Below is the full transcript from the Mayor's remarks. To view a video of the remarks, click here.
To my fellow elected officials, City Council colleagues, City staff and, most importantly, to the citizens of Charlotte, thank you for joining me today on the anniversary of taking the oath of office and this first State of the City presentation.
Many times over the past year, I have reflected on a lesson Jim Lovette, my old West Charlotte Senior High Cross Country Coach, taught me. Coach Lovette told his teams to sprint when we reached a steep hill. While painful and exhausting, we learned to view hills as opportunities and won quite a few races by sprinting uphill while our less-focused opponents were slowing down. Over the past year, Charlotte has faced some big, ugly hills in the form of the national recession. Our collective response, so far, has been to use the current economic crisis as an opportunity to pick up the pace.
Strengthening and Diversifying the Economy
A year ago, we said that we would work to strengthen and diversifying the economy, and we have. Here are just a few examples:
One year ago, we faced a nearly 13 percent area unemployment rate. Back then, we said we would work as hard as ever to grow jobs in Charlotte. We have done so, bringing over 8500 new jobs to Charlotte in areas as diverse as energy, financial services and manufacturing. We also worked to bring our largest corporate headquarters relocation, Electrolux, since 1984. I cannot think of another city in the United States that has had such success over the past year.
One year ago, we promised to improve the climate for small businesses. We have done so.
We have launched a small business strategic plan,
We began work to build an online "one-stop" resource center for entrepreneurs and small business owners
We have begun piloting an electronic permitting application that promises to save time and money – and the City Council and Mecklenburg County Commission have finally placed function consolidation of permitting services on the table for consideration.
We sponsored an Access to Capital Conference in June to bring business owners and capital providers together,
We expanded our Small Business Loan Program to target growth sectors like healthcare, financial services and energy.
We launched a Small Business Task Force to examine city government’s utilization of small businesses. Among other things, this bipartisan task force recommended a disparity study, which the City Council unanimously approved weeks ago, to further detail our utilization of minority and women-owned businesses.
Improving Quality of Life
One year ago, we said that we would improve the quality of life, and we have. Here are just a few examples:
On the environment:
My first act as mayor was signing the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Change Agreement, a promise to work hard to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We have not just paid lip service to this promise.
In September, I joined Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and CISCO CEO John Chambers in launching Envision Charlotte, a first-of-its-kind effort to reduce the carbon footprint of 15 million square feet of commercial space within our center city. Except for a few hours of city staff time, this effort is private-sector-led.
We received Energy Development Block Grant Funding through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which Charlotte is putting to good use. We’ve launched a competitive neighborhood grant program to let our citizens come up with innovative sustainability ideas, we’ve finally placed recycling containers on our Main Street and we’re preparing the city for electric vehicles by deploying 12 charging stations throughout our city. These are just three of the 17 innovative ideas contained in the program.
After years of hand-wringing, the City Council finally approved the Tree Ordinance and the Urban Street Design Guidelines.
On the topic of fiscal responsibility:
The City of Charlotte still enjoys a AAA bond rating, even in this recession.
While we are working with $200 million less than the last fiscal year, we have stayed within our means, not raised property taxes and through our dedicated funding stream for capital projects, still managed to put our second-largest bond package in history on the ballot this fall. We are gratified that voters responded so positively to it.
With the help of the Charlotte City Council, I formed a Mayor’s Efficient and Effective Government Review Task Force last year. Yesterday, we received their report. The members of this committee approached their work apolitically. They came with strong finance backgrounds and were tasked with answering two questions: (1) are there chunks of wasteful spending that can be eliminated and re-purposed for the benefit of our community and (2) are there looming threats to the fiscal health of our city? To the first question, their answer was, in effect, no. When a group like this comes together and says you’re operating efficiently, that’s cause for celebrating. To the second question, however, they did find threats, including a public safety pay plan that, at its historical growth rate, will run out of money in the year 2013. Yesterday, the Charlotte City Council directed city staff to convene a staff team, including police officers and firefighters, to develop a restructuring plan. Our goal is to have options on the table in advance of the next budget year.
In public safety:
We have graduated more than 100 recruits through our Police Training Academy. We are adding officers when many other cities are laying them off.
While we still have more work to do, we are near historic lows in the overall crime rate.
We have plans to bring more of our public safety assets closer to the communities we serve with additional police and fire stations on line this year and more coming.
