Editorial: No better time than now to move on statewide education construction bonds

Posted March 9, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

School construction sign

CBC Editorial: Monday, March 9, 2020; Editorial #8517
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

North Carolina public school facilities are in dire need. We need new schools. We need to expand, renovate and properly furnish the facilities we have.

The need is great – more than $8 billion, according to current estimates. Why such a big number?

  • First: Our state is growing. We simply are bursting the seams of the space we’ve got.
  • Second: The school buildings we have now need repairs and modernization. Buildings wear out with age and need to be fixed. Forty percent of the state’s school buildings are more than 50 years old. Additionally, the schools need to be modernized so students have access to critical technology that supports the learning tools that weren’t around just a decade ago.T
  • Third: We’ve fallen behind on keeping up. It has been more than a quarter-century since the last statewide kindergarten-high school bond issue vote. Historically, the state has passed a major public school construction bond issue a least every 10 years since World War II ended.

There are needs on our university and community college campuses, water and sewer systems need to be upgraded and expanded not to mention facilities at our parks, zoo, museums, historic sites and other facilities.

North Carolina is overdue for a major bond issue. Delay will only mean GREATER expense for taxpayers to meet essential needs.

Gov. Roy Cooper has offered an affordable and responsible borrowing package to present to voters: $2 billion for K-12 public schools; $500 million each for community colleges and University of North Carolina System facilities; $800 million to help local water and sewer projects; and $100 million for historic, cultural and other state facilities.

So, why isn’t there a statewide bond issue on the ballot for voters to approve?

There is no debate about the need. But the state legislative budget includes pay-as-you-go program that doesn’t come close to addressing the needs. It will never get us caught up to the demand.

With the recent action by the Federal Reserve to drop interest rates, the cost of borrowing is near historic lows – and North Carolina’s ratings from the borrowing agencies mean it stands to get the most favored treatment. It would be financially unwise and costly to taxpayers NOT to have a bond issue now.

In anticipation of passing legislation when the General Assembly reconvenes at the end of April, legislative leaders need to start sincere and open talks now with the governor. They need to reach a budget compromise that includes a significant bond referendum for school and other construction needs.

For voters who are looking for a way to measure incumbents in anticipation of the fall elections, passing or failing, on a compromise that meets these critical needs will be a good ruler.

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