Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday visited Republican state lawmakers to nudge them to let voters decide his proposal to issue bonds for roads, ports, parks and buildings across North Carolina this year.
Former Budget Director Art Pope, an influential figure in state politics, also attended the closed meeting, held in the Legislative Building’s auditorium. Pope was there to share polling results on the issue.
Recent polling was done by Renew North Carolina, a foundation formed to boost the administration’s agenda, the governor said. Pope said later that the poll results are expected to be made public next week.
The governor didn’t disclose what kind of reception his pitch met with in the GOP caucus meeting, which was attended by Republican legislators from both chambers, including Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.
Republican leaders in the General Assembly have warned the governor that he will have a difficult time convincing some members to spend $3 billion on bond debt to fund highway projects and fix up state facilities. Moore has said he isn’t convinced that the issue should go to voters in November, as McCrory seeks, and notes it would draw a bigger turnout if held during the 2016 presidential primary.
“I know the people of North Carolina are warming up to it,” McCrory said in an interview in his office at the State Capitol afterward. “In fact, the data shows that the people of North Carolina are very much interested in investing in our future roads and parks and universities and community colleges in the future.
“Now as we get the people to start supporting that and are more aware of what we’re recommending, our job is also to communicate to the legislature, and this is part of that process.”
McCrory and members of his administration have been trying to stir up support for the bonds around the state, encouraging people and local officials to let their legislators know that they favor spending the money. Wednesday’s visit to the legislature, where Republicans hold strong majorities in both chambers, was meant to keep that momentum going.
So far, the legislature hasn’t publicly discussed putting the bonds on a ballot, having spent recent weeks focused on writing state budget proposals. But the governor is trying to push ahead to take advantage of low interest rates.
The governor said the longer the state waits, the more the improvements will cost, as his staff anticipates interest rates will go up at the end of this year. He also said considering the state’s population growth, it makes sense to anticipate and not react afterward to more people moving here.
“Right now the major talk inside the Beltline is the budget,” McCrory said. “But I think the people of North Carolina want to know beyond the budget. The people of North Carolina want to know what our plans are next decade, not the next budget cycle or next election.”
Legislators leaving the meeting declined to discuss the meeting, saying the caucus sessions are confidential.