State Politics

McCrory proposes $3 billion in bonds for fall vote

State Budget Director Lee Roberts, left, addresses members of the media, as N.C. Governor Pat McCrory listens in the Joint Force Headquarters Media Briefing Room in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, March 5, 2015. They unveiled the governor's proposed 2015-2017 budget for the state.
State Budget Director Lee Roberts, left, addresses members of the media, as N.C. Governor Pat McCrory listens in the Joint Force Headquarters Media Briefing Room in Raleigh, N.C. on Thursday, March 5, 2015. They unveiled the governor's proposed 2015-2017 budget for the state. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory wants voters to decide this fall on two $1.5 billion plans to borrow money to fund highway projects and fix up state facilities.

Proposals to sell bonds appeared in the details of budget legislation filed Thursday by Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary, the top House budget writer. McCrory plans to highlight the proposal Friday afternoon with a formal announcement in Winston-Salem.

The amount of the two bonds is larger than McCrory called for in his State of the State speech in February. He said then that each bond would range from $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion.

Both the House and Senate must approve any plan.

State Budget Director Lee Roberts said the higher amount gives state agencies more flexibility while keeping the state well within its debt capacity.

“There’s no appetite for doing anything that comes anywhere near jeopardizing our credit rating,” Roberts said Thursday evening.

The legislation says the election will take place this fall, with only low-turnout municipal elections on ballots. No date is set. Roberts said the state can’t wait a year because interest rates are expected to rise.

“I think the interest rate environment trumps any of those kinds of considerations,” he said.

The $1.5 billion transportation bond includes about 20 road projects across the state. In the Triangle, the list includes $35 million to finish the four-lane widening of U.S. 401 between Raleigh and Louisburg, as well as $26.6 million for road and railroad improvements along Hillsborough Street and Blue Ridge Road in West Raleigh. The most expensive project is the Interstate 74 eastern bypass of Winston-Salem, listed in documents at a cost of $300 million.

The separate $1.5 billion infrastructure bond would upgrade dozens of state facilities in 64 of 100 counties across North Carolina, Roberts said. The list doesn’t include many state office building projects in Raleigh, where McCrory has proposed renovations through an initiative he calls “Project Phoenix.”

Roberts said those would be undertaken separately.

The money would be spread across each state agency, from state parks to university campuses. The most expensive projects would upgrade state ports in Morehead City and Wilmington, at a combined cost of $200 million.

About $500 million would go to 10 UNC system campuses. No projects are on the list at UNC-Chapel Hill. N.C. State University would receive $77 million for an engineering building, and N.C. Central University would receive $4 million for its School of Business.

Other parts of the plan:

▪ $25.56 million for the State Highway Patrol’s Training Academy in Wake County.

▪ $3.2 million to renovate state-owned historic homes on Raleigh’s Blount Street.

▪ $3 million in renovations to Dorton Arena at the State Fairgrounds.

▪ $24.2 million for exhibits at the N.C. Zoo in Asheboro.

▪ Roughly $70 million to upgrade facilities at 28 state parks, including Falls Lake and Jordan Lake.

Roberts said the infrastructure projects were selected from agency requests. “We asked each agency for its capital needs, prioritized in order,” he said. “That helped inform our selection. ... We were trying to ensure strong geographic diversity.”

That could help the McCrory administration sell the package to voters. The two proposals would be the biggest borrowing package put to voters since 2000, when a $3.1 billion bond for new community college and university facilities passed with 73 percent of the vote.

Roberts said bond proposals have seen “very broad and deep support” in the past.

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Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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