Raleigh, N.C. — Although Gov. Pat McCrory and top legislative leaders have championed the $2 billion bond that will be on the March 15 primary ballot, the move to borrow for universities, community colleges and other needs is not without organized opposition.
The group NC Against the Bond earlier this month filed the paperwork needed to become an official referendum committee opposed to the bond issue.
"It basically amounts to an omnibus spending bill," Nicole Revels of Lenoir, the group's treasurer and its most vocal advocate on social media, said of the bond. "These projects should be evaluated on their own merits. I don't think the voting public has enough information to do that."
Revels says there are about 30 people actively working with what she describes as a "grassroots" effort to get information to voters, and she says she has an email list of 8,000. That contrasts with the pro-bond effort, which has hired a pair of political consultants, one Democrat and one Republican, to organize the push for the measure.
At least initially, the anti-bond group seems to be getting a lot of its support from the political right, with many writing and commenting on NC Against the Bond's Facebook's page that $2 billion is too much money for items that are "luxuries" or "fluff." Asked if she was surprised that a Republican-controlled General Assembly would put a measure before the voters considered spendthrift by some in the party, Revels said she was not. While the legislature has operated under a conservative GOP banner since 2011, she said, "I don't really consider a lot of the legislators to be conservative in practice."
Pro-bond supporters, organized around the Connect NC campaign, have been touting a growing list of supporters that include Republicans such a Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue.
"Over the past 15 years, our state has grown by more than 2 million people. We need to invest in our state’s infrastructure and educational systems to help build a better state for today and for future generations," former Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr said in a news release Monday.
Although the bond originally was pitched to lawmakers as a way to help meet North Carolina's growing needs for roads, bridges, rail and the like, virtually none of the $2 billion would go toward transportation infrastructure.
"I feel like it was originally proposed as a transportation bond to get that message out there in order to gain general acceptance," Revels said. "I feel like that was kind of a bait and switch."
In fact, during negotiations over what would eventually be in the bill, Senate leaders were particularly insistent that North Carolina should not borrow for transportation needs.
The bond proposal that passed the legislature this summer is focused mainly on education, with $1 billion set aside for the state’s university system and another $350 million for community colleges. The remainder would go toward water and sewer projects, state parks and public safety buildings, including $70 million for regional National Guard training centers.
Backers of the bond say that lawmakers wouldn't have to raise taxes in order to pay off the bond issue. But Revels argues that, even if that is true, future sessions of the General Assembly would still have to set aside money to pay for the spending.
"That $2 billion still has to be paid somehow," she said. "That's going to take money away from other future priorities."