Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says he was only trying to give the city of Charlotte helpful advice last week about not pursuing a streetcar, and wasnt meddling in local affairs, as some Democrats have charged.
McCrorys comments to two city staffers about the streetcar upset Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx, as well as some Democratic council members. Foxx said he saw McCrorys comments as a threat to the city.
I considered it being helpful, McCrory said in an interview Saturday with the Observer, his first public statements the matter. I was just giving information as an advocate for the city. It was nothing I hadnt said in the public. I had said it on (the television show) Flashpoint.
Last Monday McCrory met with Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble and City Attorney Bob Hagemann about the city and state helping pay for renovations to Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers. At the end of the meeting, McCrory said he told the staff members that the citys pursuit of building the streetcar was making my job harder to keep state funding for the $1.1 billion Lynx Blue Line Extension.
The state has pledged to spend $299 million on the light-rail extension, which is 25 percent of construction costs. The money is set to be approved by the General Assembly in $25 million installments annually.
McCrory, who was Charlotte mayor for 14 years, said that there are always skeptics towards giving transit dollars to Charlotte in the legislature. He said if the city raises property taxes to build the streetcar, some may take it as a signal that Charlotte doesnt need financial help from the state.
Foxx and other Democrats have said that the streetcar is a completely local decision that doesnt involve the state.
He is governor of the state, and there are a host of issues tax reform, health care. Why the governor would choose to place focus on a transit project, particularly one contained in a transit plan that he voted to implement makes no sense, Foxx said in an interview Thursday.
Breaking a Covenant
McCrory supported the streetcar when it was in the Charlotte Area Transit Systems long-range transit plans in 2002 and 2006.
But in 2009, the city of Charlotte took the lead in trying to build the streetcar when it became clear that CATS wouldnt be able to pay for it. The half-cent sales tax for mass transit - which was supposed to fund several transit lines - wasnt going to generate enough money for construction.
McCrory said he objected to city property taxes being used for the streetcar. But he also 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.
When the MTC was created in the 1990s, the city decided to take a backseat in making transit decisions.
Foxx and other streetcar supporters have argued that economic times mandated a change in strategy. If the streetcar were kept in the original transit plan, it would never be built, they have argued.
When the city took the streetcar from the MTC, there were two main concerns among CATS governing body. They didnt want to pay for the operating costs of the streetcar, and they didnt want the streetcar competing with the Lynx Blue Line Extension for federal grants.
So far, the city has said it will pay for the operating costs. The two projects havent competed for federal grant money. The streetcar received a $25 million federal grant, but it came from a different pot of money than the more than $500 million federal grant the 9.3-mile light-rail extension received.
In 2009, McCrory, when he was mayor, vetoed a City Council plan to spend money on an engineering study for the streetcar. Foxx helped override that veto.
For the last eight months, Foxx has struggled to persuade the City Council to approve a capital spending plan that includes $119 million for a streetcar. He and other Democrats have questioned whether McCrory or his supporters have pressured council members to reject the plan, due to the streetcars inclusion.
McCrory said thats not true.
I will continue to stay out of local issues, he said.
The City Council has asked the General Assembly to consider approving an increase in the local prepared food and beverage tax to pay for renovations to Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers. The city could spend $125 million - about the same as the city has proposed spending on the streetcar.
In an interview McCrory was asked whether some in the General Assembly might view the citys willingness to increase taxes for the Panthers as a sign that it doesnt need financial help with the Lynx Blue Line.
McCrory declined to discuss the Panthers proposal.
But he said the streetcar money and the possible money for the stadium are two different issues. He said because the streetcar and light-rail are both transportation projects, they can be more closely linked.
Its two different subjects, he said.
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