Voters to decide first state bond referendum in 15 years

MONEY MATTERS: Primary voters heading to the polls on March 15 will also weigh in on the Connect NC Bond package, which would provide 2 billion dollars to upgrading infrastructure on North Carolina's university and community college campuses, renovating state parks and other statewide infrastructure projects. Chart reproduced from connect.nc.gov.

Besides weighing in on assorted candidates for public office, voters in the March 15 primaries will also have the chance to help decide whether North Carolina should issue $2 billion worth of bonds to address various infrastructure needs.

The Connect NC campaign would fund upgrades for the state’s university system and community colleges as well as parks, National Guard armories and water and sewer projects.

In Western North Carolina, $110 million would pay for a new science, technology, engineering and math building at Western Carolina University. UNC Asheville would get $21.1 million to improve its facilities, while $38.9 million would be divided among the region’s community colleges. An additional $13.2 million would be allocated for renovations and improvements in WNC state parks, including Grandfather Mountain, Lake James and Chimney Rock.

Gov. Pat McCrory has touted the bond issue as a way to address critical infrastructure needs while preparing for continued population growth in North Carolina. The move is supported by McCrory’s Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

State Rep. John Ager, whose 115th District covers northern and eastern Buncombe County, says he’s “in full support of the bond issue,” noting that “Institutions in North Carolina have been deferring maintenance and building projects since 2008. It will be of particular help to Western Carolina University, along with UNCA and A-B Tech. There will be some investment in Gorges State Park, as well as Chimney Rock Park in my neighborhood. There will be money spent for National Guard buildings and for important agricultural research facilities. Treasurer Janet Cowell has approved the bond, and North Carolina remains at the highest AAA bond rating.

“Because of the tax cuts that benefit corporations and upper-income individuals,” continues Ager, “the state does not have the revenue for a pay-as-you-go approach … and the price tag on these projects will only increase.”

Norman Bossert, a Democratic candidate in the 48th Senate District, says the bond money would help address “some capital issues that have gone on too long and not been taken care of. There’s some 74 institutions in 76 counties that are going to benefit from this. From the coast to the mountains, everybody’s going to get something.” The Senate district includes south Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania counties.

Improving state park facilities, adds Bossert, also makes economic sense for WNC. “The theory is, when they make improvements to the sewage systems and water systems, they’ll be even more attractive as tourist stops. That can benefit the economy here quite a bit.”

Not every candidate concurs, however. “Any referendum on a primary ballot I oppose, period,” declares Dennis Justice, a Republican candidate for the 48th Senate District. But he goes even further, proposing a constitutional amendment that would limit bond terms to four years, with no refinancing allowed. “This will force us to stop wasting money on palaces,” he asserts, adding, “Teachers and curriculum are far more important than fancy buildings.”

Meanwhile, fellow Republican Lisa Baldwin, who’s running in the same Senate district, has spoken out against the way the bond issue has been presented to voters. “Originally,” she says, “it contained funding for roads, but it was removed by the Legislature. The bond’s still called Connect NC, which misleads citizens into thinking it’s for transportation needs.”

Baldwin also questions how some of the money would be used — particularly by the colleges and state parks — and whether lawmakers have properly reviewed a measure that she says would saddle the next generation of Tar Heel residents with substantial debt.

“Voters are being asked to approve a bond package without knowing what’s in it,” she contends. “While some projects are worthy, have they been properly vetted? I urge citizens to vote against it and legislators to prioritize projects, appropriating funds only for those that are truly necessary.”

Bossert, though, says that while he wishes voters had had more time to study the proposal, he believes its aim and structure have been adequately reviewed. “What I like best about this bill is that it’s strongly supported in a bipartisan fashion,” he notes. “The person I’m trying to replace — [retiring longtime Republican legislator] Tom Apodaca — supports the bond. All the Democrats support it, and most of the Republicans do, too. This tells me that everyone is pretty content that the way it’s being presented is honest and upfront.”

According to connect.nc.gov, the campaign’s official website, the bond issue will “allow us to pay for 50-year assets with 20-year financing. No tax increases are necessary to finance the bond, given our strong revenue growth and ample debt service capacity.”

Bossert also cites North Carolina’s track record, noting that “The state is paying off a previous 20-year bond in 2017 — three years early.” That, he says, enables it to take on additional bond debt without “visible increases in taxes to anyone.”

