Wake GOP opposes Raleigh’s $75 million transportation bond

ccampbell@newsobserver.comAugust 21, 2013 

— While Wake County Republican leaders were divided over the proposed school bond referendum, nearly all of them voted to oppose Raleigh’s $75 million transportation bond issue.

The city’s debt load is too high and some of the projects aren’t necessary, Wake GOP Chairwoman Donna Williams said Wednesday. Most members of the party executive committee favored road-widening projects, but they didn’t approve of streetscape projects and improvements for bicyclists.

“There were some things on there that a few of us felt, with the economy what it is, are not necessary,” Williams said.

The Oct. 8 bond referendum – the biggest in Raleigh’s history – would fund 14 multimillion-dollar road projects as well as smaller sidewalk and traffic-calming measures. If the bond passes, Raleigh residents will see a property tax hike of 1.12 cents per $100 valuation next year – about $33 more on the tax bill for a $300,000 house.

Most of the bond money would go to widening busy roads like Buck Jones and Sandy Forks. Republicans took issue with a proposed extension of pedestrian-friendly Hillsborough Street changes –namely roundabouts, new sidewalks and bike lanes. Blount and Person streets downtown would also get a bike-friendly makeover.

“To me, that’s a nice thing to have, but do we have to have it?” Williams said. “Some of this is like a wish list. We were trying to be fiscally responsible in looking at this.”

City council members have argued that the projects are needed to address Raleigh’s increasing population and traffic woes. They briefly considered a larger bond amount, but they scrapped several projects such as a widening of Western Boulevard and a rapid-transit bus line, in order to keep the tax hike near a penny.

Raleigh’s finance officer and interim city manager, Perry James, said the city’s debt load isn’t a cause for concern.

“As we’ve shown a number of times, the city’s debt levels are moderate and manageable,” James said, noting that debt payments typically represent 10 percent of total budgets. “If you look at other major localities, you’d find a ratio that’s somewhat higher than that.”

Borrowing $75 million for road improvements, James said, won’t change that, since it’s a small amount compared to Raleigh’s $1.5 billion total debt load.

Despite the reassurances, Williams says the debt is still a cause for concern. “We just were not comfortable adding too much to it,” she said.

The Wake GOP’s vote isn’t the first hit the bond issue has taken from Republicans. In June, Wake County Commissioners’ Chairman Joe Bryan asked Raleigh leaders to postpone the vote, saying he worried it might hurt the school bond.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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