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Phil Kirk: Vote ‘yes’ on bond, invest in our future

By Phil Kirk

For the Salisbury Post

North Carolina has grown by 2 million people since the last statewide bond issue 15 years ago. We are now the ninth largest state out of 50 and are rapidly heading toward the seventh spot. With this growth comes infrastructure needs which can be met in a variety of ways.

N.C. voters will have an opportunity to vote for $2 billion in new investments for new construction, repairs and renovations on Tuesday, March 15.

More than half of the funds will be invested in our 58 community colleges and our University of North Carolina System. In the UNC system, the money will be used to help close the skills gap in the areas of science, math, engineering, technology and business. Each community college will receive funds for repairs and renovations in order to better educate our workers for today and tomorrow.

Rowan-Cabarrus Community College will receive more than $7 million if the bond is approved. These are much-needed funds which will not need to be provided by increased property taxes.

Other beneficiaries of the bond will be investments in our 100-year-old parks system, water and sewer projects, national guard armories, agriculture, and the N.C. Zoo, one of our state’s most important tourist attractions. All of the areas have been severely neglected in recent years and now is the time to make some much needed improvements.

Why now? Other than the need for these projects, interest rates for borrowing are at an all-time low and can be expected to begin rising soon. Our AAA bond rating, which only nine states enjoy, will be protected even with this additional debt. Taxes will not be increased to pay off the bond because of our low indebtedness and an existing line item in our state’s budget. In fact, our debt in five years will be lower than it is today even if we borrow $2 billion.

North Carolina has long been a forward-thinking state but one which has strong, conservative fiscal principles and policies. This bond carries out that tradition while also improving the quality of education and quality of life in our great state.

To those who may oppose the bond because there is no money for K-12 school construction, I would respectfully ask that they reassess their position. First, school construction is historically primarily the responsibility of local taxpayers through tax revenues and local bonds, which Rowan voters have supported in the past. Second, too large a state bond package would have risked failure at the polls. Third, the projects in the statewide bond package cover more than one county and most have statewide implications so they need to be voted on by all the citizens.

Another segment of the population may oppose the bond because there is no money for highway improvements which the governor proposed in a second bond. Instead the General Assembly stopped the long-standing but unwise transfer of funds from the highway budget to the general fund budget in the last session. That freed up $400-500 million more dollars per year for transportation without borrowing.

To be candid, I thought for a second or two about opposing the bond as a protest against the Senate’s removal of the money for the North Carolina Transportation Museum which the governor and some House members supported. However, that would have been shortsighted and the museum is eligible for general revenue funding and inclusion in a future bond package.

I had the opportunity to chair the working committees for successful bonds for education and highways in 1996 and 2000. Both passed overwhelmingly and the total indebtedness was more than $6 billion. Most of that has been repaid over the last 20 years and now is the time to reinvest additional, needed funds to keep our state moving forward in a conservative responsible manner.

This is not a partisan issue.  Although the bond was proposed and strongly advocated by Governor McCrory as a tool to spur economic development and the creation of jobs, it received strong bipartisan support in the General Assembly.  I attended the campaign kickoff for CONNECT NC several months ago at the Hunt Library on the N.C. State campus. Two of the strongest endorsement speeches came from former Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who ran against Governor McCrory and who is now president of Isothermal Community College, and from Sen. Dan Blue, former Democratic speaker of the House and current Senate Democratic leader.

Although thousands of volunteers have worked on this campaign in order to educate the voters about the need for these investments, many of us are concerned about the outcome. Many are expected to vote because of their interest in the presidential primary in both parties and may not even be aware of the CONNECT NC bond. Some in both parties may do as the late and great Sen. Jesse Helms used to say, “When in doubt, vote no.”

It is up to us to remove the doubt and urge a “yes” vote from our families, friends, and co-workers. We cannot afford to pass up this opportunity to invest in the greatest state in America!

 

Phil Kirk is chairman emeritus of the State Board of Education and a native of Rowan County.

 

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