Joining Bruce Siceloff this week, Jack Betts of the Charlotte Observer fawns over light rail here. Worse, he says of former technocrat Sam Hunt’s big pot o’ money for transit: "most impressive recommendation would center on a visionary proposal to boost urban transit systems."
It’s not uncommon for journalists to stand impressed by bureaucrats finding new ways to spend wastefully. But Betts’ gushing Observer piece is positively sappy (read: biased) — particularly in its unwillingness to consider other perspectives (oh, I don’t know like this one, this one, this one, this one and this one). Indeed, Betts thinks that what’s so great about this particular General Assembly bill is that it appropriates no money (for now), rather gives localities the option to do so. That means, counties like Wake have the option of floating a half-cent sales tax and increased fees for drivers (That’s a nickel every single time you buy lunch w/drink, or whatever your $10 purchase…nickels that add up fast.)
Now maybe Jack Betts is rich and lives in South Charlotte. But he has forgotten about the less affluent people in Mint Hill who’re bankrolling his boondoggle. Maybe Jack believes that rail relieves congestion, even though David Hartgen has proven it takes less than 1 percent of congestion off Charlotte’s roads. Maybe he believes that there is plenty of money for multi-billion dollar transit systems that will never serve any more than 3% of the population ($3 billion for 3%… is that just?).
I’m extremely saddened by the N.C. media’s lack of balance or equal time to other perspectives when it comes to light rail. They are perhaps caught up in the girls-n-boys-with-shiny-toys phenonomenon. They are unwilling to look carefully at the myriad special interests in Charlotte that made this happen via cheaply acquired propaganda to "keep the tax" (developers to build next to the rail; banks to loan to the developers). A similar special interest coalition is likely to form in Wake County. The people will be made less wealthy by light rail. Buy the media don’t care. They are enchanted.
Such enchantment doesn’t stand up to any kind of reasonable scrutiny of costs and benefits. But more importantly, it doesn’t stand up to basic human scruples. When you (coercively) extract resources from so many people – even the poor – and concentrate all those benefits on so few people ($3 billion for 3%), it becomes worthy of the title "let them eat cake" rail. It’s not much different from pharoahs building pyramids. But really, it hurts everyone. Every dollar you spend (out of billions) on a system that serves, at most, 3 percent of the people is a dollar that can’t go to systemwide maintenance, expansion and traffic mitigation. It’s just downright perverse.