RALEIGH – Last year the voters of Mecklenburg County overwhelmingly voted “no” to a new taxpayer-funded coliseum for the Charlotte Hornets. Coming just a couple of years after taxpayers hit a similar home run in Guilford and Forsyth by voting down a proposed baseball stadium, the Charlotte vote represented a clear message that North Carolinians weren’t the suckers that the political and media establishment thought they were.

Of course, the usual suspects bleated the usual nonsense. They said that the taxpayers’ victory in Charlotte signified the end of progressive leadership in the state’s largest city, or a costly changing of the guard among corporate executives, or a turn away from “world-class city” status by uninformed rubes and disaffected minorities.

Actually, the explanation was much simpler. Most taxpayers recognized that a downtown – or as the Queen City snobs put it, an uptown – coliseum would benefit specific companies but not really the public at large, and so the former should bear the cost. Among these beneficiaries, by the way, was The Charlotte Observer and other local media who make money on professional sports, though this admission was pretty hard to find.

In any event, the rejection of the Hornets arena was supposed to mean the end of the franchise in Charlotte, except that last week the city’s three largest private companies – Duke Energy, Bank of America, and Wachovia/First Union – announced a deal to invest $100 million in a new version of the project. But I thought we were told that expecting significant private-sector involvement in basketball arenas was unrealistic? That it just wasn’t done that way any more?

The controversy is hardly over. For one thing, this corporate power-troika is getting attacked for hatching its deal in secret, and are giving the public little more than a month to get used to the idea and to cough up $100 million in tax money to seal the deal. I still think that’s outrageous. But notice how far the debate has come – and just because taxpayers stood up for themselves for once.

Kinda makes you wonder what might happen if these big-spending politicians, and the parasitic special interests they feed, got told “no” more often in public votes.