Gov. Cooper’s call for statewide bond referendum to build, repair schools met with push back from Senate

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is renewing his call for a statewide bond referendum after a report showed the state could afford to borrow $11 billion over the next 10 years, noting the need to build and repair schools.

“We are at a time of historically low interest rates. We’ve got children in trailers,” Cooper told CBS17. “This is the perfect way to provide them that help.”

Cooper’s plan is for a $3.9 billion referendum. He says when state lawmakers return to Raleigh in April for the legislative session, he’ll push for them to place the issue on the November ballot.

“That gives the people the option to vote, and it also assures that those projects will be completed,” Cooper.

Cooper’s plan calls for $2 billion for K-12 projects, $1 billion split evenly between the community college system and the UNC system, $800 million for water and sewer projects and $100 million for the NC History Museum and NC Zoo.

He reiterated his push for the bond after a study by the Debt Affordability Advisory Committee released in late January (click here to view). The committee is chaired by Republican Treasurer Dale Folwell, who told CBS 17 that the committee’s report was not an endorsement of the bond proposal.

Folwell compared the change in the state’s debt capacity to a credit card company raising your credit card limit, noting it doesn’t necessarily mean the state should take on additional debt.

He said the state should use money raised from the NC Education Lottery to fund additional school construction, calling for “a restoration of the lottery money going toward its intended beginning purpose.”

He said, “That’s a more solid plan going forward, and it also frees up opportunity for us to really address these other long-term issues.”

Republicans in the state legislature have been split on a bond proposal.

House leadership pushed for one, approving a $1.9 billion bond. Senate leaders have resisted the idea, saying the state should pay for the projects as they occur and avoid taking on the additional debt.

“A bipartisan supermajority passed a budget to spend $4.4 billion in cash to build new schools over the next 10 years. A debt-financed bond would waste $1 billion in unnecessary interest payments, starving other parts of the budget that could use that money,” said Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) in a prepared statement. “Why in the world would we max out the credit card when we can just use cash to build new schools instead? It doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

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