And with interest rates so low, “There’s probably never been a better time for the state to borrow money,” he believes.

For more information on the Connect NC bond referendum, how the General Assembly plans to pay for the bonds and an itemized list of projects to be funded, visit connect.nc.gov.

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About Max Hunt
Max Hunt grew up in South (New) Jersey and graduated from Warren Wilson College in 2011. History nerd; art geek; connoisseur of swimming holes, hot peppers, and plaid clothing. Follow me @J_MaxHunt

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13 thoughts on “Voters to decide first state bond referendum in 15 years

  1. Yep

    This is a heinous proposal by so called conservative republicannots…they should be ashamed of themselves, yet all the ‘crackkks
    LOVE it of course…mo money to be paid back by YOUR children over 20+ years – $100MILLION per year payments, when NC
    has the incoming revenue to fund most all of this without borrowing. Read all about the many reasons to VOTE NO on the
    ‘connectNC’ Bond SCAM ! http://www.AgainsttheBond.com tell everyone you know not to fall for this lie, as taxes WILL rise to
    pay it when you have forgotten about it…

  2. AVL LVR

    Vote absolutely NO!! Simply unbelievable the state would squander $980 million on a failed college system (UNC). If they can’t make it on their own like private universities do, they need to go out. Free online education is the wave of the future for many fields anyways.

    • hauntedheadnc

      You think private colleges and universities aren’t propped up by government spending?

      Really? You sure about that?

      Also, by what measure is the UNC system failing, except in areas where our Republican overlords are deliberately setting it up to fail?

      • Yep

        UNC, especially Cheater Hill has become a BLOATED EMBARRASSMENT to our once great state…now, to think that a
        group of ‘conservatives’ would seek to give UNC $980MILLION is an OUTRAGE!

        WHEN are they gonna cut STAFF and OUTRAGEOUS SALARIES ? For Example, just look at the Chancellors’ salaries..
        Mary Grant at UNC-A should be ashamed to show her face in public!

        • Hauntedheadnc

          It’s really cute the way you think that in an era when the rest of the world kicks America’s ass in education, that our biggest concern should be shrinking and cutting a university systemt hat used to be the envy of the nation.

          • Yep

            key words: ‘used to be’… yes perhaps, but now just a corrupt and criminal bloated mess run into the ground
            by power mongering liberal elitists, mostly democrackkks. UNC is a sick joke on NC…

          • Lulz

            LOL, money isn’t the problem. After all, all those young suckers who get into debt so these schools can profit and use the funds to pay cronies six figures on top of amenities to lure more suckers aren’t part of the problem lulz. Why never question where the money is going LOL. Just attach some catchy phrase like “education” or “it’s for the children” and blindly hand over your money LOL. I keep seeing bumper stickers claiming that critical thinking is lacking LOL. So is criticizing the scam known as government, college, and the USA apparently lulz.

        • luther blissett

          Well, you certainly come across as well-educated, even-minded, and deeply knowledgeable about the scope and budgetary concerns of the UNC System.

          Bonds are generally the way to pay for long-term high-cost capital infrastructure projects: if you have a work pension or some kind of mutual fund, it’s probably invested in muni bonds to some degree. Interest rates are still at historic lows and won’t get any lower any time soon.

          (Dennis Justice’s talk of “fancy buildings” is plain dumb: when teachers and students have to deal with leaky ceilings or broken HVAC or other consequences of deferred maintenance, education suffers.)

          It would be nice if state legislators accepted that if you want to maintain infrastructure and avoid having to replace things early or pay extra to keep things patched up, that needs to be paid out of taxes, but Art Pope and ALEC won’t let that happen.

          • Lulz

            LOL, and how much do the sports programs take in??? Where’s this money going? On top of the high tuition? Why do these places need constant handouts when what they charge is obscene and what they take in is criminal?

          • luther blissett

            LOL lulz LOL L!U!L!Z!1!1 maybe all of those numbers are public records that you could find out for yourself LOL lulz [some stupid pretend laughter like you’re the fricking Joker] etc.

  3. AVL LVR

    Those slackers aren’t going to shoot hoops and live in a resort with my $$$. Most of the degrees are completely worthless anyways, and the staff are grossly overpaid.

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