Proposed bill would help fund regional transit projects

Posted February 11, 2009 7:00 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

A proposed bill introduced in the General Assembly Wednesday would allow local governments in high-population areas input in increasing sales taxes to help pay for regional transit plans.

The bill would allow county commissioners in Wake, Durham, Orange and Cumberland counties, as well as those that comprise the Triad, to hold a referendum to increase sales tax a half-cent.

Rural counties bordering those areas would have the option for a quarter-cent sales tax increase.

In the Triangle, for example, it would be the first step in financing a proposed multibillion-dollar regional plan that would bring a combination of buses, rail systems and circulators to help meet the area's growing transportation needs.

A House version of the bill is sponsored by Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, and a Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Richard Stevens. Both are members of the 21st Century Transportation Committee, which looks at how to fund such projects in the state.

A similar bill was passed for the Charlotte area, which Carney says, has been a success. The Queen City has what many consider a successful mass transit model.

"It's a planning toolbox for local governments to plan beyond roads," she said. "The citizenry gets to have their input on how they want to grow their region, as far as transportation needs and transit needs."

Elected officials, like Wake County Commissioner Joe Bryan, who support the bill, however, say its introduction is bad timing, given the economy's downturn.

“When I’m looking at potentially closing libraries, having ambulances not respond quickly, sheriff’s deputies not on patrol as much – frankly, it doesn’t rise up to the highest priority to be having an additional income source and taxing people when tens of thousands of people are losing their jobs in Wake County, alone," Bryan said.