Local News

New Group Focused on Growth Says Not Planning for It Is Not an Option

Posted May 23, 2007 7:52 p.m. EDT

— By 2030, the state's population is expected to jump by 50 percent, or 4 million people. Some say growth is good, but it raises concerns about housing, schools, roads and more.

To put perspective on the growth headed for North Carolina, the change expected in the next 23 years is like the entire state of South Carolina moving here.

A new group called the Partnership for North Carolina's Future warned Wednesday that lawmakers need a comprehensive plan to pay for what it will take to accommodate that growth. That's setting up a high-stakes showdown over taxes.

Whether it's clogged roads, the 178,000 school children attending class in trailers or 3,000 miles of rivers and streams that fail to meet clean water standards, growth is already a major issue for North Carolina.

“In truth, all of this is about answering two fundamental questions: How much are our children worth? How much is the future of North Carolina worth?” Tom Lambeth of the Rural Economic Development Center said at a news conference.

The Partnership, a bipartisan group of business and community leaders, argued that it's time to answer those questions now.

On school capacity, “The state needs to step up to the plate and give our citizens the chance to vote for a state school bond,” said June Atkinson, state superintendent of public instruction.

The group does not have specific proposals on how much borrowing or exactly what type of tax revenue will be needed. Some proposals would give local communities more taxing authority, such as a proposed and controversial land-transfer tax.

“If you put additional tax on housing, you're going to drive up the cost of housing and put it out of reach of the average North Carolinian,” argued Tim Kent of the North Carolina Association of Realtors.

Some see comprehensive needs, but believe the state should back off from big-business tax breaks before chasing new revenues. Bob Orr is a GOP candidate for governor.

“We have to also look at the fact that the state's giving away hundreds of millions of dollars, literally billions of dollars in revenues,” Orr said.

The partnership agrees all revenue options deserve serious discussion. The bottom libne about it all, they said, is that keeping the status quo is simply not an option.

“That's not going to get it. It's not going to get it done,” said Sen. Daniel G. Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg.

North Carolina was known as the Rip Van Winkle State in the 1800s for turning its back on growth and progress, Clodfelter said, adding that the state is at risk of getting that reputation back if it doesn't find ways to pay for growth.