A concerted push has begun in support of the $2 billion bond referendum that voters will consider during the March 15 primary election.
Earlier this month, during an event on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, a pro-bond committee officially launched its campaign to encourage “yes” votes on the bond package. 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 projects.
“Let’s face it, the bonds will provide a critical facelift for our state, providing long-term infrastructure and facilities that will benefit North Carolinians for generations,” former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr, who is co-chairman of the NC Connect Bond Committee, in a recent column.
At first glance, it would appear that this referendum will be a slam dunk. So far, it has no organized opposition.
But timing is everything.
Rob Christensen, longtime political writer for the News & Observer, predicts the referendum will fail 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 the state needs more money 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 North Carolina will need no new taxes 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 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 writes about state government and politics.