Politics & Government

McCrory, looking ahead, says more bond borrowing will be crucial

Gov. Pat McCrory appears on stage Wednesday with TradeMark Properties founder Billie Redmond at the North Carolina CEO Forum in Cary.
Gov. Pat McCrory appears on stage Wednesday with TradeMark Properties founder Billie Redmond at the North Carolina CEO Forum in Cary. acurliss@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory told a business-friendly audience at a forum in Cary on Wednesday that, if re-elected, he would push for additional borrowing of at least $1 billion to pay for roads and transportation infrastructure across the state.

McCrory said he believes the state needs that type of bond borrowing plan and that he would push for it in a second term if he is “back in office” after next year’s election.

He was speaking to gathered business leaders, who were attending the North Carolina CEO Forum at the Prestonwood Country Club.

The comments came as McCrory discussed a separate $2 billion bond referendum, known as “NC Connect,” that will be on the March 15 ballot. That plan would pay for university and community college initiatives as well as some state parks improvements and National Guard infrastructure.

McCrory had pushed for the more borrowing for transportation in this year’s legislative session, but key lawmakers showed little appetite for it. Instead, lawmakers have said they are directing more money into a pay-as-you-go plan to fund roads building and maintenance.

On Wednesday, McCrory said of the March 15 bond plan, “We should have made it bigger.”

He said he had “failed” to secure the transportation portion of the funding but would try again.

“I’ll need your help,” McCrory said.

He also said he disagreed with efforts in the legislature to curb funding for mass transit, calling it “disappointing.” McCrory highlighted his support of a light rail line and more bus routes while he was mayor of Charlotte.

He said North Carolina, now ninth in U.S. population, will likely be seventh within 10 to 15 years. He said providing choices in modes of transportation will be critical.

“We have to prepare for growth,” the governor said.

He said the NC Connect bond referendum will not require increased taxes and would be an important step in helping to create jobs, especially in technology and science.

McCrory appeared at the forum on a stage in a ballroom, seated with Billie Redmond, founder of TradeMark Properties, who asked questions. McCrory also took a few questions from the audience.

Some tidbits:

▪ McCrory said he is working to ensure N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke – as well as others – work closely in efforts to secure federal research funding. “We have to get out of the basketball rivalry,” the governor said, adding that he doesn’t care about mascots. “I care about creating jobs.”

▪ He gave indications that several significant job recruitment projects are underway. He did not mention that lawmakers recently provided more funding for incentives after that program had run dry. He said he is in active talks with “major, major industries.”

▪ Asked what most concerned him, McCrory said issues surrounding mental health and addiction are serious and deserve more attention. He mentioned difficulty in forecasting the state’s share of funding in Medicaid. He said a $525 million overrun several years ago was “why teachers did not get raises.” “It was a huge hit,” he said. “We’ve got to get control of that cost.”

▪ He said he believes the Research Triangle region can be a third anchor of the nation’s research triangle, acknowledging the prominence of Boston and Silicon Valley in that regard. He said the talent, costs and quality of life in the RTP area is unmatched and it’s a message he is pitching to key industries. McCrory said governors and officials in Austin, Texas; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and beyond are also seeking to make that claim. He also mentioned South Carolina and several other nations as competitors.

▪ McCrory also hit on a common theme in discussing education, saying the state needs to do better at matching degree programs with needed jobs.

J. Andrew Curliss: 919-829-4840, @acurliss