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Just as predicted: Score one for the 'cavepersons'

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They harassed the poor and threatened the elderly. They held this county's taxpayers hostage. But it wasn't enough. Now they are back for more.

Who am I talking about?

For once, it's not some group of thugs out on probation after their third armed robbery because the local criminal justice system is underfunded. No, I'm talking about the Charlotte Chamber and its political lackeys.

Chamber officials were so ruthless in their 2007 campaign against the transit tax repeal that they had people distributing fliers at bus stops in low-income areas, threatening to take away some citizens' only source of transportation if they didn't vote against appeal.

My personal favorite was the mailer designed to scare old people. It featured two elderly people, sitting on bench, all hunched over at a helpless, despondent angle.

The mailer threatened that if they didn't vote against repealing the half-cent sales tax for mass transit, their property taxes would be increased, an expense many senior citizens on fixed incomes "cannot afford."

In fact, that was the central selling point of the Uptown crowd's 2007 campaign to keep the half-cent sales tax, which pays for buses and rail transit. If voters repealed the transit tax at the ballot box, the political powers that be promised to jack up taxpayers' property tax bills to pay for the system. But if they voted to keep the tax, no more taxes would be needed and everyone would share in the burden.

Those of us who knew the Charlotte Area Transit Systems numbers didn't add up "cried foul" on that argument. I'm no math major -- they don't teach much math in journalism school -- but it was obvious to me and to others that CATS lacked the money to build all the trains that the politicians had promised. All you had to do was look at what the trains cost elsewhere in the country and the out-of-control subsidy costs to run them to know it would take another large tax hike to pay for our transit plan.

That's what got me so riled up about the 2007 transit tax repeal debate. The main theme of the anti-repeal campaign -- its promise no additional tax money would be needed to pay for the system -- was a bold-faced lie. If they'd merely been honest with the public, told people that it would take another tax hike to pay for the trains, and voters had voted for it anyway, I'd be fine with it.

Instead, Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers labeled those of us who asked actual questions as cavemen (or cavewomen in my case). Former CATS CEO Ron Tober was trotted out to assure us that the transit tax would generate enough revenue to pay for the system they'd promised voters. Members of the local media repeated CATS talking points like robots, with zero interest in finding out if the numbers actually worked.

But as soon as the repeal failed, CATS began cutting bus routes anyway (many of them in poor areas) and planning for a new tax -- strange activities for a system that is supposedly flush with revenue. At first, CATS bureaucrats blamed gas prices. Then when gas prices plummeted, they blamed the economy for reduced sales tax collections.

While sales tax revenue is down, what CATS is asking us to believe is laughable. If CATS can't afford to operate the South Boulevard light rail line and the bus system in a recession or following a fuel price hike without cutting bus service, how on earth could it afford to run two more lines plus the bus system plus a street car in an average economy?

The answer is that the sales tax was never going to bring in enough money to pay for it all, and CATS bureaucrats and local politicians know it. They've always known it, even when they were mailing anti-repeal fliers to hundreds of thousands of people that claimed: "There are no new taxes needed to build the future transit system."

I filed away the anti-repeal committee's mailing because I knew I'd be writing a column about it when they went to raise taxes, the only way they could build out the system. I thought they wouldn't have the temerity to attempt to jack taxes on the elderly people they were so concerned about in 2007 for at least five to seven years, to give the public a chance to forget all those anti-repeal campaign promises.

On that count, I was wrong. Last week, just as I predicted, the city and the county both announced they'd be adding the prospect of another half-cent sales tax to their agendas for "discussion."

So who are you calling a cavewoman?


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