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Cooksey Clarifies Panthers Situation Status

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Navigating the complex sea of public policy making can certainly make one want to pop a few Dramamine. The various processes involved to get from idea to action I’m sure sounded like a great idea at the time, but wow.

This has certainly been the case with the continuing discussion surrounding subsidies for the Carolina Panthers stadium retrofit.

So much has taken place behind closed doors, it’s easy to get lost trying to figure out where the situation currently stands.

A number of us in opposition had assumed that we were waiting on a final (and finally public!) vote by the city council to request the ability to increase the prepared food and beverage tax.  That tax hike would have to be approved by the General Assembly.

The money collected via that revenue stream, albeit twice what is actually necessary (another point of contention), would be used to fund $143.75 million dollars worth of the Panthers total $302.5 million plan.

Apparently however, and my thanks to Councilman Warren Cooksey for clarifying for me, it is the General Assembly that must act first.

“The enabling legislation will have to be filed and passed out of the General Assembly first, and obviously there’s no information about what that legislation will include. Regardless, the standard practice for such legislation would be to enable the Charlotte City Council to do something related to a tax. In order for Council to exercise that authority, it would have to take action at a public meeting, and the public is able to sign up to speak on any action item at a public meeting.”

That seemed backwards to me because I don’t know why the General Assembly would go around granting taxing authority to municipalities that haven’t officially requested it.  That, however, was part of the closed door meetings and votes.

Again, according to Cooksey,

“Council used the provision of state law regarding closed sessions for economic development to authorize the pursuit of enabling legislation. That’s why there’s been no public action to speak about on a Council agenda. Even if Council had handled the pursuit of legislation in public, though, it still would have to vote publicly to exercise the authority.”

So, now we are in the hands of our representatives in Raleigh.  We also are introduced to a new wrinkle.

The word “referendum” leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouth of many folks who have been in town for the last decade.  In 2001, the referendum on public financing for Time Warner Arena was voted down, but a quick trip down Trade Street will tell you how that worked out.

Bitter or not, the idea of a referendum is now being suggested by at least Reps Thom Tillis and Bill Brawley.  Their reasoning, I hypothesize, is that before the General Assembly would vote to allow a tax increase they want to make sure they have the support of the residents who would pay the bulk of the tax.

Cooksey agrees this is the likely outcome from the GA.

“Politically that option may be the most feasible one to advocate. There will be tremendous pressure on legislators not to “lose the Panthers,” so I would rank the three main options as follows in order from most to least likely at present:

1. Authorize Council to have a referendum on the tax
2. Authorize Council to levy the tax
3. Deny Council the authority to levy the tax”

I don’t in general support the idea of referendums.  We live in a republic, not a democracy, and often these referendums seem to have the sole purpose of allowing elected officials out of tough decisions.

When we elect leaders, I would like for them to lead and then run on their records.

So here we are.  Nothing has been officially proposed yet, so lobbying by both sides of this discussion should be well underway.

I would hope that authorizing legislation is never even presented, but if it is, I hope it allows for a straight up or down vote on whether to grant the tax hike request and doesn’t bog us down in a referendum.  Goes without saying that I also prefer the “down” vote on the request itself.

Now is the time to contact both your city council representatives and your state legislators.  They all must be made aware of what looks to an observer as overwhelming opposition by the people.  If somehow this makes it through the legislature, the final public vote at the Char-Meck Government Center will be the last chance to stop a very bad idea.

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