Raleigh, N.C. — The latest version of the "Connect NC" bond bill, unveiled Monday afternoon in Senate Finance, would fund building projects, but no roads.
The Senate version of House Bill 943 would put the bond on the ballot in November 2016, rather than on the March primary ballot as the House version did.
Proponents of the earlier date have said waiting until November 2016 puts the state at risk of paying more for the loan, since interest rates are expected to rise in the interim.
However, committee chairman Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the longer window will allow bond backers more time to mount a campaign for voter support. "The interest rate won't matter if the bond doesn't pass," he said.
The $2 billion Senate plan, smaller than the House's $2.85 billion proposal, would divide the money among universities, community colleges, National Guard facilities, water and sewer infrastructure needs, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the North Carolina Zoo.
Nearly half the funding – $921 million – would be earmarked for projects within the University of North Carolina system. The list includes 11 projects at campuses statewide – substantially leaner than the House proposal for 18.
Big-ticket items would include a science and biotech building at East Carolina University, a nursing school building at UNC-Greensboro, new science buildings at Western Carolina University, Winston-Salem State University and UNC-Charlotte and new engineering buildings at both North Carolina A&T State University and North Carolina State University.
The bond would also fund the construction of a School of Technology and Engineering at the new western campus of the School of Science and Math, and it would replace the Medical Education building at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Senate Democratic leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, pointed out that four of the UNC projects left out of the Senate bill would benefit historically black campuses: a business school at UNC-Pembroke, a science building at Fayetteville State, an aviation school at Elizabeth City State, and a building renovation at NC Central. He said Senate leaders should consider restoring those projects as they continue to work on the proposal.
About $400 million would go to the Community College System, with every campus getting a few million dollars to be used for renovation, repairs and construction needs. That's more generous than the House proposal of $300 million.
Another $83 million is set aside for improvements and new construction at National Guard facilities around the state, slightly less than in the House plan.
About $451 million would go to the Division of Environmental Quality to be used for loans and grants for water and sewer infrastructure needs. Another $100 million would pay for new lab facilities for the Department of Agriculture.
The North Carolina Zoo would receive $45 million to replace the Africa Pavilion and build a new Australasia complex, nearly double what the House proposed.
The House version included $400 million in supplemental highway funding, $135 million for improvements at state parks and $500 million to help low-wealth counties build and renovate schools. None of those items are in the Senate version.
The House plan was also tied to a proposal for an additional $1.3 billion in transportation spending from the General Fund over the next few years. The Senate plan does not include a similar budget boost.
"The budget that was signed by the governor on Friday injects $700 million over the biennium into roads and bridges," said Senate sponsor Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, crediting much of the increase to the end of the Highway Fund transfer.
Senate leaders have been critical of efforts to fund transportation projects through debt. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said in June that he didn't think the Senate would support borrowing for road needs.
Gov. Pat McCrory's original proposal was for a $3 billion bond package, roughly split between infrastructure and transportation. He voiced his support for the House version after it passed early in August.
The Senate Finance committee is expected to vote on the measure Tuesday.