The N.C. House voted Thursday to move a proposed $2.85 billion bond referendum from November to the presidential primary. A final 76-29 vote sent the entire proposal to the Senate.
The original bond bill introduced earlier this week called for a November referendum – the preference of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said any delays would result in higher interest rates and more costly borrowing. The bond bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe, made the same argument earlier this week.
But minutes before the House’s final vote on the bill, Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Duplin County Republican, proposed an amendment to put the issue before voters during next year’s presidential primary. The state’s primary date hasn’t been formally set, but legislation recently approved in the Senate would hold the election on March 15. That bill still needs to pass the House but has support from top Republicans.
Dixon didn’t speak about his reasons for the change, and no one else spoke before the 89-11 vote to hold the referendum next year. But the original November plan had drawn criticism that turnout would be low because only municipal elections are on the ballot this year – and some precincts don’t have elections scheduled at all.
The plan would direct $2.46 billion toward infrastructure projects like university and school construction and $400 million toward transportation. An additional $1.3 billion in transportation projects would be funded through budget allocations without borrowing, under the House plan.
The House bond package focuses more heavily on state facility construction than Gov. Pat McCrory’s original proposal, which split bond proposals evenly between infrastructure and transportation projects. And while McCrory’s bond package didn’t allocate bond money toward K-12 education, the House would put $500 million into a “public schools capital assistance program” to help fund new construction and renovations.
Much of Thursday’s debate centered on a $58 million allocation to build a western campus of the N.C. School of Science and Math. House Democratic Leader Larry Hall unsuccessfully proposed several amendments that would have stripped that funding and instead direct more money to education or military projects.
Hall, who has the school’s main campus in his Durham district, said the project isn’t on construction priority lists developed by the UNC Board of Governors. The Durham school has residence halls, but legislators from the western side of the state said the new campus is greatly needed.
“Our children have been disadvantaged,” said Rep. Mike Hager, a Rutherford County Republican. “How many of you parents want your children 15 or 16 years old to travel four hours? Why would we deny the right for those children to have the same advantage as children in Orange or Durham County?”
Triangle items in bond proposal
▪ $85 million for a Department of Agriculture and N.C. State partnership's plant sciences building
▪ $105 million for a Department of Agriculture lab facility
▪ $7.5 million to renovate the Taylor Building at N.C. Central University
▪ $7.4 million for a residence hall at the N.C. School of Science and Math
▪ $68.8 million to replace a medical education building at UNC-Chapel Hill
▪ $65.1 million for a new engineering building at N.C. State University
▪ $38.2 million for a Highway Patrol training academy in Wake County
▪ $24.3 million for construction at Wake Tech