CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There will be no deal on a capital budget this year as a glum Charlotte City Council voted unanimously Monday to delay further discussion on hundreds of millions of dollars in projects until 2013.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx pushed for early budget talks this year after an effort to pass a Capital Improvement Program crumbled in June.
But the talks went nowhere, and some council members were pessimistic about the prospect of an agreement in the spring.
“I’m not optimistic that we will get there,” said Democrat Patsy Kinsey.
Her colleague John Autry, a fellow Democrat, also said he was unsure whether a deal could be struck in the first half of 2013. He said Kinsey “may be a fortune teller.”
The saga over the capital plan began in early 2012, when City Manager Curt Walton unveiled a plan to spend $926 million through the end of the decade. Walton said many of the projects were designed to be “transformative” and would spark economic development in struggling areas of the city.
During budget negotiations, council members appeared to support the entire plan. But in June, council members voted 6-5 against the budget. One of the main sticking points was a plan to spend $119 million extending a streetcar line planned for central Charlotte.
After that, six council members passed a smaller capital plan that removed the streetcar extension. But Foxx vetoed that budget, saying it didn’t do enough for the city and raised property taxes too much.
Foxx restarted budget talks in September, but council members couldn’t find a budget that could get six votes.
Five council members – Democrats Kinsey, Autry, LaWana Mayfield, David Howard and James Mitchell – all supported a robust capital plan that included a streetcar.
Four council members – Democrats Patrick Cannon, Michael Barnes, Beth Pickering and Claire Fallon — said they would support a smaller capital plan. All were wary or against using property taxes to pay for the streetcar.
The council’s two Republicans Andy Dulin and Warren Cooksey – were against any plan that would require a property tax increase. Cooksey said he could support a capital budget with higher taxes if the higher tax rate went before voters in a referendum.
Two new proposals
Last week, Foxx proposed two new capital budgets.
One was what he called a “bare-bones” plan that would raise the property tax rate by 1.97 cents for every $100 of taxable value. That would have cut the streetcar extension as well as hundreds of millions of dollars of other projects. It would have included $463 million in new projects.
The other proposal was larger. It would have raised the property tax rate by 3 cents and included $803 million in new projects, including the streetcar.
Neither plan could get six votes.
Monday’s budget workshop, the third since September, only lasted about 45 minutes. Three council members, Barnes, Cannon and Howard, didn’t attend.
Foxx and Mitchell said the elements of the capital plan can be sent back to various committees and discussed in detail.
After the meeting, Foxx was asked whether he regretted vetoing in June a capital budget that would have raised the property tax rate by 2.44 cents and included more than $650 million in new spending.
“It wasn’t the right budget for the city, for lots of reasons,” Foxx said.
He said that budget raised taxes too much and didn’t do enough for the city.
“If we try to revitalize Independence Boulevard, we can’t half do it,” Foxx said.
Budget discussions will likely start again in February during the City Council’s annual retreat. But it’s possible that no deal could be reached until 2014, after the November elections.
That could change the makeup of City Council, making it easier for one side or another to get a majority.