Last Sunday’s news of Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx’s nomination as the next transportation secretary came without much ado. However, for those who live around the Charlotte area and know the history of local public transportation, the pick of Foxx at the very least deserves some consideration.
According to the Charlotte Observer (who no doubt was up late Saturday night scrubbing their website):
Flanked by Foxx and outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the White House’s East Room, Obama praised Foxx as one of the “most effective mayors that Charlotte’s ever seen.”
“The city has managed to turn things around,” the president said. “The economy is growing. There are more jobs, more opportunity. And if you ask Anthony how that happened, he’ll tell you that one of the reasons is that Charlotte made one of the largest investments in transportation in the city’s history.”
Obama touted Foxx’s leadership on a new streetcar project, expanding the city’s international airport and extending Charlotte’s light rail system. The president said Foxx had demonstrated how investments in infrastructure could create jobs and spur economic growth during tough times.
Well let’s talk about that economic growth shall we? If you live in Charlotte, chances are you know a considerable amount of people in the banking industry. That is because Charlotte is the second largest banking city in the US, after New York City. Bank of America and Wells Fargo are headquartered in the city. Let's also not forget NASCAR, a company of which 75% of employees and drivers live in the Charlotte-Metro area. The truth is it has not been the expansion of transportation in Charlotte that has lead to higher employment. While Bloomberg lists Charlotte as number 10 on it’s list of “Boomtowns,” it notes correctly that the banking industry has been the longstanding reason people flock to the city.
While the large amount of spending on transportation in Charlotte does not equate with economic growth, it can be attributed to the ever-growing debt. Debt which the city may not be able to sustain. A little over a year ago, a family in Charlotte made local news when their two young sons were struck and killed by a delivery truck on one of the busiest roads in the city. The issue was a lack of sidewalk that, although the city was aware of as being a problem, couldn’t find the funds to construct; at least until news of the deaths broke. Then the city magically found money for the sidewalk. Meanwhile, millions of dollars, most of which was awarded by the Obama administration, was being spent on Charlotte’s light rail. Aside from the fact that the cost of the light rail is predicted to rise with no plan of action on how to keep it in the black, the city (instead of creating new jobs) has discussed spending $6.5 million to ship each rail car to California for routine maintenance that cannot be done in Charlotte. If job creation in California counts, Foxx has done well.
So when the issue of a new streetcar project came up, it was no surprise when previous mayor and current Governor Pat McCrory thought it best to reassess the plan; the streetcar was part of a long-term capital plan from 2007, a very different fiscal time for the country. In 2013, when the budget is failing to keep up with the cost of the light rail, is it a fiscally sound decision to start an entirely new transportation project? Foxx’s response to McCrory’s objection was quite typical of a Democrat - he wants the money from the state for the city’s newest project, he isn’t taking the current financial situation into consideration and according to him, the governor should be focusing on other state issues. In other words, don’t tell me how to do my job, but let me tell you how to do yours (and also can I have some money?).
The streetcar project isn’t the only thing Foxx has been stubborn about when it comes to transportation in Charlotte. A recent study funded by the city, coinciding with the current expansion of Charlotte Douglas International Airport, found that the airport would be best positioned “for the future” if it were operated by an independent authority instead of the city government. The reasons for the change of control were “reduced political involvement in airport management, being able to run the airport more like a corporate board, greater assurances that airport spending avoids bloating from government influence, the ability to develop contracting policies and, in turn, lower costs and creation of compensation and pay structures that attract and retain top talent.” A bill to create a regional authority to operate the airport was introduced soon after by state Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg). It has passed the Senate and is due to be voted on soon in the House.
Meanwhile, Foxx and fellow Democrats took no time to consider the study and went straight into defense. They believe it to be a power grab, with one Democrat councilman describing it as, “a turd getting bigger and bigger.” To that bitter dispute, at least one job loss can be attributed - Airport Advisory Committee Chair Shawn Dorsch, who supported the creation of the independent authority, was fired by Foxx after a heated city council discussion over the matter. Consider the implications of this: Dorsch was put in a position to advise the mayor and council on the airport and when they didn't like his advice, they fired him. The outrage meter should have at least hit levels seen in previous political firings, however, the dismissal barely registered in the local, much less national, media. Far from concern about the optics of the firing, the Foxx administration is currently doubling-down, considering legal action should control of the Charlotte airport transfer out of their hands.
Considering Foxx’s transportation record in Charlotte, it’s easy to see why Obama would nominate him for transportation secretary. Foxx knows how to spend money regardless of debt, putting him right in line with the president’s fiscal policy. Additionally, he has used the government budgets as a Keynesian slush-fund and taken credit for successes that are not attributable to his actions. Sound familiar? With the record Foxx holds, he'll fit right in with the Obama administration.