Charlotte attorney Tom Ashcraft — a former US attorney and aide to Senator Jesse Helms — is a conservative leader in the Charlotte area who has been known to criticize that city’s former mayor (who just happens to be seeking a promotion to governor this year).
On Thursday, Ashcraft offered up a series of questions to Pat McCrory seeking some insight on the gubernatorial candidate’s spending priorities:
Thank you for below e-mail and similar missives you’ve sent Republicans in your quest to become governor of North Carolina . I have some substantive questions for you below. Would be grateful for your answers.
A key issue for the State of North Carolina is future spending on mass transit. Whenever big transit plans are hatched, they end up consuming copious amounts of federal, state, and localrevenue for many years.
As Charlotte mayor you were a key backer of the Lynx lightrail line from south Charlotte to center city. According to various studies, the final capital cost wasabout $520 million, though originally estimated at $227 million. In 2009and 2010, the net cost to run the line was about $20 million per year (nettingrevenues against operating and maintenance expenses).
Charlotte is now considering extending light rail along a northeast corridor to UNCC. The total projected cost is about $1.07 billion, with the Obama administration indicating early support to the tune of $530 million. See http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2012/02/14/3012572/feds-back-70-million-for-charlotte.html#storylink=omni_popular.
In addition,an existing railroad line has been proposed by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) and others to be made into a passenger transit route between Charlotte and Mount Mourne . The estimated capitalcost would be about $452 million.
Following the trend you helped set in Charlotte , the Raleigh area is now considering the so-called Wake County Transit Plan. In addition to increasing bus service, it includes proposals for light rail and commuter rail. The projected cost through 2040 is $4.6 billion. See http://www.civitasreview.com/transportation/wake-countys-transit-plan-high-costs-little-benefit/.
Other light rail, streetcar, and commuter rail proposals have been floated from time to time for Winston-Salem , Greensboro , Fayetteville , and Wilmington .
1. Do you support the pending light rail and commuter rail projects for the Raleigh area? If so, what role in funding would you support by the federal government, by state government?
2. Do you support the pending extension of Charlotte light rail to UNCC? Do you agree with the Obama administration’sproposed funding support of $530 million (see newspaper article citedabove)? What funding do you support for this project by the government of North Carolina ?
3. Do you support CATS proposal of a passenger train route between Charlotte and Mount Mourne ? What funding role wouldyou support by state government?
4. As to future proposals from North Carolina municipalities for state funding for light rail, streetcar, and commuter lines,would you support them as you have such projects in the past in the Charlotte area? As governor what criteria would you use to distinguish between rail projects state taxpayers should fund and those unworthy of funding by state taxpayers?
McCrory stepped up and offered his responses in writing:
Thanks for your inquiry. As I did as mayor, I will look at each rail, road, and port proposal on it’s own merit. As mayor, I strongly supported the south line and north line to UNCC. The local revenue comes primarily from voter approved funds through cats. I also sternly opposed the street car line. My veto was over ridden by one vote. In fact, gov Perdue and Anthony fox both successfully arm twisted Council members to over ride my veto which occurred night before democratic primary. Now, just yesterday, the city of charlotte proposed property tax increase partially for streetcar. This non mtc project has no funding source from sales tax referendum money because it fell outside critical criteria required. Oneof many reasons I vetoed this project and also opposed federal funding which mayor Foxx accepted for this project after I left office.
Regarding the other projects you listed, none of them currently meet the criteria for my approval or support for federal, state, or local funding.
McCrory’s response here is quite a refreshing change from his campaign’s typical powderpuff “What do you want to talk about?” communications approach.
A spokesman for South Mecklenburg Alliance of Responsible Taxpayers (SMART) — after being clued in on McCrory’s responses to Ashcraft — had a lukewarm reaction:
Pat still clings to the lie that light rail in Charlotte is a success. Charlotte’s light rail line may be funded by CATS, but have you seen the deficits CATS has incurred since the light rail was up and running? They have sky-rocked while fares have increased substantially. CATS deficit will no doubt go up exponentially with the northern extension which will cost Charlotte taxpayers at least triple what the Blue Line cost. Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute discovered CATS reports two sets of ridership numbers for the Blue Line. An inflated one for the public so it looks good, and a more realistic one so they won’t lose their Federal funding if audited. The difference is over 40% in some cases. If the government has to lie to prop up a project, it has to be really bad.
CATS voter approved money stream is a dry gully, yet we are assured it still funds light rail. Pat also promoted the Red Line as recently as last August, but he seems to have gone under the radar on that project. The Red Line proposal is so bad the Feds refused to help fund it.
It is encouraging Pat stated the other projects mentioned do not meet his standards, although as previously mentioned he recently supported the Red Line. I’d like to know how much their economics differ from Charlotte’s light rail. They must really be in the gutter.