NC passes $2 billion bond for infrastructure

Wednesday, March 16, 2016
McCrory on NC Connect
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The governor speaks on the passage of the NC Connect Bond.

CHARLOTTE -- North Carolina voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to borrow $2 billion to pay for a laundry list of infrastructure projects.

The bond package, backed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic leaders, won two-thirds of the vote. Their argument was the state has added 2 million people since the last borrowing package was approved in 2000, and that kind of growth and the passage of time requires spending money.

About two-thirds of the bonds will go toward new buildings, repairs and renovations at all University of North Carolina system and community college campuses. The rest would go for local government water and sewer projects and construction money for parks, the North Carolina Zoo, the National Guard and the Department of Agriculture.

"I believe in public education, and with interest rates so low it is the most effective way of dealing with capital costs," said John Suddath, 80, who voted at a school in Raleigh near North Carolina State University.

Suddath said he wishes the state would have borrowed more with cheap interest rates and used that money to improve roads and bridges. McCrory asked for a bigger bond package to include road projects, but legislators turned him down, opting to pay for roads through transportation funds.

There wasn't much organized opposition to the bond bill. Critics said there were unnecessary projects on the list, and the things that needed to be built or repaired could be paid for without borrowing. But they acknowledged they had a tough fight.

One of the main groups against the bond, the NC Against the Bond committee, raised $2,100 through February, according to campaign finance reports filed earlier this month. The pro-bond Connect NC Committee raised more than $2 million for a multi-media campaign effort including television and online ads and mailers.

Bond supporters said the state should not have to raise taxes to pay back the debt. They also said North Carolina's debt load should be less by 2020 than it is today, even with the additional borrowing. A state debt affordability study also says the new debt shouldn't affect the state's triple-A bond rating, which keeps borrowing costs low.

Democratic former Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton joined McCrory along with a number of other state officials in the push to pass the bond referendum.

The Council of State will have to sign off on issuing the debt, but that is a routine step since lawmakers have already decided where to spend the money.

The bond package will give $980 million for the University of North Carolina system with many construction projects on 14 campuses targeting science, math and engineering. All 58 community colleges in North Carolina will split $350 million, with local matching funds needed for new construction.

More than 40 state parks will share $75 million. The state will spend $70 million to construct National Guard readiness centers in Guilford, Burke and Wilkes counties and $25 million to replace the Africa Pavilion at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

Nearly $310 million will go to water and wastewater system projects, with $100 million of the amount earmarked for grants and the rest for loans.

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