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In October of 2015, Governor Pat McCrory signed into law the Connect NC Bond Act, giving voters across the state the opportunity to approve a $2 billion bond during the primary election. The bond referendum that will be on tomorrow’s ballot was passed in the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support.
The bond has also received a good deal of popular support in the state. A High Point University poll conducted earlier this year found that two-thirds of those surveyed favored the bond. A recent Civitas Poll shows that a majority of likely Democratic voters and a plurality of likely Republican voters support the bond referendum: 66% of those surveyed said they would vote for the bond, with only 14% saying they would vote against it and 19% saying they either didn’t know or needed more information.
The long-term financing that the Connect NC Bond offers is the most efficient and effective way to fund critical needs and projects all over the state. The timing is right for this bond because the state has finally retired a substantial amount of crushing debt inherited from the old majority and we are in the process of revitalizing the state economy through tax reform, regulatory reform and conservative fiscal policy. Greater business investment and population growth are also contributing to our state’s promising economic picture.
All of this makes North Carolina particularly well-positioned to invest in the future now — while the state’s financial position is looking brighter and the state’s AAA credit rating translates into lower interest rates. A triple-A rating, the highest of nine possible ratings, means North Carolina has an exceptional degree of creditworthiness and can easily meet its financial commitments. North Carolina received this top rating this year from all three credit-rating agencies: Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
This rating is critical to a long-term investment strategy and will enable the state to borrow without the need for a tax increase. The bond will have a 20- to 25-year payback period for assets that will last for well beyond half a century. And with interest rates now at historic lows, it has never been less expensive to borrow. The bond would be backed by the full faith and credit of the citizens of the State of North Carolina, which ensures there would be no default on the bond debt service. “Full faith and credit” is phrase used to describe the unconditional guarantee or commitment by one entity to back the interest and principal of another entity’s debt. It expresses the commitment of the issuer to repay the bonds from all legally available funds.
North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell said a statement released in January that the state’s General Fund has the capacity to absorb $210 million a year in new debt for the next 10 years. “Our findings,” she said, “demonstrate that North Carolina has maintained a conservative posture on debt and has the ability to responsibly invest in its future—and keep the ‘AAA’ bond ratings if the Connect NC bonds are approved.”
The state Treasury Department’s nonpartisan Debt and Affordability Advisory Committee says we will not see a tax increase as a result of the Connect NC bond. The Committee is required to annually advise the Governor and the General Assembly of the estimated debt capacity of the General Fund and the Highway and Highway Trust Funds for the upcoming ten fiscal years.
It has been 15 years since the last general obligation bond was authorized to upgrade our state’s infrastructure in 2000. Since then North Carolina has grown by more than 2 million people. Approving the Connect NC Bond now may be our best chance in more than a decade to invest in our universities and community colleges, agriculture, state parks, National Guard facilities and water and sewer infrastructure for a better North Carolina—for today and tomorrow.
Investment in Our Universities and Community Colleges
With major investments in local community colleges and universities across North Carolina, the Connect NC Bond will help produce a highly-skilled workforce for today’s–and tomorrow’s–competitive and technological world.
About two-thirds of the bond to be approved by voters in March ($1.33 billion) will go to making long-overdue improvements to our public universities and community colleges across the state. This funding will focus primarily on STEM programming (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics).
The University of North Carolina (UNC) system alone will receive close to $100 million to fund facility construction and renovations, and expanded capacity for professional degree programs in health, science and engineering to meet the demands of a 21st Century workforce. The North Carolina Community College System will receive $350 million for needed repairs and renovations at 58 campuses. These combined education investments will help maintain and advance North Carolina’s leadership position in innovation, job creation, and economic development.
Investments for Family Farms and Agriculture
Agriculture is the state’s number one economic driver, generating nearly $80 billion annually. The Connect NC Bond will invest a historic $179 million in agriculture and agribusiness. Investments in scientific research and innovation will help in protecting our natural resources, protecting us from potential biohazards, increasing the agricultural yields, increasing profitability of family farms, and help to continue to provide safe, affordable foods for a growing North Carolina and global population.
Investments to Improve our Quality of Life
Our state parks are the reason so many people love to visit North Carolina. The bond will fund investments in state parks and attractions. There are 45 projects in the state that will receive $75 million from the bond to build new facilities in state parks, new hiking trails and campgrounds, and provide funding to support environmental education. This portion of the bond will fund special projects in all 42 state parks and state natural areas, including the state zoo and parts of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.
Access to clean, abundant water is a priority for all North Carolina communities, and these bond investments will help local leaders address some of their most pressing needs. There will be more than $300 million available to city and county governments for making improvements and updates to water and sewer facilities that will help them with economic development and growth.
Investments that Protect the Homeland
The Connect NC Bond provides $79 million in essential investments designated to help to keep us safe and bolster our state’s National Guard. The North Carolina National Guard is our first defense and saving grace in times of state emergencies and natural disasters. Projects are planned for building Regional Readiness Centers in Burke, Guilford and Wilkes counties, and the Samarcand Corrections and Law Enforcement Training Center in Moore County.
Say Yes to Invest
The bond proposal enjoys support from a wide array of advocates. It received bipartisan support in the legislature and praise from Governor McCrory, Lt. Governor Dan Forest and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler; it gets high marks from a range of organizations like the NC Chamber of Commerce and the NC Budget & Tax Center; news organizations around the state are coming out in support, like the Asheville Citizen-Times, the Raleigh News & Observer, and the Fayetteville Observer; and the Wilmington City Council unanimously passed resolution in support of the bond.
A family that wants to invest in its future will often borrow against future earnings in order to enjoy the benefit of big ticket items now; such as a home, a car, or a college education for their children. Just as this kind of critical investment made now can pay off big for the long-term benefit of a family, an individual or a business, it can also pay off substantially in a multitude of ways for the health, well-being and prosperity of our state.
Let’s prepare our state for the future and support the Connect NC Bond. The bond will fund smart investments in education, agriculture, state parks, our National Guard, and infrastructure projects, creating job opportunities, strengthening our workforce, and driving innovation. It’s a timely investment and a smart one for North Carolina families.
To explore a detailed breakdown of the investments designated for the Connect NC Bond, please visit Connect.NC.gov.
I support the bond proposal and I urge you to vote YES for the Connect NC Bond ballot measure on March 15th.