A bill put forward in the Senate Finance Committee Monday would give North Carolina voters the opportunity to approve a $2 billion bond package to support critical infrastructure needs in the state’s public universities, community colleges, National Guard installations and local water and sewer systems.
North Carolina has long faced challenges with its aging infrastructure, a problem intensified by the state’s rapidly growing population and a lack of funding to meet needs because of previous hard economic times. In recent months, Gov. Pat McCrory has advocated for taking advantage of historically low interest rates on government bonds to fund much-needed repairs and replacements of state facilities.
The Senate proposal answers the governor’s call. Based on feedback from the UNC Board of Governors, it would invest more than $900 million to upgrade medical, engineering and other STEM education facilities at 11 public university campuses. It would direct $400 million to the community college system to make improvements at every community college across the state. And it would allocate more than $80 million to the N.C. National Guard to build and modernize needed regional readiness centers.
Finally, the proposal would invest more than $450 million in grant and loan programs to improve water and sewer infrastructure in communities statewide. All 100 counties, along with local municipalities, would be eligible to apply for support, since lawmakers have heard from local government officials about the importance of these upgrades to attracting jobs and economic growth and providing essential services to citizens.
“In order to continue to attract and retain jobs and maintain a high quality of life in North Carolina, we must take care of our basic infrastructure and strengthen our community colleges and universities,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.) “Two billion dollars is a lot of money to ask our taxpayers to borrow, and I hope they will weigh the proposal carefully when deciding how to cast their ballots. But once they consider the long-term value to our state, I’m sure they will agree this bond is a good investment in North Carolina’s future.”
The Senate proposal would only borrow money for education and infrastructure needs, since the state budget passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. McCrory last week invests an additional $705 million over two years in transportation. The additional investment will allow the state to build at least 70 new highway projects, replace hundreds of structurally deficient bridges and resurface thousands of miles of roads – without borrowing money.
If the General Assembly approves the bill and it becomes law, voters would consider the bond proposal on the November 2016 general election ballot.