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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

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Bond proposal will give universities, community colleges much-needed boost 

Voters may be asked in 2016 to approve borrowing $2 billion to address infrastructure needs across the state, about $1 billion less than Gov. Pat McCrory requested and about $850 million less than the state House approved.

The needs are clearly there. The long list includes National Guard armories, universities and community colleges and other state facilities, all of which serve North Carolina residents. It is unfortunate, however, that the Senate Finance Committee cut many worthy projects from the House proposal, including $10.8 million for a new visitor center at the Battleship North Carolina and money for construction and maintenance at Carolina Beach State Park and the Fort Fisher Recreation Area.

House leaders have signaled their acceptance of the Senate’s smaller construction bond package, and the Senate Finance Committee agreed Tuesday to put the issue on the ballot for the March presidential primary. The voters will have their say.

Under the Senate’s version of House Bill 943, the University of North Carolina Wilmington would get $65.6 million for a building to house allied health and human services programs and its nursing school. Cape Fear Community College would get $5.65 million for renovations, repairs and new construction.

Money for transportation projects was stripped from the bill, as were a number of university projects, money for state parks, and $500 million to help poor counties build schools. The $400 million for transportation was offset somewhat by the legislature’s vote to stop the annual $216 million transfer to the general budget from the Highway Trust Fund.

The decision to take on debt always requires serious consideration. But just as important is what these investments would mean to North Carolina’s future. The largest share of the proposed bond issue, more than $921 million for universities and $400 million for community colleges, would go toward helping our universities and community colleges with capital needs. These institutions are critical to our economy.

UNCW continues to grow, and its well-regarded nursing school needs more space, as does a flourishing allied health and human services department. With lawmakers demanding that universities focus on turning out graduates who are employable in their field, it makes good sense to invest money in building health programs that train students for jobs that are in high demand.

Likewise, our community colleges are integral to efforts to build a highly skilled labor force. CFCC had some of its wish list cut during New Hanover County’s budget talks; the state money would help complete projects and maintain the college’s facilities.

This money would provide a significant investment at a time when the UNC system, in particular, has experienced years of budget cuts. Our state university system and our community colleges are among our most valuable assets, with a high rate of return on investment; putting money into specific, significant needs increases their worth to the state and its residents.

Based on talks between the House and Senate, and McCrory’s stated intention to bring the issue to the public, there is little question that a bond referendum will be on the table next year. Voters will have months  to learn more about the bond package.

This is an important issue, and residents should go to the polls knowing they can be confident about their position.

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