When merchandise is bought in Mecklenburg County, one-half percent of the sales tax goes for mass transit – equaling more than $60 million each year.
Roughly two-thirds of that money goes to buses, while less than one-third is for the light rail line.
Next Tuesday, voters will get to decide whether buyers should keep paying the tax. Most mayors in Mecklenburg County want you to, including Charlotte's Pat McCrory.
"We're preparing the city for the next generation," he said.
If the tax remains in place, residents will probably see more bus routes and two more rail lines -- one to University City and one to the Lake Norman area. If the tax is repealed, McCrory says you could see more drivers on the road, no more rail lines beyond the south corridor, fewer bus routes and, most likely, higher property taxes.
After all, transit officials still owe money on the first light rail line. One way or another, they have to pay the debt.
And, the way McCrory sees it, it takes more than just roads to fight congestion.
"We need roads. We need trains. We need buses. We need bikeways. We need sidewalks. The more choices you have in the community, the more mobility we have in the future," he said.
But former Charlotte City Councilman Don Reid said transit officials are wasting money because he doesn't believe there will be enough bus or rail riders to justify the cost.
"Charlotte is going to be gridlocked in four or five years. To say that in 50 years we may need light rail, well, who is a prophet? I don't know if we will or not, but I’ll tell you this, if we spend all our money on light rail, we won't be able to move goods and services in this city in five years,” he said.
While critics focus on cost, supporters focus on the future. Voters must decide between the two.
While, some say repealing the tax could save the average person more than $30 per year, it's anyone's guess what the trade-offs would be.
But if the tax is repealed, politicians will have to decide how to pay off light rail's debt. They say they'll probably raise property taxes, cut services or a combination of the two.