On transportation, there has been major progress:
After years of angry finger-pointing between Charlotte and Raleigh, Governor Beverly Perdue has taken bold steps to address our transportation challenges, including signing a construction contract to complete the I-485 loop by 2015 – a year before construction was scheduled to start. We will also see the southern leg of I-485 widened by 2015 – well in advance of its previous construction start date. She has also made resources available to repair the Yadkin River Bridge, a key to our local and regional economy. She deserves our thanks for her efforts.
We opened a third parallel runway at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, now recognized as the best airport in the world. This new run way will save air carriers $65 million annually and solidifies our competitiveness as a hub for US Airways.
Additionally, the City of Charlotte and Norfolk Southern finally struck an agreement on the intermodal facility at the airport. When completed, this project will generate billions in annual economic impact.
Transit sales tax revenues are back down to 2005 levels. They’ve been trending that way for several years now, and we have known that our 2030 plan is not fully funded. A few weeks ago, the MTC reaffirmed our commitment to the 2030 Plan, while acknowledging the funding challenges. Based on current revenues, we could have developed a plan that would have gotten the Blue Line Extension built by 2029 – leaving a lag of 22 years between completion of our first light rail segment and our next segment. All of us felt that a delay of that magnitude would have been lethal to our transit and land use plans. Instead, through a combination of scope changes, federal lobbying and public private partnerships, we hope to get the Blue Line Extension completed by 2016 and the Red Line commuter rail project completed by 2018.
Additionally, by 2014, we expect to have the first Streetcar segment operating in Charlotte in over fifty years. The federal government has been clear that streetcars will be supported and, as those opportunities emerge, our City Council should be ready to act.
Finally, in the area of housing, we have made substantial progress.
After nearly four years since we adopted the Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness, the Charlotte City Council has finally acted to create the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Coalition on Housing. This Board destroys the silos that have pervaded housing policy in the past. In the old days, one level of government housed people, while another level of government worked to get them on their feet, while non-profits and philanthropists and faith communities worked to stabilize their lives. We have broken the mold, and our goal is to see better coordination of effort on housing issues.
This City Council increased our affordable housing commitment this year from $10 million to $15 million – and voters approved.
While many are too quick to point to rezoning failures, some of which never reached this City Council for decisions, we should be reminded that our Charlotte City Council supported Moore Place, an innovative facility that will provide not only shelter but supportive services to many chronically homeless people. We have also worked for an expansion of McCreesh Place, which recently received approvals from the Housing and Urban Development Department to do so. As long as we have men, women and children sleeping on our streets, we will have more work to do but I am pleased that we are moving the dial forward on this issue.
One other thing: this year, working with our surrounding towns and Mecklenburg County, we fought successfully to keep libraries open. Libraries are a lifeline for so many people, and I thank the City Council and all of our partners for allowing the library system some breathing room while it works to adjust its business model to the new realities of today.
Improving Relations with Raleigh and Washington
We live in a time of unmatched cooperation between our federal, state and local governments. Over the past year, together, we have supported displaced workers by using Recovery Act dollars to:
Expand JobLink programs in conjunction with Central Piedmont Community College to prepare our labor force for the jobs of the future
Launching ProNet, an initiative to support displaced white-collar workers
Creating FastTrac NewVenture, a program to assist unemployed workers who need training to start their own businesses.
Last March, I led a delegation of Charlotte business leaders to Washington, meeting with White House officials on the economy. We took the feedback from those four town hall meetings during meetings with us, and they responded delivering an extension of the 90% guarantee for SBA loans and a Small Business bill. We have received unprecedented attention, including site visits by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and the President of the United States Barack Obama. In the history of our city, we cannot point to a time when we have seen so much attention from so many Cabinet-level officials and the President.
Still More To Do
This year has been challenging for all of us. But, as Jim Lovette always said, it is in those tough stretches when a competitor – or a community – shows its mettle. The state of our city, despite all we’ve been through, is still strong, and we’re putting together the building blocks to make our community even stronger.
Over the last year, we have done things to position our city to strengthen and diversify the economy, to improve quality of life and to improve our relationship with our state and federal partners. As we grapple with a still-stubborn economy, an ongoing set of quality of life challenges and new partners leading our General Assembly and our Congress, we must continue to work on these fronts. Along those lines, I want to say a special word of congratulations to Thom Tillis, our incoming speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives and neighborhood from Cornelius, as well as Phil Berger, the incoming leader of the N.C. State Senate. We look forward to working with you.
Over the next year, as the City Council works to continue these gains, our challenge now is to be even more strategic. Without losing focus on strengthening and diversifying the economy, improving quality of life and improving our relationships in Raleigh and Washington, we must do more. As public sector budgets experience the next great ripple effect of the economic downturn, we must focus on the three Cs: consolidation, collaboration and children.
