A concerted push has begun in support of the $2 billion state bond referendum that voters will consider during the March 15 primary election.
During the first week in January, a pro-bond committee will officially launch its campaign to encourage “yes” votes on the bond package during an event at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. It includes more than $1.3 billion for the University of North Carolina and community college systems and $309.5 million for water and sewer loans and grants, along with money for parks, the North Carolina Zoo, the National Guard and the state Department of Agriculture. See the list of projects at VoteYesToInvest.com.
It will be the first time since November 2000 that voters statewide will consider a bond package put on the ballot by the General Assembly. Back then, voters easily voted to borrow $3.1 billion for higher education-related projects.
“Let’s face it, the bonds will provide a critical face-lift for our state, providing long-term infrastructure and facilities that will benefit North Carolinians for generations,” wrote former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who also is co-chairman of the NC Connect Bond Committee, in a recent opinion editorial.
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At first glance, it would appear that this referendum will be a slam dunk. So far, there’s no organized opposition.
But timing is everything.
Rob Christensen, a longtime political writer for the News & Observer, predicts that the referendum will be defeated because of the turnout of conservative voters for the hotly contested Republican presidential primary.
“Do you really think all of those Trump, Cruz and Ben Carson voters are going to be anxious to borrow a lot of money for new government projects?” Christensen wrote.
He might be correct. During the 2015 legislative session, nearly 20 of the more conservative House Republicans voted against putting the bond package on the ballot. And if Hillary Clinton has sewn up the Democratic nomination by March 15, Democrats – who are more likely to support borrowing – might not be as excited to go to the polls.
Another strike against the proposal is that it doesn’t include money for transportation projects. An early version of the bond legislation included $400 million to supplement highway funding, but lawmakers decided there were better ways to find extra transportation dollars.
It’s safe to say that most North Carolinians believe more money is needed for roads.
It’s also safe to say that you’ll be hearing much more about the bond referendum in the coming weeks. The pro-bond campaign already has raised more than $1 million – with hopes of raising much more – to run ads and otherwise get the word out.
You’ll hear that no new taxes will be needed to pay for the bonds, although the money to pay off the debt has to come from somewhere, which means other state priorities might get less money. You’ll hear the borrowing won’t negatively affect the state’s AAA bond rating.
And you’ll hear that the state’s population just topped 10 million people, and better infrastructure is needed to support that influx of new residents.
But just keep in mind that the vast majority – if not all – of the information you will hear about the referendum before March 15 will come from those who want you to vote for it.
We’ll hear from the voices that matter on March 15.
Patrick Gannon is the editor of the NC Insider news service.