You'll remember the taken-out-of-context flap earlier this year about whether the N.C. legislature should add Mecklenburg to a bill that would let all the other N.C. counties ask their voters whether they wanted to levy a small sales tax to support transit.
Plenty of local blowhards both in local news media and elsewhere acted as if the request to be included was the same as actually imposing a higher tax. That, of course, was either deliberate mischaracterization or, to be kinder, incredibly sloppy reporting. The bill lets voters (in other counties) decide whether to tax themselves.
Anyway, it seems the bill (House Bill 148, which does not include Mecklenburg) is about to pass the legislature (it's on tonight's calendar), giving counties in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) and the Triad (Greensboro, High Point and Winston-Salem) a go-ahead, if they wish, to seek voter approval for a half-cent sales tax for transit systems there. All other counties (except Mecklenburg) can seek voter OK for a quarter-cent sales tax increase.
This is mostly good news, although transit supporters in Mecklenburg had wanted to be included. They wanted to have a tool in the toolkit of transit-funding options so they wouldn't have to expend the time and effort to do what Mecklenburg did in the 1990s: get a special, local bill giving us the authority for a 1998 transit tax referendum. Mecklenburgers still could seek such a special bill from the General Assembly if they wanted to.
The good news is that surrounding counties such as Cabarrus and Iredell are now free to seek local taxing approval if they want to extend the proposed Northeast or North transit corridors beyond Mecklenburg's borders.
Here's a summary from Boyd Cauble, the executive assistant to City Manager Curt Walton, sent to City Council last Friday. (I tried for a link to his memo but couldn't manage it. If anyone can find the thing online, please share the link.)
Intermodal Transit Tax
The House passed a transit funding bill (H148) in April and some questioned whether the bill would be approved by the Senate. Last Wednesday, the Senate voted 37-9 to allow the Triad and the Triangle to have the ½ cent sales tax authority for transit which Mecklenburg currently has. Additionally, H148 allows every other county in N.C., except Mecklenburg, to levy a ¼ cent tax for transit upon voter approval.
The Triangle area did an excellent job of soliciting support from over 100 separate groups and a cross section of bipartisan support in the legislature. Prior to the Senate vote, Senator [Malcolm] Graham and Senator [Charlie] Dannelly [both Mecklenburg Democrats] explored ways to honor the MTC [Metropolitan Transit Commission] and City Council’s request to include Mecklenburg in H148. Unfortunately, adding an additional taxing authority in the bill would have been considered a "material amendment" requiring five additional days for approval. The amendment alternative was abandoned because it would have jeopardized the bill’s passage this session.
Not joining the other 99 counties in getting additional voter authority to fund future transit is very disappointing, but it is comforting to know that now Cabarrus, Iredell, and other adjoining counties have the authority to fund extensions of Mecklenburg’s transit corridors.
Representative [Becky] Carney [Mecklenburg Democrat], H148 primary sponsor, said she has the support of her colleagues to push for Mecklenburg inclusion for additional funding in the future, if local transit supporters and elected officials get behind the movement.