Charlotte task force recommends sales tax increase for transit expansion

CHARLOTTE — Talks about light rail expansion are moving forward, and the committee examining the move has decided how leaders should pursue it.

The Charlotte Moves Task Force has been studying a Transformational Mobility Network for months. It includes light rail expansion to Matthews, Belmont and Ballantyne. The Charlotte City Council will hear the committee’s final recommendation on Dec. 14.

“We know we cannot stand still as a community and be the competitive, thriving place we want to be,” said Harvey Gantt, former Charlotte mayor and chair of the committee.

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The Charlotte Moves Task Force estimates it will cost anywhere from $8 billion to $12 billion for the city to achieve its transit goals. The task force is recommending a one-cent sales tax increase to generate the revenue, bringing the city’s sales tax rate to 8.25%.

Over 30 years, the city can bring in $6.6 billion from it, without considering growth.

“When I say that doesn’t include growth, don’t take that lightly,” Chief Financial Officer Kelly Flannery said.

The tax hike must be approved by the General Assembly before voters can have a say. The task force wants it on the ballot in November. The committee also wants the city to study displacement investments to keep people along the new line in their homes, and explore the feasibility of making transit free.

[READ MORE: Task force to hash out funding options for expanding light rail to airport, Matthews, Ballantyne]

The task force’s final recommendation does not include a property tax increase. To supplement the sales tax if the city can’t get the full one-cent increase, the task force said city council should pursue a Capital Investment Program bond.

“We are going to have to sell this way beyond the limits of Charlotte,” Gantt said. “It is going to have to be sold to the entire county.”

State leadership is not immediately saying no to the city. A spokesperson for House Speaker Tim Moore said he had preliminary talks with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. A spokesperson for Sen. Phil Berger said it is too early to comment in detail on the issue.

Statement from Speaker Tim Moore’s office:

“The speaker has briefly discussed the concept with Mayor Lyles and will review the city’s recommendations with House and Senate lawmakers in the months ahead. A major proposal like this will require extensive review by General Assembly leaders.”

Statement from Senator Phil Berger’s office:

“Local sales tax options are always a hot topic. One side of the argument is North Carolina is such an attractive destination (for employers and job-seekers alike) because of the low cost of living and low cost of doing business. The other side of the argument is if a local jurisdiction wants to raise its own taxes for a local project, then that’s their prerogative.

“If Charlotte ends up requesting additional taxing authority, I’m sure this issue will be discussed at that time. Until those conversations happen, we’re not in a position to weigh in one way or the other.”