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N.C. Opinions: Winston-Salem

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Right idea on infrastructure, but more money is needed

From an editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal on Tuesday:

More than three decades ago, an oil-filter ad introduced a phrase to Americans: “You can pay me now or pay me later.” It noted that regular oil changes were far less expensive than rebuilding an auto engine.

The State Construction Office has been preaching the same lesson for years, only to be ignored by governors and legislators.

The Triangle Business Journal has reported that the construction office estimates today’s repairs and renovations needs at $3.9 billion, the result of more than a decade of budget indifference. Now state agencies are looking into leasing space in Raleigh because their state-owned facilities are so decrepit.

Gov. Pat McCrory wasn’t on the job long before he rightly announced his intention to refocus state attention on maintaining the state’s $25.6 billion building inventory. His first budget included $150 million for repairs and renovations.

While Speros Fleggas, the state construction officer, cheered that appropriation – one much larger than in previous years – it is discouraging to calculate how insufficient it is. At $150 million a year, it would take 26 years just to fix what is broken or in bad shape today. And that math only works if prices don’t increase, an unlikely scenario.

More must be done.

Fleggas says a healthy maintenance and repairs budget runs 2-to-4 percent of capital value. In that case, the state needs close to $1 billion a year, considering how long our infrastructure has been ignored.

McCrory and legislators have a long list of spending needs, including highway and technology infrastructure and salary increases for teachers and state workers. So writing a billion-dollar check isn’t likely.

But that doesn’t mean we can continue with a maintenance budget that only puts us further behind.

Yes, appropriations are needed, but so are alternative ideas.

The legislature should be studying the problem, looking at bonds, facility consolidation, possible state property sales and possibly new construction. It’s clear that we’re paying more now for what we ignored in the past. To continue to ignore the TV ad’s advice is bad business and irresponsible governance.

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