Politics & Government

NC House leaders propose $2.8 billion bond referendum

From left, House Speaker Tim Moore, Gov. Pat McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger appear to have differing views on a proposed bond referendum.
From left, House Speaker Tim Moore, Gov. Pat McCrory and Senate leader Phil Berger appear to have differing views on a proposed bond referendum. hlynch@newsobserver.com

Republican leaders in the state House rolled out their own version of Gov. Pat McCrory’s bond proposal Monday, calling for more infrastructure spending than the governor’s plan.

The House plan mirrors McCrory’s proposal on borrowing numbers: Both feature about $2.8 billion in bonds, which would go before voters in a special November election aimed for timing at taking advantage of low interest rates.

But while the governor wants to split the bonds evenly between transportation and infrastructure projects, the House would direct $2.46 billion of bond money toward infrastructure 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.

“We can get almost 46 percent more without incurring any additional debt, and I think that’s phenomenal,” said Rep. Dean Arp, a Monroe Republican and chairman of the Capital Appropriations Committee. “We believe that this proposal puts forth a great plan that both the Senate and the governor can pivot to.”

The House plan could face opposition in the Senate, where Republican leaders have said they’d rather fund transportation projects without taking on any new debt. A spokeswoman for Senate leader Phil Berger said Monday that Republicans “have expressed interest in considering a bond proposal this session” and “look forward to reviewing and discussing the House proposal.”

House Speaker Tim Moore said the borrowing would make good fiscal sense. “Planning ahead for our future is a good Republican principle,” he said. “It’s a prime opportunity for us to invest in long-term capital growth. ... We’ve really tried to fund some critical needs that we haven’t been able to get to in several years.”

The list of bond projects the House wants to fund differs substantially from McCrory’s original list. House leaders want to increase the amount of bond money going toward education. The House would direct $900 million toward UNC system campuses, up from $500 million in the governor’s plan.

The House has added extra projects for the UNC system, including $58.8 million for a new western campus of the N.C. School of Science and Math, $68.8 million to replace a medical education building at UNC-Chapel Hill, and $124.5 million for a new life sciences and biotechnology building at East Carolina University.

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.

The House plan would cut back on McCrory’s proposed cultural resources projects, dropping four attractions from the bond list and leaving only $10.8 million for a new visitor’s center at the USS North Carolina Battleship in Wilmington. The House project list released Monday doesn’t list specific transportation projects.

Despite the differences in the project lists, McCrory spokesman Graham Wilson issued a statement late Monday praising the House plan.

“We’re pleased that the Connect NC bond proposal continues to gain momentum,” he said. “The House proposal aligns with our plan to invest in North Carolina with a prudent, conservative approach that takes advantage of historically low interest rates and doesn’t raise taxes.”

The bond bill is expected to get a first hearing in the House Finance Committee on Tuesday.