I forced myself to sit a spell on what is the latest in a long line of breathtaking editorials from The Charlotte Observer. For years to come, Who do you trust? will stand as a declaration of the paper’s intent to stand with the Uptown crowd and the Powers That Be regardless of the issue, regardless of the facts.

Let’s start at the start:

The debate over whether to retain or repeal Mecklenburg County’s half-cent sales tax for mass transit will drown the average citizen in cost and use projections, spending plans, project expansions, budget overruns and the like. It’s a reminder of why the Founding Fathers were so fond of republican government, under which voters elect representatives they trust to do the study and decide such matters — and hold them accountable for the choices they make.

That’s why, ultimately, most voters will decide how to vote on the transit tax issue depending on who (OK, OK, whom) they trust. So it’s important to know the answer to these questions: Who’s in charge? Who makes sure the transit system is ready to meet the demands of the next few decades?

The answer? Officials the citizens of Mecklenburg County have elected to take on that and other public responsibilities.

This continues a meme started several months ago by Mary Newsom, and continued by Mary Schulken, which holds that the transit issue is just too confusing to get your arms around, that both sides have “their” numbers and the voting public is bound to be confused by all this. Hence, we need to hew to the “big picture.” And big picture says that Mecklenburg County needs the half-cent least we “choke on congestion.”

Not so.

The simple fact is that although the half-cent transit tax could have paid for a $1 billion transit plan as originally planned when it was adopted in 1998, it has no hope of paying for a $9 billion transit plan as adopted in November of last year.

How do we know this? The financing plan for the $470 million North line commuter rail adopted by the MTC on July 25 includes $66 to $76 million of new debt backed by local property taxes. Local property taxes are already being used to pay for the transit system. In fact, $73 million in non-transit tax revenue was used on the $463 million South Blvd. light rail project.

This is not complicated. The current transit plan is manifestly more expensive than the half-cent can cover. Our elected officials have consistently obscured this fact for several years now. This is because they repeatedly promised that the transit tax would pay for the cost of the transit plan. This has not happened. Who do you trust, indeed.

Just as important as cost, however, is the current plan’s impact on the region’s transportation system. The South line is a done deal — it will either succeed or fail on its own merits apart from the repeal question. This is leaves future rail plans as the focus of the debate.

The North line is the next to be built. In fact, by spring of next year interlocal agreements will be signed between the city, towns, and county spelling out how the line will be paid for based on the financial framework the MTC already approved. Once those agreements are signed, something will get built — that is just the nature of the way government works.

So, is the current something a good idea? Not if reducing congestion is goal. This gets us to where the Observer gets numbers shy for a very good reason.

Using only CATS’ own numbers, ridership on the North line in 2030 will be tiny — only 4600 riders per day, probably only 4000 of which will be new transit riders considering 600 currently already use express buses in the corridor. Because the ridership is so low, the Federal Transit Administration will not help fund the project. It supplied almost $200 million of the cost of the South line.

Meanwhile, CATS projects that I-77 alone will carry at least 177,000 vehicles a day in 2030. So for $470 million we get at most a two percent reduction in traffic on one of our most vital and congested roadways. And this is in far off 2030. And the MTC thinks this is great.

Here’s how the Uptown paper of record puts it:

The MTC reviews the transit system’s operating and capital programs and makes recommendations for their approval and funding.

That’s who’s in charge. Those are the men and women who study the issues and make the decisions about buses and light rail and other transportation opportunities for our growing region. If you have questions, complaints or compliments about Mecklenburg’s planning to meet present and future transportation needs, there’s someone who lives near you who’s helping make those decisions.

Opponents of the transit tax sometimes act as though the whole shebang is the work of some anonymous group of harebrained aliens, eager to foist half-baked proposals and unnecessary spending on unsuspecting Mecklenburg citizens. In fact, the people in charge are men and women you, the voters who know them best, entrusted with public responsibility. Are they perfect? No. Are they trustworthy? The voters who elected them must think so.

The MTC approved the current plan one week after the election for county commissioner. The chair of the county commission votes on the MTC. The mayor of Charlotte also votes. We will elect one in November. Our choices are between a Democrat who supports the half-cent and a Republican who supports the half-cent. Who do you trust?

In the Northern towns, things are more interesting as several candidates are seeking office who oppose the half-cent and who — in theory — could influence the way the MTC votes. They are being opposed by candidates of the status quo who believe consultants’ projections of an economic windfall for the towns if the North line is built — a windfall that if it happens with bring with it 245,000 more people to the corridor and no more money to improve roads.

That’s the MTC’s current plan.

Faced with that lunacy, what is a concerned citizen to do?

The official position of The Charlotte Observer: Absolutely nothing. Trust, citizen. Trust.

Bonus Observation: As a citizen of Charlotte’s 7th district, I will be able to vote for exactly zero candidates who favor repeal of the half-cent transit tax.