North Carolina voters will soon decide on a $2 billion spending package. A statewide bond referendum will be on the ballot for the March primary. WFDD's Keri Brown sat down with Neal Charnoff to talk about where the money is going and why many people say it's important to the state's future.
What is this bond referendum?
This week Gov. McCrory unveiled a plan for essentially a $2 billion bond package to be used for infrastructure improvements. A bond is really a fancy word for a loan, so the state will have to persuade voters to say yes to borrowing the money through the referendum. This is the first statewide bond question on the ballot since 2000. Supporters say the measure is needed to accommodate the state's growing population. North Carolina is now the ninth most populated state.
Where is the money is going?
More than 60 percent of the money will go toward new buildings and repairs at campuses in the UNC system and community colleges throughout the state. The goal is to provide more resources to grow employment opportunities and research in science, technology engineering and math or STEM fields. That includes:
- $94 million for an agriculture lab in Wake County.
- There would also be projects for new water and waste water systems.
- The tourism industry would also benefit from this project. Several state parks would receive money to improve the visitor experience, including upgrades at Hanging Rock and Pilot Mountain State Park.
What does the Triad region stand to gain?
A lot. If it passes, possibly $360 million dollars in funding for various projects including:
- A new National Guard readiness center in Guilford County.
- North Carolina A&T State University would get a new engineering building.
- UNC Greensboro would get a new nurse and science lab building.
- Winston-Salem State University and UNC School of the Arts would also receive bond proceeds for new projects and renovations, as well as Forsyth Tech.
- Also the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro would get a new exhibit.
How is this bond funded?
The state has a AAA credit rating, which is very good, and they say that North Carolina is in a good position to borrow the money, because interest rates are at historic lows. They also say the state is paying down its current debt at a rapid pace, so this wouldn't overburden the budget. And they say it's an investment across the state for today and tomorrow.
What support does the referendum have?
There's a little noise from an anonymous group who wants to see the bonds go toward public schools or highways. They've started a website and Facebook page. Highway projects like the Winston-Salem Beltway were originally part of the bond proposal, but that was taken out.
There's also an argument that the state doesn't need to take on more debt period. But overall there is bipartisan support for this bond issue. [It's] something rare but both Democrats and Republicans have shown support for it. During the kickoff earlier this week, we saw leaders from both sides there expressing their support.
What can we expect as we draw closer to the March primary?
The campaign committee Connect NC will be ramping up advertisements for the bond referendum. This is funded through private donations. Now the governor of course can't advocate for the proposal but his administration says he will continue to educate the public about it and reinforce his message that passing this won't increase taxes.
Ultimately though, this $2 billion bond package will be up to voters to decide if it's a good idea and they will decide whether or not these projects really become a reality on March 15.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story showed that an agriculture lab in Wake County would receive $94,000 million, when in fact, the lab would receive $94 million if passed.
Follow Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news