‘Bold’ transportation plan for Charlotte calls for sales tax increase, other funding

Jim Morrill

A Charlotte advisory group Thursday night recommended an ambitious multi-billion-dollar plan in transportation investments paid for, in part, through a higher sales tax and possible property tax hike.

The plan would pay for improvements to virtually every mode of transportation — from buses, light rail and roads to greenways and bike lanes.

The Charlotte MOVES Task Force proposed paying up to half the cost — up to $6 billion — with a new sales tax and possible city bonds, which would be backed by property taxes. The rest would come from the state and federal governments.

Former Mayor Harvey Gantt, who chaired the group, called it a “bold” plan that “has the potential to shape our community for generations to come.”

The so-called Transformational Mobility Network plan calls for a decade of construction with financing stretched over 30 years.

The plan is scheduled to go to the City Council on Dec. 14. But it’s unclear what the council will do with it.

“I don’t know that we would rubber stamp any recommendation,” Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said Thursday afternoon. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Here’s what we need.’ It’s another to say, ‘Here’s what we can support.’”

New sales tax required

The group proposed a “One Cent for Mobility” plan to raise the county sales tax by a penny. City officials said that would raise $6.6 billion over 30 years. The measure could go before voters as a referendum next fall.

Any proposed sales tax increase and referendum would require authorization by the General Assembly. Charlotte’s current 7.25% tax is one of North Carolina’s highest. Only two counties have higher rates, at 7.5%.

How the proposal would fare in Raleigh is unclear.

“I’m always happy to listen to the proposal,” said Rep.-elect John Bradford of Cornelius, who will be Mecklenburg County’s only Republican in the GOP-controlled Legislature. “That’s a tax that’s going to impact everybody. ... People really need to understand what one cent means for their household income.”

The proposal is designed to improve transportation alternatives and with them access to jobs and economic development opportunities.

The plan also calls for unspecified “displacement mitigation” efforts that would discourage gentrification, which displaces poor residents through heavy investment that changes the character of a neighborhood. It didn’t spell out what that would involve.

Chance to ‘make a difference’

Some members raised questions about details of the plan.

“I absolutely support the vision,” said software engineer Jim Marascio. He said he still has concerns about paying for the investments and called anti-gentrification portions “a slippery slope.”

But most task force members praised the plan.

“This is an opportunity for us to make a difference in the lives of Charlotteans and the whole region,” attorney Ernie Reigel told the panel. “If we lead, the other communities around will benefit. … If we don’t do it now, we’ll look back . . . and regret it.”

“It’s vitally important that we do this and we need to do it as quickly as possible,” said Eric Zaverl, Bike + Walk Program Coordinator for Sustain Charlotte.