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Charlotte Business Alliance Hires Heavy Hitters To Get Legislative Approval For Transit Tax

The city of Charlotte wants to build a new light rail line from Matthews to the airport -- and possibly beyond -- as part of an $8-12 billion transportation plan.

The Charlotte Regional Business Alliance has hired two prominent North Carolina political consultants to lobby the General Assembly to place a penny sales tax increase on the ballot in Mecklenburg County.

Republicans, who have majorities in the state House and Senate, will decide the fate of the tax. The alliance has hired Raleigh’s Paul Shumaker of Capitol Communications. Shumaker ran Thom Tillis’ first U.S. Senate victory in 2014.

But the Alliance is also going to lobby Democrats. It’s hiredMorgan Jackson, a longtime adviser to Gov. Roy Cooper. Jackson is co-founder of Nexus Strategies.

The city of Charlotte has created the $8 billion to $12 billion transportation plan, which features a light rail from Matthews to the airport — and possibly west into Gaston County. But the city can’t use public funds on a political campaign, so it’s turned to the Alliance, a private group of Charlotte-area businesses.

The Alliance has run campaigns in the past for city bonds. Alliance CEO Janet LaBar was a member of a task force appointed last year by Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles to create the plan.

The Alliance has also hired Charlotte law firm Moore & Van Allen, The Charleston Group in Fayetteville and lobbyist Kensley Leonard of The Stewart Group in Raleigh.

The city of Charlotte has said it’s first trying to get support for the tax from Mecklenburg County’s six towns. After that, it plans to formally ask the General Assembly for the OK to place the tax referendum on the ballot. Mecklenburg County commissioners would also have to approve placing the tax on the ballot.

The city had hoped to have the sales tax referendum in the November election, but that may be pushed back to 2022.

The U.S. Census Bureau said earlier this year that data used to draw new district maps won’t be released until the end of September. The city needs that data to draw new districts for the fall election.

Without being able to draw new maps in time for the mid-September primary, the city has said it will likely push its City Council and mayoral election to 2022. That would also likely postpone any transit tax referendum as well.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.