NC Republicans Ignore Tillis and McCrory, Say No to Tolls

Joe Marusak

Posted: Monday, Jun. 10, 2013

Opponents of planned Interstate 77 toll lanes are celebrating after the N.C. Republican Party added language opposing state highway tolls to its 2013-14 party platform.

The party’s executive committee voted overwhelmingly against tolls Sunday on the final day of the state Republican convention at the Charlotte Convention Center. The vote represented a defeat for Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Cornelius, who spoke in favor of tolls, according to several party delegates .

Tillis blocked a separate vote by the executive committee later Sunday on an anti-toll-lanes resolution. He left the meeting room with several other committee members, so the committee lacked a quorum to conduct the vote, delegates told the Observer.

But the lack of a vote didn’t affect the anti-toll lane amendment the committee adopted earlier, executive committee member Adam Love of Charlotte said. The resolution was intended merely to add emphasis to the committee’s earlier vote in favor of the anti-toll-lane amendment to the party’s platform, he said.

Tillis and his spokesman, Jordan Shaw, couldn’t be reached on Monday.

Love introduced the resolution on behalf of Vallee Bubak of Davidson and Sharon Hudson of Huntersville, who were convention delegates but not members of the executive committee. Bubak volunteers with the statewide citizens group Toll Free NC. The group grew out of Widen I 77, the Lake Norman-area citizens group that opposes tolling I-77.

“The party is very divided on this,” Love said of toll lanes. “There’s a lot of grassroots opposition to it.”

“My primary opposition is I don’t believe double taxation is a Republican value, (or) a conservative value,” Love said, adding that residents already pay a gasoline tax for roads.

“And no one’s talking about repealing the fuel tax,” he said.

Bubak said Toll Free NC believes tax money should be spent more efficiently and I-77 should rank higher on the list of road expansions.

“North Carolina does not need to buy into the toll lane agenda that is being pushed by private tolling consultants and developers seeking their own gain at the public’s expense,” she said. The state Department of Transportation intends to hire a contractor in August to finance, design, build and operate I-77 toll lanes from Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Exit 36 in Mooresville. Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016. The contract would be good for 50 years so the contractor could recoup the investment.

The project calls for adding two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 between Brookshire Freeway and Exit 28 in Cornelius. One toll lane would continue in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36 (N.C. 150).

State officials have said toll rates would vary depending on congestion and that no toll rate has been established.

On May 22, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization voted unanimously to amend the agency’s current and long-range transportation plans to include the $550 million project. The agency prioritizes Charlotte-area road needs for the state.

The vote meant the state will now move forward with the project. The only way the project could be stopped is if the General Assembly steps in and votes to reverse its 2012 approval.

Now that the state Republican Party has opposed tolls, Bubak said, she hopes the Republican-led state Senate will reject House Bill 267, which authorizes HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes on I-77 and other N.C. highways.

“Costly and lengthy 50-plus year contracts with private toll companies defy common sense, good government and sound fiscal policy,” she said.


Tillis Walks Out on Party Faithful Over Tolls

Posted on June 9, 2013 by Kurt Naas

At this weekend’s North Carolina GOP convention, some Widen I-77 supporters introduced an amendment to the party platform and a resolution opposing toll lanes. What happened over the course of the last couple of days was nothing short of high political theater.  First some background.

The current GOP platform states:

We oppose government-sanctioned tracking of drivers to enforce occupancy rates on our highways.

This is squarely in opposition to the proposed HOT lane scheme, which requires vehicles with fewer than three occupants to pay a toll.  Even so, we wanted the GOP to be more emphatic on their stance regarding toll lanes.  We proposed an additional plank in the platform:

We oppose any plans for or legislation in favor of HOT Lanes.

The entire platform was not adopted during the business session on Friday, and they did not get to that part of the business Saturday.  So it was left to the Executive Committee meeting on Sunday to get the plank approved.

I am pleased to report, due to the efforts of some of our incredible volunteers, and despite powerful opposition, the plank was approved.  This is a tremendous development as we take our fight to Raleigh because, as one party official put it, “the amendment to the platform is much stronger than the resolution. The platform is a much higher order document which should guide how the party acts. So you [the toll opponents] actually achieved a huge victory.”

To put an exclamation point on this we introduced a Resolution Concerning HOT Lanes in North Carolina.

We passed out the required 1000 copies on Friday and Saturday, but were unable to present it from the floor Friday because the meeting was closed due to lack of a quorum.  On Saturday the meeting ended before resolutions were considered.

That left Sunday when the Executive Committee met. After a long and complicated process we were able to pass out copies of the resolution and it was proposed by a committee member.

A “quorum call” was immediately made.  This procedure is sometimes used when someone does not want to debate/discuss the topic ahead.  If there is no quorum, the subject cannot be addressed.  With the doors locked and the quorum count complete, a quorum was indeed established… by a single person over the required number.

Thom Tillis led off the debate against our resolution, saying HOT Lanes are not planned to go across our state.

This is not true.  North Carolina statute G.S. 136‑89.183(a)(2)a authorizes the North Carolina Turnpike Authority to build eight turnpike (toll) projects across the state. Tillis have known this because this past Tuesday he signed an amendment, HB 10, to that very law. (HB 10 allows further expansion of the Triangle Expressway, currently NC’s only toll road.) In the narrowest legal sense, a “toll road” is not the same as a “toll lane,” but surely the Party Faithful assumed the Speaker was not resorting to a lawyerly parsing of words when addressing his own folks.

Tillis also mentioned we should work through our local towns and governing boards to stop toll lanes. But time and again our local leaders have said either it’s an NCDOT problem or a state issue.  Indeed, the impact of Tillis’ words can be found in Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker’s support for toll lanes.  After a meeting with Tillis she echoed his words saying HOT lanes are “our one shot to get this done. This is it. That was underscored with bold type and exclamation points.”  Rinker, you may recall, cast the deciding vote for Cornelius in favor of HOT lanes.

Suffice it to say our friends were not swayed by Tillis’ rhetoric.

Party Chairman Robin Hayes then spoke against our resolution, saying we should not comment regarding items currently under consideration by the legislature. We think the opposite is true. The party should make absolutely clear where it stands on pending legislation.

Again our friends were not swayed.  In fact, after Tillis and Hayes spoke eight people had lined up at the mic to speak in favor of our resolution.  None had stood up to oppose.

What happened next can only be described as shocking.  When it became obvious the resolution could very well pass, Tillis got up and spoke with several people along his aisle.

And then he walked out of the meeting.

A few people followed in tow.  Without a quorum no further party business could be conducted, and the meeting abruptly ended.

Remember, this was not a group of hecklers or even disinterested middle schoolers he walked out on. This was the Executive Committee of the NC Republican Party, the Most Faithful of the Faithful.  The Establishment witnessed the bizarre spectacle of the Establishment Candidate walking out on the Establishment.

Tillis’ behavior is especially puzzling in light his recent calls for party unity, both on Saturday and at his own district’s convention.

What we witnessed today was what Widen I-77 has long suspected: Tillis not only favors I-77 toll lanes, but is willing to go to the mat to make sure we’re stuck with them.  He wants to drop a 50 year, half-billion dollar burden on his constituency.

Why this is we can only speculate, but for now Tillis faces a ticklish question: what does an establishment candidate do when the establishment disagrees with him?

Thus far the answer appears to be: avoid the question.

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