NC Gov. Pat McCrory spoke at a meeting held on UNC Wilmington’s campus this past Wednesday, March 9 while students were on spring break to promote the two billion dollar Connect NC public improvement bond that will be listed on ballots during the March 15 primary election.
Of the $980 million that is slated for 14 schools within the UNC school system, $66 million will go towards a new Allied Health Building on UNCW’s campus if the bill is approved.
The other half will go toward bolstering state education, tourism and infrastructure. $350 million will be distributed among all 58 NC community colleges, $309 million will be used for water and wastewater system projects, and lesser sums will go toward state parks, National Guard readiness centers, the North Carolina Zoo and more, according to House Bill 943.
The College of Health and Human Services has seen 85% growth between 2010 and 2015, said Mark Lanier, assistant to the chancellor of UNCW, and that growth is projected to continue.
“We believe that Health Sciences are the most likely to receive the greatest growth in the years to come,” said Chancellor Sartarelli. “There’s nothing more important — not just to provide great healthcare, but to provide cost-effective healthcare.”
McNeil Hall, where the College of Health and Human Services is now stationed, will not be able to hold the programs that the university plans to add, according to Sartarelli.
The new building will stand between McNeil Hall and the Teaching Laboratory Building, and preliminary visual renderings show that it will include a walk-through archway for pedestrians and cyclists passing through on Chancellor’s Walk.
The service life of the bond will be 50 years, and it will be financed over 20. No new taxes will need to be collected, officials say, because of recent strong revenue growth in NC and the retiring of previous debt.
The bill was given its name, Connect NC, because it was proposed by McCrory two years ago as a three billion dollar bond with a greater emphasis on transportation construction projects. The name remains, but its focus has been shifted towards education improvements.
There is a “skills gap” in NC, said McCrory, and the state needs to strengthen its programs in skilled labor education to meet the demands of the ninth largest population in the US.
“We have infrastructure that has not kept pace with our population,” said McCrory. “People want to move here, and we want to make sure we have the facilities to do just that.”
The bond appeals to his fiscally conservative values, McCrory said, because he knows proposed projects will cost more later on.
Opponents of the bill say McCrory has no control over the economy or over future legislative actions — they say the debt could be two billion dollars less without the bond’s passing, and this bill is a distraction from a more worthwhile focus of paying down the state debt.
“A bond is not free money. I consider it to be deferred taxation for future generations,” said Nicole Revels, director of NC Against the Bonds, in an interview with WCQS’s David Hurand.
The items listed on the bond should be considered individually, said Revels, and if they have merit, then they should be prioritized during the budget adoption process rather than lumped into the same bill.
But the projects listed in the bond are necessary and will be carried out regardless of whether or not Connect NC passes on March 15, the governor says.
“I wouldn’t have proposed the bill if I didn’t think it had good, strong bipartisan support,” said McCrory. Interest rates are at a low point, the governor said, and it is very common to borrow money at low interest rates.
“I would say if you don’t do these projects now, it’s going to cost the taxpayer much more money,” said McCrory. “It’s not if we want to do this, but when.”