Our bridges are creaking, our highways are pitted and pocked and our schools need new classrooms.
Infrastrucutre upgrades are sorely needed in North Carolina, where our former reputation as the “good roads state” now rings hollow. Most of our elected officials agree something must be done.
Just one detail left to iron out: How will we pay for it?
Gov. Pat McCrory pitched a bond referendum to invest in North Carolina’s highways, bridges, state parks, public schools and community colleges. The state House sketched out a $2.8 billion plan, the Connect N.C. Bond Act of 2015, which sailed through the chamber in a matter of days.
It was signed, sealed and delivered to the Senate, where its reception has been tepid. Leaders there say borrowing that much money will bog the state down in debt for two decades.
Some senators say they’d prefer to pay for infrastructure upgrades out of the state transportation fund, a piggy bank routinely raided to bolster the general fund and balance the budget.
Others say it’s not an either-or proposition. The bond bill the Senate passed with strong support from N.C. Main Street Democrats Legislative Caucus, a moderate pro-business bloc that’s seen its influence grow in the House, would put a stop to budget writers diverting cash from the transportation fund.
Senators may see the need to fix bridges, build new roads and invest in schools and colleges, but they remain skeptical that issuing $3 billion in bonds is the fiscally responsible way to do it.
Recently, the Senate assigned the bill to its Ways and Means Committee, a signal it’s been shelved and is unlikely to reach a floor vote.
Supporters and opponents of the bond bill have valid points. At this time, we won’t take a position on whether North Carolina ought to issue infrastructure bonds. We will, however, say that voters deserve the chance to decide.
Passing the Connect N.C. Bond Act doesn’t authorize the state to start selling bonds; it merely places the bond referendum on next spring’s primary election ballot.
When given the choice, voters don’t always go along with their elected representatives’ spending plans. We saw a powerful example of that last year when voters rejected a quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund a much-needed Bladen County Schools refurbising project.
We understand the reluctance among Senate leadership to support the bond package. But we hope senators will hold their collective nose and pass the provision for the sole reason that doing so will put the decision where it ought to rest — in the people’s hands.
Senate Republicans need not experience any heartburn about compromising their principles. After all, who can be against direct democracy?
Just as voters here in Bladen County had the chance to decide whether they were willing to pay an extra quarter-cent in sales tax, all North Carolina residents should have a say in whether selling bonds to build roads and invest in schools is a necessary and prudent plan.
Legislators shouldn’t deprive North Carolina voters of the opportunity to make this important choice.