Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red Line Enabling Legislation Submitted

Well that didn't take long!

As was reported in the January 18th post, Red Line Lobbying Picks Back Up, readers of aShortChronicle were reminded to keep an eye out for this legislation, and today it arrived.  With the new Republican led General Assembly barely 3 weeks old, a pair of bills were submitted today, which if passed, significantly enable the spending of over $450 million North Carolina tax dollars on the Red Line Regional Rail project in Mecklenburg County.

The enabling legislation comes in the form of Senate Bills 103 and 104 introduced by Republicans Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus)Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), with S103 now also sponsored by Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) (Sen Tarte added 2/20. See update below).

The bills seem innocuous enough on their own.   S103 slightly modifies the existing law which allows special assessments for "critical infrastructure" to be levied when a petition is signed by a majority of property owners in the assessed area.  Furthermore, these property owners must represent a super majority (66%) of the assessed value in the Special Assessment District (SAD).  The change in S103 actually makes the "voting" process in this law more fair.  S104 eliminates the current sunset provision on the legislation.  That date is July 1st of this year.

What is not so innocuous is how this legislation will be used to support the Red Line project if passed as-is.

The Red Line is a $450 million project, and this legislation will provide about 1/4 of the required funding via a complex SAD.  The remaining funds come from other pools of money - NCDOT funds, Charlotte Transit Tax dollars, and a TIF that will consume nearly all of the incremental tax revenue generated near the rail line.  However, this Special Assessment District funding is absolutely KEY. Without it, there is no Red Line financing plan.  Effectively, votes for S103 and S104 are votes to allow the spending of all this other money as well.

Also, as has been covered extensively in The Red Line Chronicle page, SAD and TIF financing mechanisms are attractive for this project precisely because they do not require direct voter approval.  That's hardly a very small-d democratic approach to spending this kind of money.

So what should legislators do?

If they are concerned at all about paying more that just lip service to out of control spending, they should take steps to ensure this legislation does not open the door to spending hundreds of millions on a project like the Red Line.  Capping the amount of funding supported by these SADs would be a good start.

UPDATE 2/20 - If there were any doubts that this bill is intended to support the Red Line, Senator Tarte adding his name to the list of sponsors should put them to rest. However, this should not be a surprise.  Way back during last year's primary campaign for NC Senate 41, then Candidate Tarte's inconsistency on the Red Line was pointed out here - Dueling Press Releases In NC Senate 41 Race Reveal Inconsistency For One Candidate.

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