N.C. bonds package will help roads and much more

Phil Kirk
Phil Kirk

From Phil Kirk, President/CEO Emeritus, NC Chamber:

Gov. Pat McCrory has presented the General Assembly with an opportunity to fund $2.8 billion worth of needed investments in public education, parks, public health, roads, ports and the military through his CONNECT NC program.

The bonds, which would require a vote of the people, can help us catch up on many projects which have been delayed due to the economic downturn we have experienced in recent years.

Passage of the bonds will have a huge impact on the economy in North Carolina through the creation of 27,000 short-term jobs, a boost which the construction industry needs. In addition, more than 4,300 long term jobs will be created.

We are falling behind with our transportation needs due to a lack of funding. Few people realize that we are now the ninth largest state and will move to number seven in the near future. While this is great news, it does result in the need to constantly improve our infrastructure.

The governor’s $1.37 billion bond package for roads will fund 27 highway projects and 176 paving projects in 57 counties. The projects were not chosen by the old-fashioned political process, but by the new mobility formula which puts the money where it is needed most.

Included in the CONNECT NC transportation plan is $300 million of non-highway investments, including $50 million for rail projects and $200 million to improve the ports at Wilmington and Morehead City. This would aid economic development throughout the state through improved intermodal facilities which will move freight more efficiently.

The CONNECT NC through higher education investment will send $534 million to the UNC System to build new science, technology, engineering, and math facilities, as well as renovating current buildings as we work to make sure we provide the workforce needed currently and in the future – another key factor in attracting new jobs. All 58 community colleges will share in $200 million for needed repairs and renovations. Community colleges are key to reducing the skills gap.

These needed investments will not require a tax increase and will not put a strain on the state budget. Interest rates are low now but are expected to be raised later this year or in early 2016. Operational costs, especially in older buildings, will actually be reduced by increased efficiency.

Local officials from throughout the state are supporting these bonds because of the dramatic need for these improvements, but also because their budgets are stretched to the point they cannot afford to make these investments locally.

While the McCrory administration is open to changing some of the priorities, I would respectfully urge that the process not become a pork barrel charade where politics determines the funding priorities.

We urge the legislature and the governor to move ahead in a bipartisan manner because I am convinced the voters will overwhelmingly say yes to this forward-thinking good deal.