State Politics

Building schools an issue in treasurer’s race

Dan Blue, DEM, NC treasurer; 02.11.16
Dan Blue, DEM, NC treasurer; 02.11.16 AP

A legislative proposal that would have allowed Robeson County to use state money saved from school staff reductions to make lease payments on new schools is an issue in the race for state treasurer.

Dale Folwell, the Republican candidate for the office, says he opposes the plan, one state Treasurer Janet Cowell, a Democrat, fought when it surfaced last spring. Folwell says his Democratic opponent, Dan Blue, is taking campaign money from Robeson County businessmen who are pushing for the deal.

“Finding long-term solutions to school construction needs is a serious matter,” Folwell said. “It cannot be approached on a pay-to-play basis or a patch here, a patch there.”

Blue said contributions will not influence his decisions. Through late October, he’d received a total of $12,000 from two officers from a construction company and an engineer from a Robeson-based firm who wanted the legislature to approve the bill. Blue has raised more than $640,000 for his campaign, reports show.

Folwell has raised about $850,000 for the campaign, including a $350,000 personal loan.

The bill was pushed by businesses in Robeson and a Raleigh architectural firm, but the plan could have been used by any county.

Blue said he wants to work with local governments to find ways for them to build schools and other infrastructure, but he has not committed to any specific new approach. Any legislation would require a detailed review, he said.

“If they are under the illusion that I am not going to adhere to the same rigorous analysis, we certainly can correct them on that,” Blue said.

The bill is likely to be filed again next year, so the debate is expected to continue.

Cowell, who is not running for re-election, opposed the plan last spring because her office determined the deal was financially risky. The Robeson school board would have entered a long-term leasing arrangement that would cost $1.4 billion over 40 years. The state would have been on the hook for the payments if the county couldn’t afford them. With fewer schools, the county would have needed fewer school support staff. The bill would have allowed Robeson to shift state money from personnel to lease payments, an idea Cowell did not like.

A watered-down version of the bill, which removed the state responsibility for paying, passed the Senate unanimously when Cowell dropped her objections. But legislators and Robeson business interests who wanted the original bill worked feverishly on the last day of the legislative session to add the state obligation back in. Time ran out before they could get a House vote.

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner