In his most pointed annual “State of the City” address, Mayor Anthony Foxx called for the City Council to approve a capital improvement plan and said opponents of the streetcar are using “smoke and mirrors” to criticize it.
Foxx, a Democrat, said the city of Charlotte is at a crossroads because it’s unable to grow its tax base through annexation of rural areas and having run out of room to build new suburbs. To keep the city healthy, Foxx said council members must invest in long-struggling areas such as Beatties Ford Road, Central Avenue and Independence Boulevard.
He said that Gov. Pat McCrory - the former Charlotte mayor - has interjected himself into the debate over the capital plan by saying it could derail state funding for the Lynx Blue Line Extension. Foxx has previously said that McCrory has threatened the city over the transit funding if it moved forward with building the streetcar.
“We have one mayor at a time,” Foxx said after his speech.
He also called on the Charlotte Chamber to do more to support the plan, which originally totaled $926 million and required an 8 percent property tax hike.
“I got letters from the Chamber to support baseball. I got no letters to support the capital plan,” said Foxx, who is in his second term.
The mayor said that the streetcar would help revitalize neighbors along its proposed route, in east and west Charlotte. He suggested that opposition to the streetcar among council members and business leaders was due to “where it goes.”
The full 10-mile streetcar route travels through mostly minority neighborhoods.
After the speech, Foxx said the issue “is much more complex than black, white and brown.”
“It’s income, history and perception,” he said. “There are people who live in Central Avenue and Beatties Ford Road who have as much ambition as someone in south Charlotte.”
During his speech, Foxx said the capital plan is more important than a new baseball stadium, and football. The mayor was referring to talks between the city and the Carolina Panthers on taxpayers paying for as much as $125 million in improvements to Bank of America Stadium.
When asked after the speech whether Foxx would insist on a capital plan before allowing money for the Panthers to move forward, the mayor said “it’s not necessarily an either or or.” That leaves the door open for financial help for the Panthers before a capital plan is approved.
The battle over the capital plan will likely continue in budget talks that start Thursday. That fight has made the past year the hardest year of his political life, Foxx said.
Foxx and council members have been unable to agree on a plan. Thursday’s retreat will be their third attempt to find consensus since early summer.