A little less than two and a half months before voters decide a statewide $2 billion bond issue, the campaign to win its passage officially kicked off Tuesday.
More than 450 politicians, educators, representatives of business and others crowded the Duke Energy Room in the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus. They represented segments of the state that would benefit from the bond package: universities and community colleges, agricultural research, water and sewer improvements, the National Guard, state parks and the state zoo.
“There is no one who is not impacted by this bond,” said Jim Rose, regional president at Yadkin Bank and one of the co-chairmen of the campaign, dubbed Connect NC.
That is the sales pitch, along with the fact that the bond issue would not raise taxes and the estimate by the governor’s budget director that it would reduce the state’s debt within five years.
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Speakers pressed the point that it has been 15 years since a statewide bond issue was approved, and in that time the state’s population has grown by 2 million people.
“We have a choice: Do we prepare for the future, or do we want the leaders of the future to have to react to what we didn’t do?” Gov. Pat McCrory said.
The bond proposal has been a high priority for the governor, who has said often that many of the state’s roads and buildings were embarrassingly outdated and that just patching them would be too expensive.
Voters will decide the issue March 15 on a primary ballot crowded with presidential, congressional, legislative and other candidates. If voters approve it, McCrory certainly will cite it as an accomplishment in his general election bid for a second term, where he is likely to face Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper and other members of the Council of State and Cabinet attended the kickoff Tuesday.
Cooper, who supports the bond, said Monday that candidates on the primary ballot should not appear in pro-bond advertising. He said that would imply promotion of the candidate and could harm chances for the bond package to pass.
The state Board of Elections director has advised that it would be legal for the bond campaign committee to use candidates’ images in political material, as long as it doesn’t coordinate with the candidates’ campaigns.
McCrory didn’t get all he wanted in the package, most notably money for transportation projects. He had proposed a $3 billion package evenly split between transportation and infrastructure projects. Still, the General Assembly made budget changes that are expected to generate more transportation money over the next 10 years than McCrory’s bond proposal would have done.
The governor lined up bipartisan support in getting the legislature to approve putting a referendum on the March ballot, and in volunteering to support it.
State Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, tempered the governor’s recent narrative that North Carolina is on the comeback by saying at the rally that unemployment is still too high in parts of the state.
Blue fully endorsed the bond as a way to address that problem and said those in attendance should be able to persuade people to support it, “if we are the leaders we profess to be.”
The bond package would mean an estimated $135 million for projects in the Charlotte area, including $9.6 million for Central Piedmont Community College as well as the state park at Crowders Mountain.
The largest single award, $90 million, would go to UNC Charlotte to build a new science building.
Chancellor Philip Dubois said Tuesday the building would help meet the needs of a growing enrollment. He said half of the school’s students who have declared majors are in fields such as science and technology that would benefit from a new building.
“It’s really just an issue of capacity for us,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time before we get to the point where we say we’re not able to accept more students, at least (those) dependent on our science lab.”
Charlotte Observer staff writer Jim Morrill contributed.