Last night, our Efficient and Effective Government Task Force reminded us of how successful functional consolidation has been. Several months ago, the Charlotte City Council approved four areas of functional consolidation and, since that time, the Mecklenburg County Commission has done the same. Those areas include: permitting, human resources, broadcast services and fire and medic. With budgets trimming staff, the hard work of pursuing these will be hard. It must be done. Over the next six months, I am calling on city and county staff to develop a plan to consolidate, at a minimum, our permitting functions and as many of these other four ideas as can be done.
Additionally, working in collaboration with other county mayors and our County Commission Chair Jennifer Roberts, I will work to convene our boards, our business leaders and our communities for a community conversation on the pros and cons of full political consolidation. Upon a full airing of these issues, I am confident that most of us will support moving forward -- and even then it may take years of work to complete a fully consolidated city-county government. But it will never happen if we fail to take this step.
By collaboration, I mean greater regional collaboration on transportation and land use in particular. A few weeks ago, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood underscored the reality that scarce federal resources will now be going to regions that have figured out how to plan together and decide together on priorities. For that reason, I am encouraged by the work of the Centrolina Council of Governments evidencing that others in the region are ready to make needed changes. In conjunction with COG and other local governmental leaders, I am proposing to convene in January a regional group to develop a go-forward plan.
Having grown up in this community, I know the power of opportunity. I know what it means to have a good school, good teachers and a supportive community. In recent months, it has become clear that our school system – perhaps our most important breeding ground for the innovative and competitiveness we will need in the future – is facing staggering cuts. This challenges us all to push aside the angst we all feel about our shared history and our shared challenges to focus relentlessly on the challenges our kids face right now.
Recently a bipartisan group of experts have measured the state of America’s children – not distinguishing between kids in public schools, charter schools, parochial schools or private schools, they have found that, among other industrialized nations, we’re 11th in graduating kids from high school, 16th in graduating kids from college and 48th in the quality of K-12 science and math education. In my world, in my country and in my city, we do not take kindly to second place, much less 11th, 16th or 48th. There’s only one rightful place for the children of this community, and that’s first.
To get there, we’ve got to make some changes. So let’s start by looking at what the Charlotte City Council can do. Last year, the City Council looked at reducing funds for school resources officers and crossing guards. If we think about that, that means we’re placing an additional financial burden on the schools when they are facing as much as $100 million in cuts. So I am saying now to my City Council colleagues what I said then: now is not the time. As we go through our budget deliberations this year, we should do everything we can to put that money back in our budget. Additionally, we support afterschool programs. In the past, we’ve had political fights over whether the City should fund afterschool programs or not and, even when decided we should, there have been bitter fights over which programs to fund. The City should fund afterschool programs, and we should ensure that they are reaching as many kids and changing as many lives for the better as possible. I call on the City Council to take a page from the U.S. Department of Education to create a "Race to the Top" approach to afterschool. Let’s allow the innovation and competitive spirit of our community to leverage more reach and even more effectiveness for the children in our community. Finally, we should think about our legislative agenda differently. In the best of times, we could afford government with divided agendas but in this environment we need relentless focus on our community’s core priorities. Of those priorities, education is at the top. It drives job creation, economic growth, reduced crime and a thriving community. As the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System develops its state legislative priorities, this City Council should be prepared to support them in the tough policy fights ahead. We should support lifting the cap on charter schools, extending the school year if needed, any and all initiatives needed to put our children at a competitive advantage against their global competition.
In closing, I want to remind you of a bit of history that bears on the present. During medieval times, some of the most majestic cathedrals in the world were designed. The craftsmen who built them sometimes had only one job – moving a stone from one place to another place. Some of those workers lived all of their days moving stones, knowing they would never see the whole cathedral finished.
When you think about it, our life in the city is kind of like those folks who moved stones. We may never see the final product of the community we’re working to create. But, if we do not move the proper stone to the proper place, the cathedral will never be built.
I wake up each morning thinking about my part of this work. Futures are not built easily or quickly. They are built meticulously – by the combined efforts of us all, stone by stone, brick by brick. Over the next year, let’s never stop being reminded of how futures are built. Let’s keep working for the city we all love. Let’s dig in – in our private lives, our professional lives and especially with our children. Let’s make sure our tomorrows continue to be brighter than today. Thank you.
Mayor Anthony Foxx
State of the City
December 7, 2010