The state House voted 86-23 Monday night to schedule a $2 billion bond referendum for higher education, parks and other infrastructure next March.
Supporters argued that investing in the university system exponentially impacts the advancement of jobs, technology and growth in North Carolina.
Rep. Dean Arp, a Monroe Republican, said it’s a smart, fiscally conservative plan that does not involve a tax increase. “We are writing a new story for North Carolina, looking ahead and leading for decades into the future,” he said while introducing the bill on the floor.
While the bond has been a priority for Gov. Pat McCrory, who’s been lobbying for the “Connect NC” plan for month, some conservative lawmakers warned against putting the state back into debt.
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Rep. Mark Brody, a Monroe Republican, said he’s sticking to a debt-free plan, citing the Republican promise to pull the state out of its $8 billion debt when conservatives took the majority.
“We said we weren’t going to borrow,” Brody said. “Four and a half years later we pay down the debt. We are going to go back up again, but now it’s OK because we are Republicans, and we can do this.”
Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, said he would have supported the bond for roads – which was a major portion of McCrory’s original plan – but not for unneeded university and school buildings.
“It’s Christmas for UNC and community colleges who will be getting money for buildings they don’t need and a lot of which they didn’t ask for,” Speciale said. “This makes no sense whatsoever.”
He went on to ask how informed voters will really be about the bond projects when they see it on the ballot in March.
Brody suggested that the universities and colleges wouldn’t need these extra buildings if they made full use of the current ones by filling the 8 a.m. class periods, for example.
Rep. Larry Hall, a Durham Democrat, said the projects in the bond are greatly needed, but questioned the method of paying for them. He asked who would be picking up the tab on this loan, and urged that it should not disproportionately fall on the backs of the working class.
A final vote is expected Tuesday to send the bond bill to McCrory.