RALEIGH – The state’s top brass put aside partisan differences Tuesday, coming together to promote the $2 billion Connect NC bond on Tuesday. The Connect NC Committee ran the event, packing a large room at North Carolina State University’s Hunt Library with lawmakers, cabinet members and high-dollar donors from both sides of the aisle.
The leaders gathered to rally behind the referendum that will go before voters on March 15. Connect NC, the centerpiece of Gov. Pat McCrory’s economic development agenda, is a plan to borrow $2 billion to pay for infrastructure improvements to the state’s universities, community colleges, state parks and rural water and sewer systems. The funds are broken down into projects in 76 counties.
The University of North Carolina system is slated to get $980 million spread across its campuses, community colleges get $350 million, state parks and attractions get $100 million, National Guard and public safety get $87.5 million for readiness and training centers, and more than $312 million goes into a fund for towns and counties to improve water and sewer systems. The governor was there, with his cabinet members, House Speaker Tim Moore and former Lt. Governor Walter Dalton, to kick off the bond’s publicity campaign, “Invest in Our Future”, and urge people to go out and talk it up.
“North Carolina is the big time now and we need to prepare for the future. We have a choice; do we prepare for the future or do we force the next generation to react because of what we didn’t do? This is economically responsible and there will be no tax increase for any citizen in North Carolina,” McCrory said to applause.
“We put aside partisanship and thought a lot about what’s best for North Carolina and came to you with this product,” State Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue (D-Wake) told the crowd. “Go out over the next two months and convince voters that this is a pivotal vote in North Carolina… We have to convince them that this is something that means a better life for their children.”
Supporters of Connect NC say that the measure is part of an effort to take advantage of low interest rates, avoid raising taxes and make overdue infrastructure improvements. The campaign to sell the bond to voters is funded by donations and backed by well-known philanthropists such as Anne Goodnight of SAS, who say the bond’s investments are critical to meeting future educational and job growth targets.
“The vote on this outstanding opportunity for our state is less than three months away,” said Goodnight. “It is my hope that people will understand the great impact of Connect NC on strengthening our economy and expanding the abilities of schools and entering students to meet the demands of high growth fields.”
Agriculture, the state’s largest industry, is a big beneficiary of the bond money, with nearly $180 million going to research and consumer services. Nancy Rosborough, CEO of Mycorrhiza Biotech in Alamance County, picked up two yard signs after the rally and plans to link to the campaign’s voteyestoinvest.com site on her company’s home page. “It’s huge and we need it,” Rosborough said. “So often people talk about what’s good for the economy and what’s good for the state; they skip agriculture and we are built on that. I’m excited that agriculture is included.”
Opponents say that the bond incurs debt that future lawmakers and taxpayers will have to grapple with. But supporters say the cost of borrowing is low, tax increases aren’t on the table, and an increase in the state’s population makes the improvements necessary investments. So far no organized opposition to the bond vote has emerged.
The last time the state raised money with a bond was in 2000. Since then more than two million people have moved into North Carolina, making the state the ninth most populous.
“That’s like the entire state of Nebraska moving here in ten years,” said Jim Rose of Yadkin Bank, who co-chairs the Connect NC committee with the Honorable Bob Orr. Rose told the crowd that the Connect NC Committee has about $750 thousand in private donations on hand for the campaign to promote the bond with more than a million in additional pledges. “There’s no one these projects don’t affect,” he said. “Take yard signs, take placards. We need money, but we also need votes. Go forth and make this an even better state than it already is.”