Every day, I speak with business owners struggling to make payroll. Families who have endured hardships this past year unparalleled in our lifetime, and while there is a glimmer of sunshine peaking through the dark clouds which enveloped our nation almost a year ago, we still have a way to go before we get back to the economic prosperity we enjoyed this time last year. Yet, even as we rebuild and emerge from the darkness of the pandemic, there are those in city leadership who would raise taxes on our goods and service, add to the existing challenges of business owners, and increase the cost to consumers. As ridiculous as it sounds, there are actual discussions taking place in Charlotte about whether they can get North Mecklenburg voters on board for a sales tax increase for transit.
A far flung idea? Not really, North Meck voters have had a history of supporting transit. In 1998, the N.C. General Assembly passed legislation which allowed Mecklenburg County to enact a local sales tax dedicated to public transit after a public vote. Mecklenburg County residents reaffirmed their desire to improve public transit options once again in 2007 by approving this dedicated tax by an overwhelming 70% vote. The north Mecklenburg communities of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville voted for this tax primarily based on the promise of commuter rail arriving from Charlotte.
The Lake Norman Chamber represented over 1,000 active business members, and loudly advocated in favor of this dedicated sales tax for public transit because of what commuter rail and expanded bus service could mean to commerce and economic growth for the Lake Norman region.
In 2001, several local Lake Norman area business and community leaders were taken on a highly publicized “Flexliner” transit ride on the old Norfolk Southern rail line from Charlotte to Mooresville. It demonstrated the promise of how commuter rail could positively impact the north market.
It was that promise of opportunity and the vision of greatly expanded transit options from Charlotte to North Mecklenburg that persuaded our residents to vote in favor of the transit tax referendum in 2007. But history proved those visions to be mere illusions and false hope, as public transit and rail lines were improved everywhere except in North Mecklenburg. The Airport area, the University region and the residents of South Charlotte all saw change and growth. North Mecklenburg was left with no improvements other than more options for the already underutilized buses from the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS). Instead of getting new rail lines from Charlotte to Lake Norman as promised to gather our support, voters from North Mecklenburg received little more than a lesson in “bait and switch” politics.
Almost a decade later, the North Carolina Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners, a limited liability corporation created by Cintra, signed a comprehensive agreement for the delivery of I-77 toll lanes. In response, Lake Norman residents voted overwhelmingly to cast out elected officials, both local and statewide, who pushed I-77 toll roads down the throats of our citizens, instead of meeting our actual needs and creating expanded general-purpose lanes which were introduced in other areas of the Charlotte region instead.
Now, in 2021, during the greatest economic and healthcare crisis of our lifetime, Charlotte City leaders are once again considering the expansion of light rail which could cost between $8 and $12 billion. According to Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla, “You are talking about $150 per person a year or $600 a year for a family of four for something those of us in North Mecklenburg will receive no benefit from.”
On Monday, January 25th, the Board of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, representing the voice of business in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, and the greater Lake Norman region unanimously, voted to oppose ANY further increase in sales tax, for ANY purpose, during this adverse economic climate.
With so many businesses, families, and organizations struggling to just meet the bare minimum costs of living and operating expenses, it is clearly the wrong time to even consider such a measure. More to the point, when it comes to whether or not North Mecklenburg voters will vote to fund another Charlotte Transit Tax……well, that train has already left the station.
W.E. “Bill” Russell, CCE, IOM
President & CEO
Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce