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Warren, Ford differ on $3.1 billion bond for education, road projects

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A bipartisan House bill that would give North Carolina the OK to borrow $3.1 billion in bonds for school and road construction projects could allocate millions to both Rowan-Salisbury Schools and Kannapolis City Schools.

But state senators must approve it before the session is recessed or adjourned by the end of this week.

House Bill 1225 proposes $1.05 billion in bond funding for K-12 public schools, $600 million for the University of North Carolina system, $300 million for the state’s community colleges and $1.15 billion for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. The bonds would require a vote from citizens in November. The House voted 113-4 on June 18 to put a $1.95 billion school construction bond referendum and a $1.15 billion road projects bond referendum on the November ballot.

As of Wednesday, the bill sits in the Committee on Rules and Operations of the Senate.

The bill specifies $800 million of the bond proceeds would be distributed among local school administrative units to assist with public school capital outlay projects and repairs and renovations. The allocations are determined by factors that include the average daily membership, low wealth counties and a base allocation.

The bill proposes a total of $2.59 million for Kannapolis City Schools and $12.8 million for Rowan-Salisbury. But two of Rowan County’s legislators disagree on whether the bonds proposal should be approved.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76, said passing the bill was “critical,” and that the bill will alleviate some financial woes of the DOT.

“All of our schools have suffered because of COVID-19,” Warren said.

He added that the bill wouldn’t pose a financial problem as the interest rates for borrowing are low at this time, and so are construction costs as contractors are being more competitive amidst the pandemic.

Warren said, however, that he wishes more of the bond funds could have been allocated to community colleges, as they are the “most accessible to the people of the state.” He added that he’ll continue to advocate for community college funding as long as he’s in the General Assembly.

Sen. Carl Ford, however, said he doesn’t believe the state is in a position to borrow money at this time, particularly since it’s unclear at this time how much of a financial impact COVID-19 will have on the state. Because of the pandemic, the deadline for tax submissions was pushed back to July 15, and it takes three months for sales tax revenue to reach each county.

“We don’t have the money right now,” Ford said. “Right now, I don’t think it’d be prudent to borrow money.”

Ford credited Rowan County for the “wise decision” to hold off on the $45 million bond that was approved by local voters in March that would create a Technology Education Complex at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Ford added that, while he understands everyone needs money right now, everyone also is having to pinch during this time.

“You don’t just borrow money when we’re in the situation we’re in right now,” he said.

HB 1225 is sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, R-Wilkes; Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston; Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northhampton; and North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.

“North Carolina has taken a critical first step to leverage our smart financial management with powerful investments in the future of our state’s transportation connectivity and educational success,” said the four sponsors in a joint statement. “We appreciate the bipartisan support of our House colleagues for a bond proposal that builds on North Carolina’s rapid growth and economic success to ensure we outpace competitors in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Last year, the House passed a bill to put a $1.9 billion statewide school construction bond referendum on the ballot, but it stalled in the Senate. And the same could happen with HB 1225 as legislators wrap up the current session this week, either by the Senate adjourning sine die or adjourning to a date certain in late July or early to mid-August to make budgetary adjustments.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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