale tax increases must be approved by the general public. Look what happened a few years ago when the State (Easly) determined that they could not provide counties revenue necessary for entitlement programs. The State allowed Mecklenburg a 1/2 cent sales tax increase to cover that revenue...without a popular vote.

Don't underestimate the ability of a taxing authority to get what they need.

Again...if a property tax increase is automatic with the repeal of the 1/2 transit tax, then property taxes should NEVER have to increase to cover light rail expenses (...operational and debt service) if the tax remains in place. Again, a pretty simple concept. How 'bout it? Will they sign up for it?

Anonymous said...

I'm just saying that I know for a fact that if they wanted to increase the sales tax for transit purposes they would have to put on the ballot and place it up for a vote. This is what has happened in other cities, such as Dallas and Portland. Transit became so popular there people voted to extend the lines considerably and were willing to pay more. Under our current transit plan, a half cent sales tax should do. If they were to expand the plan in the future, they might ask for an increase, but not without a vote.

Ken Rogers said...

Anon 8:30...

Exactly how do you stretch $62.7MM to cover $157MM in expenses (bus + 3 rail)? As above, we will need a 8.6% sales tax to cover the deficit. And sales taxes are generally regressive as the increase, so actual revenue may decrease with more increased sales tax.

You still have not addressed my other premise. The current pro-transit groups are using the property tax strawman:

Repeal Tax = Automatic Property Tax Increase

So, the reverse must be true:

Keep Tax = Never Increase Property Tax For Transit.

I would like to see City Council sign up to that, as they lobbed that volley to intimidate the pro-repealers. So the opposite must be true?

Anonymous said...

They will not touch property taxes if the sales tax stays. I mean come on - it is HALF a cent.

Ken Rogers said...

An open proposal to Pam Seifer, Mayor McCrory and Charlotte City Council:

Please accept my recommendation for the immediate replacement of Mr. Ron Tober with Anon 9:17.

Anon 9:17's financial acumen will allow CATS to run the bus + 3 rail line with only the $62.2MM generated by the 1/2 cent transit sales tax. According to Anon 9:17 there will be ABSOLUTELY no need for any kind of property tax increase to fund the remainder of the $152MM total system (operating + debt service) cost. Though I am not sure how Anon 9:17 will be able to accomplish the water to wine conversion of $62.2 MM to $152MM, he's my man.

Sincerely,
Ken Rogers

Anonymous said...

I really think your time would be better spent getting NCDOT to change their backwards funding formula.

Ken Rogers said...

Anon 10:11

How did this subject get changed to NCDOT?? Please stay focused, as I am relying on your financial wizardry to ensure operation of a bus + 3 rail line with ONLY the 1/2 cent sales tax. Don't make me repeal my recommendation...

Mark said...

Anonymous said...

The sales tax is also paid for by people who do not live in Mecklenburg but shop there. If the sales tax is repealed, then Mecklenburg voters will be the ONLY ones paying for it (most likely property taxes).
4/06/2007 05:06:00 PM

I apologize for not being able to cite all the specific comments, but I hope my point comes across.

It was previously posted that if you don't like paying for all the wonderful services in Mecklenburg county than move. Ok, it appears that option has just been removed because now anonymous wants every surrounding county to pay for just Mecklenburg's services. It appears my move to Union county was not so well conceived after all.

- Mark

Anonymous said...

Mark...

You have hit on the central tenant of the new urbanist movement. As citizens become fatigued by the continuous nickel and diming from their local government, they move to lower cost areas (ie: Union, Cabaruss, Gaston, York, Lancaster, etc). This begins to erosion of the urban tax base and creates the desire to get more tax dollars from the outlaying areas. To get that more, the new urbanists begin using euphamisms like "regional cooperation" and other fancy initiatives. It's nothing more than codespeak for expansion of the tax base. If you live in SC you should thank your lucky stars since it cannot be swallowed by this "regional cooperation". Those in Union, Cabarrus and others, you'd better hang onto your wallets because Mecklenburg is a callin'....

I would be very interested in kowing the approximate breakdown of the sale tax revenue between local and out-of-towners. I think you will find that locals pay a far greater burden of the sales tax rate. The tranist folk will lead you to believe that out-of-towners pay a higher percentage of the sale tax than is reality.

Anonymous said...

I hate the roads in Charlotte. It's time to bring them up to the 21st century. Don't even get me started on all the burnt out lights on the highways...

Anonymous said...

From the roads, especially the highways, Charlotte looks like crap. They really give a bad impression of our city...

Rick said...

I found this while reading my US News and World Report today at lunch.

www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles
/070318/26bus.htm

Apparently, Bogota Columbia has the good sense to be responsible with other's money by taking the bus route instead of trains. There are 7 million people in that city so it's more than a direct comparison to a small town like Charlotte.

I'd also like to point out that this was done in a country notorious for corruption. Are our local leaders even more corrupt?

Here are some interesting excerpts...

'Heading to downtown Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa steps out of his office and onto a red express bus that whizzes him down the Caracas Avenue Line. Nothing remarkable, except Peñalosa is in the upper middle class of a city that once shared the stereotypes of municipal buses ("loser cruiser") with the United States. "Buses were meant for the poor and the elderly, for people who had no choice," he says.

Now people with means are climbing aboard, including Peñalosa, who was mayor when Bogotá started building its shiny TransMilenio lines. The city of 7 million remade its transit system in less than a decade, by forgoing the expensive glamour of rail for the affordable flexibility of buses."

This next one captures the snobbery of the pro-train movement perfectly...

"Edson Tennyson, a former Pennsylvania transit official, dismisses the new interest in buses as lobbying by oil and automotive interests. "We aren't a Third World country," he says. "We have the capital to build trains."

Ken Rogers said...

Rick...excellent find.

Let's put that last item to the test on the Charlotte pro-light rail crowd.

Instead of building a new rail line for the Northeast Corridor, lets make a 2-lane, bus only road that will make the same designated stops. Anyone gonna ride it? Will it have the same ridership level?

It's definitely not as sexy or classy as train ride, but it's mass transit all the same.

Be honest now...