McCrory defends streetcar comments, denies meddling

McCrory defends streetcar comments, denies meddling

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by DIANA RUGG / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @DianaRuggwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on February 3, 2013 at 4:11 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 4 at 8:15 AM

Former Mayor -- now Governor -- Pat McCrory has said it before -- he thinks any plans for rail in Charlotte should be focused on the light rail to the University area.  

McCrory ignited controversy last week with comments about the streetcar during a meeting with Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble and City Attorney Bob Hagemann.

According to a city memo, McCrory hinted that state funding of light rail could be harder to get if the city went ahead with streetcar plans.

McCrory told NBC Charlotte's news partners at The Observer Saturday that he was trying to give city staff "helpful advice," not threats.

As proof that he's always opposed a city-funded streetcar, he pointed to comments he made during roundtable discussions on WCNC's public affairs program, Flashpoint.

"They're breaking three promises," said McCrory on an August 4, 2011 edition of the show.  "The city council and mayor have gone around that regional board, which is against the promise we made to voters."
 
McCrory is referring to the half-cent sales tax to fund transit that voters approved to pay for light rail. 

McCrory explained on the episode of Flashpoint that the agreement for the tax was to let a regional transit planning authority decide how it was spent.
 
He believes that allowing the city to fund its own transit project -- the streetcar extensions down Trade Street and Central Avenue -- goes against the spirit of the voter-approved tax.
 
McCrory said in the 2011 show that the plan puts the burden for paying for the streetcar on future councils -- and taxpayers.
 
"They don't know where the money is coming from to pay for it, and it's not in the priority of where the experts said this should be built."
 
The city council considered raising property taxes to pay for a capital plan that included the streetcar, but voted it down.
 
McCrory maintains his support of mass transit, especially the northern light rail extension to UNCC.
 
"The university line should be where all our efforts are," he said on the program.
 
Streetcar advocate Shannon Binns of Sustain Charlotte disagrees.  He said Sunday that money for the two projects come from different budgets, and paying for one doesn't necessarily cut off state funds for the other.
 
"I think that's not the way legislators think and if they did we would all be in trouble," said Binns.
 
Binns said the people who live in east and west Charlotte -- where building light rail would be difficult because there are no established rail beds -- still pay the half-cent tax but get nothing for it.
 
He believes a streetcar connecting the two sides of the city will even things out.
 
"East and west Charlotte are pretty upset because they don't have anything," said Binns, "and they think it's their turn now."

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