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Friday, April 23, 2010

N.C. GOP Slams Democrats Over Unfair DOT/ Roads Funding (Decision 2010)

N.C. GOP Campaigns On Roads Funding Issue

Traffic jams still cut as a campaign issue in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, even in an election year focused on jobs. And Republicans have noticed.

John Aneralla, a GOP N.C. state Senate candidate, plans to pound his Democratic opponent over the county's need for road money.

"As I sit in traffic on I-77 - knowing that's one of the roads that should have been widened years ago and I-485 should have been finished years ago - absolutely I'm going to use that issue," said Aneralla, the lone Republican candidate for the seat held by Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat.

GOP candidates already have political momentum behind them, given the anti-establishment tenor of many voters. Now Republican legislative candidates in Mecklenburg are starting to argue that incumbent Democrats who control the state legislature haven't gotten enough road money funneled to the city - a contention that resonates with voters weary of staring at four lanes of brake lights.

An Observer report last month revealed how Charlotte-Mecklenburg County ranked 89th out of 100 counties in per capita road spending by the state.

"It's definitely an issue Republicans can use," said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm.

The difficulty for the GOP, Jensen said, is that Charlotte-Mecklenburg offers perhaps only one competitive district among the county's five Senate and 10 House seats, that of retiring Rep. Jim Gulley, a Republican. The rest are drawn to safely elect either a Democrat or Republican.

Democrats are playing defense, too.

Malcolm Graham organized a town hall-style meeting at Mallard Creek High School last week, less than a month before the primary, to talk with his constituents about the forthcoming completion of Interstate 485. State transportation officials are in the process of selecting a contractor.

Graham, whose district has a solid Democratic voting history, co-chairs a Budget committee on Transportation Funding and emphasized that he is pushing to change the not-so-aptly-named state equity formula for road funding.

Many Urban leaders criticize the formula as shortchanging the cities. Graham and urban legislators in both parties want the formula to include traffic congestion in determining where the money goes.

"I don't think people care about Democrats or Republicans with respect to transportation," Graham said. "They just want the roads built."

Rep. Thom Tillis, a Huntersville Republican, holds a relatively safe GOP seat, but he's helping other Republican House candidates in hopes of winning a majority.

If that happens, Tillis is widely expected to run for speaker. His advice: "Needle Democrats on the lack of road funding".

"It falls behind Jobs and the Tax issue (with voters)," Tillis said. "But it's right up there after that."

Urban and Rural Funding

Republican candidates are expected to accuse local Democrats of following legislative leaders from the eastern half of the state who treat Charlotte as an afterthought.

When Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, a Democrat from the Outer Banks, held a Charlotte fundraiser in January, former Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, dispatched a mailing to a dozen of the 44 invitees.

The packet included a copy of a letter Basnight sent to four Democratic senators on the coast last fall, talking about legislative battles in which he helped protect the interests of Eastern North Carolina communities.

"Our urban areas are congested, yes," Basnight wrote on transportation funding, for example, "but they also are home to major employers and economic sectors that benefit their local economies. Improving infrastructure in our rural areas will help businesses and economic growth to our communities, too."

Sen. Bob Rucho, a Charlotte Republican, is encouraging GOP candidates to deploy road funding as campaign ammunition.

He questioned why Charlotte donors would help Basnight maintain a Democratic majority in the Senate when Rucho says Basnight is pumping state money into rural areas devoid of road congestion.

"People in the Charlotte area and the business community need to know that Marc Basnight is not working for their best interests," Rucho said.

Basnight said he supports the current equity formula for road funding but that urban and rural communities alike need money. Roads are what draw businesses and jobs, he said, arguing that a change in the formula takes money away from low income communities in the mountains and in the east.

"Would it stop economic development in the east and west?" he said. "I don't believe the people of Charlotte want (that)."

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Sources: Interstate, McClatchy Newspapers, MUMPO, N.C. General Assembly, Youtube, Google Maps

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