Hey, I’m biased but I though Jim Puckett made it very clear last night to those at West Charlotte that the current $9 billion transit plan is a clunker for the West side and the city as a whole. And I was amused by the tacit quid pro quo suggested by the pro-tax team: Help us save the tax, and maybe we’ll move up your Beatties Ford streetcar for you.

Downright shocking, however, were the positions taken by a couple elected officials in attendance. Mecklenburg County Commissioner Norman Mitchell loudly disputed that the language on the pro-repeal petition was approved by the county board of elections. Also Mitchell, along with Charlotte city councilman Warren Turner, seemed thoroughly disgusted by the evening’s give-and-take.

Afterward, Mitchell declaimed that the entire ballot question was illegitimate and that someone should “file suit” against the process for murky reasons involving petitioners misleading the public, targeting African Americans, and being funded by Jay Morrison. This horse is not just dead, but fossilized.

But it speaks to just how unwilling the local power structure is to take responsibility for Charlotte’s transportation future. They just want the issue to go away.

More bizarre, however, was State Rep. Pete Cunningham (D) disputing what state law says with regard to the county’s authority to levy the half-cent after it is repealed. Cunningham seems to be under the impression — and he does not seem to be alone — that the county would have to go back to the General Assembly for permission to put the half-cent back on the ballot.

Not so.

As Mark Pellin reported for The Rhino Times just recently, the county commission could put the issue back on the ballot in spring. The details Cunningham and others refuse to believe:

It’s the dirty, little secret that rail-transit enthusiasts don’t want to discuss: If the existing transit tax were repealed, the local governing body, in this case the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners, could simply seek another referendum for another half-cent sales tax. It wouldn’t require any legislative authority to do so, according to Cindy Avrette, a staff attorney with the legal research division of the N.C. General Assembly.

Further, there are only limited restrictions to when the county board could place another referendum for a half-cent sales tax on the ballot, and none that would disrupt the flow of revenue collected from the tax. The proceeds from the current transit tax would be collected through June 2008, even if it were successfully repealed in November.

Another referendum for a half-cent sales tax could be placed on the ballot at any time via a special election, or as early as the May 2008 primary election, providing for a seamless flow of revenue, if it were approved.

The only stipulation of a future referendum would be that proceeds from the half-cent sales tax continue to be used to fund public transportation, Avrette said, which includes such options as high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes, bus lanes and busways and telecommunications and information systems, along with rail transit.

Proceeds from the tax, however, could be restricted through local policy from being used to fund certain transit options, such as future rail lines.

“They could decide, from a policy standpoint, that we’re only going to spend this money on some subset of public transportation,” said Marvin Bethune, attorney for Mecklenburg County. “The board could decide this time we’re only going to use it for bus service, because that’s transit, or this time we’re only going to use it for X, as long as X fits within the parameters of transit.”

So we have two government attorneys confirming that county does not have to go back to the General Assembly. Why the denial?

Because of the leverage it obviously gives West side voters.
As Puckett explained to a very interested audience, if the tax is repealed the current $9 billion plan is dead. No more $470 million North line that is next on CATS’ list of rail projects with the West side streetcar some where in the distant future. You can see where this is headed.

Local officials desperately do not want voters to know that repeal gives them a means by which to change the current plan.

And as we like to say around here, we need a new plan.

Bonus Observation: CATS CEO Ron Tober was there to “provide facts” and repeatedly “corrected” David Hartgen. One such correction involved the St. Louis transit system. Hartgen said it only has one line, Tober “corrected” that to three lines. Here’s a map of the system. Does that look like three lines?