RALEIGH, N.C. -- Tension between state Republicans and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx over transit money escalated Tuesday when four lawmakers accused the mayor of “bad faith” and suggested the state might reconsider its funding of light-rail extension.
The four Republicans, who each hold a post overseeing transportation, defended GOP Gov. Pat McCrory’s comments that Foxx’s pursuit of a streetcar was “making my job harder” to keep state money for the $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line extension.
The lawmakers made their arguments in a letter to the Observer. It came a day after Foxx took aim at streetcar critics and, in a swipe at McCrory, what he called “the culture of intimidation.”
Their letter also targeted Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat who had suggested McCrory was threatening to hold the state’s promised $299 million light-rail contribution as hostage.
“Sen. Graham and Mayor Foxx are indulging in inflammatory political rhetoric,” the Republicans wrote. “If they do not work with the rest of the legislature in a serious manner, they will lose state transit funding for Mecklenburg County and will have only themselves to blame.”
Graham could not be reached. Foxx said the lawmakers are under misconceptions.
“One assumption being made is that we’re flush with cash and we’re throwing it away on a toy,” Foxx told the Observer. “I don’t think it’s animus as much as a real need for folks to hear the story.”
However, the mayor also said he believes there’s a “vendetta” against the streetcar.
Writing the GOP letter were Reps. Bill Brawley of Matthews and Frank Iler of Brunswick County, who co-chair the Transportation Committee, and Reps. John Torbett of Gaston County and Phil Shepard of Onslow County, who co-chair the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.
“We are defending the governor’s comments and calling on the mayor and Sen. Graham to moderate their tone,” Brawley said in an interview.
“We’re not trying to bully the mayor, but we are trying to get the mayor and the people of Charlotte to deal with the General Assembly seriously.”
Foxx has pushed for the $119 million streetcar extension, which would take the streetcar from west Charlotte to near Eastland Mall. He says it would spur development, much like light rail has done along South Boulevard.
Foxx and McCrory, his predecessor, have sparred over the streetcar before.
In 2009, McCrory’s last year as mayor, the city of Charlotte took the lead in trying to build the streetcar when it became clear that the city’s transit system wouldn’t be able to pay for it with the half-cent sales tax reserved for mass transit.
McCrory said Saturday that he objected to using city property taxes for the project. And he said he felt at the time that taking the streetcar outside of the Metropolitan Transit Commission “broke a covenant with voters” that the MTC, not the city, would make decisions about transit.
“As mayor, Pat McCrory warned that if the Charlotte City Council went around the MTC to build the streetcar, it could endanger Blue Line Extension funding,” the Republicans wrote. “He has repeated this warning as governor, which should surprise no one.”
Foxx said the city is not trying to go around the MTC, but simply trying to move the proposed transit changes along while taking advantage of low-interest rates and low construction costs.
“The reality,” he said, “is that the sales tax won’t support anything beyond the blue line extension for as far as we can see.”
He also called the Republican letter “an effort to rehabilitate the governor.”