More Money For Blue Line; Judges Oppose Splitting Districts; Opportunity Task Force Report; HB 2

Mar 27, 2017

Here’s what’s in the headlines at midday Monday here on WFAE:  

Charlotte Area Transit System is asking Charlotte City Council to approve another $25 million for the Lynx Blue Line Extension. The project extends the light rail line nine miles from uptown to UNC Charlotte.

About $12.75 million would go to settle a dispute with contractors. And $12 million would cover added expenses because of a seven-month delay in the start of service. CATS announced last month the line won’t be ready as expected this August. It’s now expected to open next March – that’s the formal deadline required under a contract with the federal government, which is paying half the $1.2 billion cost. (The rest will come from local and state funds.)

CATS says all of the contract amendments are "within the current Blue Line Extension budget." CATS CEO John Lewis was scheduled to present the requests at Monday night’s Charlotte City Council meeting.

Meanwhile, the council also was expected to vote on a consulting contract to take a fresh look at redeveloping the former Eastland Mall site, in east Charlotte. Read a report from WFAE’s Mark Rumsey on WFAE.org.

JUDGES OPPOSE SPLITTING MECK DISTRICT IN THREE

Several district court judges in Mecklenburg County oppose a bill to divide the county into three separate judicial districts. It's unclear how the plan would work exactly, but voters in each district would elect 7 judges, as opposed to the 21 they currently elect county wide. Mecklenburg County Chief District Court Judge Regan Miller says that would take away citizens’ right to pick two-thirds of the county’s district court judges.

“The change that is being proposed is entirely unnecessary and does nothing to enhance or preserve the impartiality and independence of the judiciary,” Miller said in a press conference Monday.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Senators Jeff Tarte and Dan Bishop. Tarte has said a smaller slate of judges makes it easier for voters to get to know candidates. He also says subdividing the county would make some of the districts more competitive for Republicans. Right now a quarter of the county's district court judges are Republican. 

NEW DATA PUTS HB 2 LOSSES AT $3.8B

There’s a new estimate of the financial pain from North Carolina’s House Bill 2. The Associated Press calculates that the bill will cost the state about $3.8 billion over a dozen years. That's despite Republican assurances that the "bathroom bill" isn't hurting the economy. The law passed a year ago limits legal protections for LGBT people, including a provision that requires transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender on their birth certificates. The AP looked at state Commerce Department projections for several large companies that backed out of projects because of the law, as well as estimates for dozens of canceled sporting events, concerts and conventions.

Nonetheless, other measures show North Carolina’s economy is growing and healthy. And Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has said HB 2-related losses are only a fraction of the state’s overall economic activity.  

STUDY CALLS FOR ACTIONS TO IMPROVE ECONOMIC MOBILITY

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force on Monday morning released a series of recommendations for helping Charlotteans climb out of poverty.

The 20-person committee has been meeting for the past two years to study why Charlotte ranks so low nationwide when it comes to economic mobility. The group's report, "Leading on Opportunity," calls for more attention to early childhood education, affordable housing and affordable child care; doing more to prepare students for careers and college; creating better paying jobs; and working to end segregated neighborhoods.

No money was announced to pay for the report’s recommendations. But County Commissioner Trevor Fuller, who pushed for creation of the task force in 2015, says he’s optimistic the public and private sectors will come forward with resources.

“What I’ve heard from the community is that people are in ... what they’re looking for is some structure, some direction, some blueprint, which we now have, at least a framework, and we can use that now to start put substance in, start put commitments, start to allocate resources under this framework. So I’m very excited about where we are and where we’re going.”

The task force announced creation of a new “opportunity council” to carry out the report’s recommendations. It will be led by bank executive Andrea Smith, and James Ford, a former North Carolina teacher of the year.

Read more about the report on the task force website, https://leadingonopportunity.org/