Voters in our neck of the woods would be excused if they begin feeling a bit bond weary.
Chapel Hill placed a $40.3 million bond referendum on last fall’s ballot, funding streets, sidewalks, greenways, trails, wastewater treatment and stormwater improvements. It passed.
This coming fall, Orange County will proffer a $125 million bond referendum, funding school repairs and improvements and other county projects.
But before we tackle it, the state is asking for approval of a $2 billion bond in next month’s primary. What should we think about this one?
Last year, the governor proposed, and the legislature approved, a bond funding capital improvements for North Carolina’s universities, community colleges, state parks, National Guard facilities as well as agricultural research and local water and sewer improvements. This is the first statewide bond since a $3.1 billion package in 2000.
Who will benefit from the bond? Well, the bond drafters were smart. They spread the wealth across the state. Seventy three counties will receive funds directly; the rest are eligible to get water and sewer projects. Fifty eight community colleges and all 17 campuses in our university system will receive the lion’s share of the dollars. Agriculture, our state’s largest industry, will benefit from a new plant science complex, assisting farmers small and large.
How much of that money will end up around here? Our area will get a $68 million new UNC medical school building that will attract more faculty, medical students and staff, plus over $4 million invested in Durham Tech and over $7 million upgrading parks and recreational facilities at Eno River, Jordan Lake, Deep River and the Haw River. It’s fair to say we’ll be getting our fair share of the funds.
Can we afford it? Promoters are quick to say no new taxes will be needed to service the bond. That’s something of a ruse, because tax dollars will be used to make payments. However, the state seems to be in a very good position to budget for the cost. While critics have decried the legislature’s spending decisions, a positive consequence of their fiscal conservatism is one of the strongest financial balance sheets in memory. Some $2 billion of debt has been paid off. Revenues are up — in fact a large surplus is expected — even after (or perhaps because of) a series of tax cuts.
North Carolina is one of only a handful of states with a AAA bond rating from all three agencies. In fact, our bond capacity exceeds the size of this bond package.
Why use a bond? For the same reason businesses use them: to spread the cost of capital improvements over the life of the projects. Since interest rates are so low, bond financing is particularly attractive now.
Are there reasons to oppose the bond? Sure, if you don’t agree how it will be be spent.
If you don’t think our growing and aging population will need more doctors and nurses, don’t vote for this bond. If you don’t think our farmers will need help figuring out how to feed more people more efficiently, don’t vote for this bond. If you don’t think our state economy will need more engineers, mathematicians and scientists or that our labor force will need those skills to get good-paying jobs, don’t vote for this bond. If you don’t believe one of government’s legitimate roles is to provide clean drinking water and good sanitation to our communities, don’t vote for this bond. If you don’t think we need a well prepared National Guard to respond to emergencies natural and manmade, don’t vote for this bond.
Otherwise this may be a pretty easy decision, simpler, perhaps than the presidential choices on the primary ballot. It is certainly less partisan; the governor deserves credit for the rare achievement of bringing both sides of the aisle together behind his initiative.
The best news is it’s your decision. Vote on March 15. Even if you’re not weighing in on a party nomination, there’s a bond ballot waiting for you.
Mark Zimmerman lives and owns a real estate business in Chapel Hill. He can be reached at email@example.com