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Legislators divided on school capital needs funding

SALISBURY — Rowan County legislators see the need for repairs and renovations of schools and community colleges, but they are divided on how to pay for them.

The state Senate passed a bill in February (Senate Bill 5) and it went to the House. Meanwhile, the House was working on a school construction bill of its own (House Bill 241), which passed March 14. But that’s not all. Another bill on school construction (House Bill 381) was filed last week. It has gained the support of Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, who was also a sponsor of the bond bill.

Warren says the General Assembly will come up with some type of agreement on school capital needs and he’ll support it in whatever form — through bonds or pay-as-you-go.

Rep. Julia Howard,  R-77, who also was a sponsor of the House bond bill, says she continues to support bonds because the Senate bill — the pay-as-you-go method — will make it harder to allocate state funds for education. Howard says there’s an understanding through both chambers and both sides of the aisle that schools need the state’s help when it comes to repairs and renovations.

“Everyone realizes there’s a need, and filling the need is the $100,000 question,” Howard said.

Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, continues to advocate for the Senate’s pay-as-you-go bill because he is concerned about the state taking on more debt. He says a bond package would take more time to deliver funding to schools that desperately need repairs and renovations today —not two years down the road after a bond package is put before voters.

Ford responded to arguments in favor of the bond package — it will ensure that funding goes to schools — by saying the state should approve the funding now when it has the money because the economy is in good shape. He said there will always be the threat of future natural disasters or a tanking economy, and the bond package could cause financial trouble since it will add debt.

The three lawmakers, however, agree that legislation on school capital needs will be approved in some form. Ford sees a possibility of the school construction bill being folded into budget negotiations before a plan is finalized. Both Warren and Howard see a compromise, combining a bond package and other funding.

Warren said it may be a pay-as-you-go plan until the bond package could be on the ballot.

Howard said anything is possible on the future of the two bills but she would like to see it resolved outside a budget negotiation room.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-83, was one of six representatives who voted against the education bond legislation. Pittman says he is against the state incurring more debt and supportive of the pay-as-you-go plan.

Howard says she is also working to return the education lottery to a 40 percent funding rate. She said that, with the growth in the state, lottery funding needs to be supplemented with state funding.

Contact reporter Liz Moomey at 704-797-4222.

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