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Carney still pushing for Triangle-option transit sales tax

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Whatever happens with the state budget, Rep. Becky Carney of Charlotte still expects the Senate to take up major transit legislation before the General Assembly quits for the year. [Crossposted from Crosstown Traffic.]

Carney is the lead house sponsor of House Bill 148, authorizing counties to levy a local sales tax to pay for transit improvements.

Triangle leaders are pushing for the half-cent option to pay most of the cost for an ambitious plan to add hundreds of buses to the roads and lay more than 50 miles of light-rail tracks over the next 25 years.

“We feel reassured that the bill will be heard in the Senate,” Carney said today. “We were told today that the Senate would take it up next week.”

The House gave overwhelming approval after Carney and other sponsors built an unusual coalition of support including environmentalists and road builders, business lobbies and liberals. Rural legislators signed on after the measure was broadened to give rural counties a quarter-cent transit sales tax option. Triangle and Triad urban counties would have the half-cent option, if endorsed by county commissioners and by voters in a referendum.

The measure also sets up state programs to improve transit, freight and passenger rail service and other transportation, but it does not allocate new state money.

Senate Democrats postponed action on Carney's bill earlier this month, reluctant to consider allowing local governments to increase the sales tax until the state budget was resolved -- with its likely hikes in sales or other taxes.

But will senators vote to give counties that sales tax option? There was already pressure from Sen. Dan Clodfelter of Charlotte to cut out the rural quarter-cent tax provision.

Carney and other supporters stress that legislators would not be voting to increase local taxes, but only on giving county commissioners and local voters the authority to decide.

“It’s not a tax we would be voting on. We would be voting to provide a planning tool for local governments, and it offers local governments a regional option to work collaboratively,” Carney said. “I think the local governments should have that option.”

Even if the General Assembly approves the transit tax local option this summer, Triangle transit backers are not expected to push for a local referendum vote this year. The expected state tax hike and the continuing recession would provide a chilly climate for proposals to increase local taxes too.

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About the blogger

Bruce Siceloff reports on traffic and transportation. A News & Observer reporter, editor and blogger since 1976, he took over the Road Worrier column in 2003. Lately he drives I-40 with the cruise control set at 68 mph. You can e-mail Bruce, call him at 919-829-4527, check out his Crosstown Traffic blog or follow him (@Road_Worrier) on Twitter.