RALEIGH — Documents released by State Treasurer Janet Cowell's office Monday afternoon show her staff raised concerns nearly two weeks before the state announced a plan to borrow tens of millions of dollars from a private contractor to finish I-485 in Charlotte.
They said the contractor loan would add to the state's debt load and that the best approach was for transportation officials to use a type of bond package, called GARVEE bonds, that borrows against future federal funding.
The link in I-485, scheduled to be finished six years ago, has long irritated Charlotte residents and leaders. Gov. Bev Perdue was under pressure to find a solution after promising in February that construction would begin by the end of the year.
Transportation officials initially wanted to borrow $150 million from a contractor, with the state guaranteeing the loan. Officials revised the plan to include $100 million in GARVEE bonds, all that they could, and $50 million in financing by a contractor. Internal e-mail from Cowell's office, however, show skepticism and one reference to the plan as "wild."
Cowell authorizes the issuance of state debt through bonds and oversees its debt load. An e-mail summarizing a meeting between the two agencies indicates, however, that transportation officials deemed Cowell's approval as helpful but not required for the DOT to take out the loan.
"I hope that the Treasurer and DOT had this conversation before the funding mechanism was announced," Perdue said Monday afternoon.
Deputy State Treasurer Vance Holloman was, in fact, attempting to set up a meeting with DOT chief financial officer Mark Foster four days before the announcement, according to e-mails. Holloman was trying to tell Foster that the Treasurer's Office and an outside legal expert from the McGuire Woods law firm concluded DOT did not have the authority to use the new financing plan, according to the documents. Scheduling conflicts prevented the meeting from taking place.
Jim Trogdon, chief operating officer at the transportation department, said Monday that a lawyer on the staff of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper had already told transportation officials that they could make a loan deal with a private contractor. "So what good does it do to come up with an external opinion when we had our own internal opinion that was more than adequate?"
None of the records released shows any communication from the DOT or the governor's office that a deadline or announcement was approaching.
Trogdon said DOT officials stated a seven-day deadline during the Oct. 30 meeting.