RALEIGH, N.C. — The Council of State on Tuesday signed off on new debt for state construction projects in an effort to stimulate North Carolina's economy.
“This stimulus package will help keep North Carolinians on the job, even in the face of the troubled national economy,” Gov. Mike Easley said in a statement. “I continue to urge the new president and Congress to pass a federal economic stimulus package as soon as possible so we can get to work on more projects to keep us moving ahead.”
Easley, who serves on the Council of State with his successor, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, and eight other statewide officials, wanted to accelerate building projects to be funded by borrowing already approved by the General Assembly or voters.
Two of the three Republicans on the council, Auditor Les Merritt and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, peppered the other members with questions as long as they could before the stimulus was passed.
"I'm thinking it's going to make a big difference in the economy over the next year," Easley told reporters after the meeting.
Interest rates are at historic lows, he said, so the bonds sold by the state could jump-start more than $744 million in construction on prisons and university and other state government buildings without a huge debt-service payment.
The stimulus will start work on the projects a minimum of 30 to 60 days earlier than previously planned.
"That may not sound like much, but if you're without a job, 30 days makes a big difference," Easley said. "We're trying to make sure people get re-employed in North Carolina."
Included in the list of projects are a library on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, an addition to the School of Dentistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, a School of Nursing building at North Carolina Central University, a Department of Environment and Natural Resources complex in downtown Raleigh and a renovation to the polar bear exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo.
"Anything that creates jobs right now is a good idea," Easley said. "If you don't have a job, you don't care whether you're building a prison, a university building or a polar bear exhibit."
Easley said the projects could produce nearly 26,000 new jobs. Also, each $1 spent on the projects would pump $2.28 into the state economy, he said.
The Council of State also approved the state's purchase of Grandfather Mountain for $12 million as a new state park. The state will acquire 2,456 acres on the landmark and a conservation easement on another 749 acres that the family of Grandfather Mountain founder Hugh Morton will continue to own.
The council meeting was the last for Easley and three other council members who are leaving office. Perdue will be sworn in as governor on Saturday.