The extension of Charlotte’s light rail line would not get state matching funds under the budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by Republican leaders in the North Carolina Senate.
The funding assumption for the Red Line (just as the structure used to pay for the existing Blue Line that runs along South Blvd.) has the federal government covering half the cost, the state paying about a quarter, and the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) picking up the remaining quarter with revenue generated by the half-cent sales tax.
The Red Line is projected to cost one billion dollars and would extend the Blue Line from Center City up to the UNC-Charlotte campus.
While the Obama Administration has supported national funding for rail projects, the proposal by the NC Senate leaders would likely make Charlotte ineligible for the federal money.
The North Carolina General Assembly, now being led by the GOP for the first time in more than a century, is trying to close a two billion dollar budget gap.
According to the Charlotte Observer, the plan allocates the projected rail money along with funding for two toll roads to pay for replacement of one-third of the substandard bridges in North Carolina.
In a post on his Facebook page, Charlotte City Councilman Andy Dulin said he has supported the light rail program. “In the long run and on a big picture look, I see benefit to the community as we link areas with light rail. That said, I fully support a pull back by the NC Senate and the NC House. Hey folks, this is what cutting 2.5 billion looks like. The republicans are making the hard calls that are uncomfortable but need to be made.”
The $19.4 billion budget plan would cut individual income taxes and allow so-called temporary taxes to expire.
The Senate plan to cut rail money is at odds with the House proposal. Thom Tillis, the Speaker of the House, is from North Mecklenburg, and supports light rail in the Charlotte region. Tillis’ office says the Speaker hopes the funding is included in the final budget and that he expects that it will be.
The process is still early, and the House and Senate will need to hammer out a unified plan to send to Governor Bev Perdue, who has proposed a larger spending plan. Perdue, a democrat, has argued against the GOP effort to allow the current temporary sales taxes to expire. However, Perdue proposed reducing the corporate income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 4.9 percent. The current North Carolina rate is the highest in the Southeast. But GOP leaders say their proposal will cut taxes for small businesses, not big corporations.
Republican Charlotte City Councilman Warren Cooksey said, “I found it odd that the reaction has been as strongly ‘the sky is falling’ with the Senate budget proposal, when we’re still not near the final decision on what the state budget is actually going to be.”