@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Senate rolls out school construction plan

Posted January 30, 2019 10:46 a.m. EST
Updated January 30, 2019 5:21 p.m. EST

— Senate leadership announced a competing plan for school construction funding Wednesday, saying they could raise $2 billion for K-12 schools statewide faster and cheaper than a proposed bond backed by House leadership and Gov. Roy Cooper.

Senate Bill 5, dubbed Building North Carolina's Future, would tap an existing state fund for construction at state agencies and university campuses. The annual revenue put into the fund would jump by half a percentage point, and public schools and community colleges would be added as recipients.

The money would come from the state's general fund instead of a bond Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore have championed, cutting more than $1 billion in interest costs, Senate leaders said. Proceeds from the revamped State Capital and Infrastructure Fund would be split like this:

  • 1/3 for K-12 public schools
  • 1/3 for the University of North Carolina system and community colleges
  • 1/3 for state agencies

Each third would get $2.03 billion for construction and repair needs over nine years, assuming 3 percent annual growth in state revenue. The K-12 money would be in addition to state lottery funding that already goes toward school construction and is tilted to favor lower-income counties in the coming years, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said.

A Cooper spokesman indicated in a statement that he prefers the bond plan, saying it would "fund school construction and renovation without forcing harmful cuts in other areas."

Moore's spokesman said he appreciated that Senate leaders "share his priority" on school construction and that he "will continue to seek feedback from local stakeholders and legislative colleagues to craft a consensus proposal."

School construction costs have traditionally been borne by counties, with the bulk of operation costs, including salaries, paid by the state. Fast-growing counties and counties with lower property values, and thus less property tax revenue, have had trouble keeping up with construction needs, though.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson said in a statement Wednesday that he was glad to see agreement from both legislative chambers that more state money is needed for school construction. He didn't express a preference between the two plans, but said he looked "forward to working with our partners in the General Assembly as we continue to discuss the details of that funding."

A bond package would require a statewide referendum, and Cooper wanted to see that package go before voters last year. Moore, R-Cleveland, announced late last year that he'd back the bond proposal this year, and he and Johnson have been holding town-hall-style events to talk up the plan.

Brown, R-Onslow, and other senators pitched their plan as a faster way to raise more money at less cost to the taxpayers.

"I don't know how you can argue against this," Brown said.