Budget confusion abounds, but clock is ticking

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Anthony Foxx reiterated the surprise he felt the previous night when four Democrats joined forces with two Republicans to vote down a spending plan he supported.  He said there was no indication in the past that they'd do so.

"We've had straw votes," Foxx said. "We've had budget retreats."

It's hard to imagine the mayor getting blindsided at a big budget meeting, but last night he was clearly shocked.

"What has just been done tonight is perhaps the most irresponsible decision that I've seen the city council make in history," Foxx said before a packed room at the government center.  He accused council members of succumbing to the kind of lobbying typically associated with Congress.  Republican Andy Dulin, who's been against the spending plan all along, said he, for one, did push those Democrats hard over the weekend.

"Turns out, Mr. Mayor, that we did talk amongst each other," Dulin said. "And six of us decided to vote no."

"There was a lot of lobbying going on too," Claire Fallon said late Tuesday afternoon.  But Fallon, one of those council members who flipped votes, says there's something going on behind the scenes that caused Democrats to change their minds.  "No, I won't tell you yet, because it's being worked on, and hopefully being restored," Fallon said. "And who's doing it knows what I'm talking about."

Foxx made no allusion to a mysterious problem that's just popped up. "People change their minds at the last minute," he said, adding that what upsets him most is that the council members who voted no haven't come up with anything else at a time when the clock is ticking.

"If people are going to vote the budget down, they ought to have at least the responsibility of creating an alternative," Foxx said.

Another issue that's been raised - when the six council members rejected the budget Monday night, they also rejected a city tax hike that would have supported that rail line.

Fallon had not been planning to vote it down, but said she felt she had to, after she got wind of a surprise from Raleigh.

No one here saw it coming, but state lawmakers just introduced a budget amendment to prohibit the use of state transportation funds for light rail in Mecklenburg County.

Charlotte has been counting on the state to cover one fourth of the $967 million construction cost of the rail extension.

With that in jeopardy, some city council members don't want to promise city funds for a project that could fall through.

But with doubt on both a city and state level, federal funds could also dry up, dooming the project for sure. Congress is preparing to review Charlotte's request for a large grant to cover half of the cost of the Blue Line.