North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory took a break from shooting hoops in his suit with the Colonial Athletic Association Champion UNC – Wilmington men’s basketball team Wednesday afternoon to talk about the statewide initiative he’s been championing: the Connect NC bond.
The $2 billion bond would pay for infrastructure across the state, including on public university and community college campuses, in state parks and recreation areas and on property used by the North Carolina National Guard.
“We have so much infrastructure in our schools and at our universities and community colleges that have not kept up with the growth of North Carolina,” McCrory said as he sat at a table in the Golden Hawk Room at UNCW’s Trask Coliseum with UNCW Chancellor Zito Sartarelli, Brunswick Community College President Susanne Adams, the state’s Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz and Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard Major General Gregory Lusk.
Nearly half of the bond budget is slated for the University of North Carolina system. Locally, it would fund a new $66 million state-of-the-art building on UNCW’s campus that would house programs in the College of Health and Human Services, which includes nursing, public health and social work.
“We’re just bursting at the seams,” said Sartarelli, saying the school’s programs have grown rapidly in the last few years. “Healthcare – there’s nothing more important, not just to provide great healthcare, but to provide cost-efficient healthcare.”
If passed, the state’s community college system would get about $350 million total. Cape Fear Community College will get $5.9 million for improvements, and Brunswick Community College will get $2.8 million. According to Adams, that money will be used in part to enhance the nursing program and repurpose classroom space as well as update science and welding labs.
“STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is the future,” Adams said, noting that a lot of the schools would be putting their allotted money toward such programs.
The reason so much is being invested in higher education, according to the governor and other officials, is because of the large gap between the jobs that are available and the skills that people have. The shortages range from trade skills such as plumbing and auto mechanics to fields that require more specialized degrees, such as engineering and healthcare.
McCrory, who describes himself as a fiscal conservative, said he originally wanted the bond to go on last November’s ballot during municipal elections but decided to wait until March to give voters more time to get educated on the matter. Despite the four-month delay, he stressed the urgency of the matter, saying the upgrades and improvements need to be made regardless of the bond’s passage.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” the governor said, noting a statewide comprehensive bond has not been passed since 2000. “If we don’t fix this now, we will have to have a tax increase. If we don’t do this now, it will cost the taxpayers more money.”
“This is common sense financing,” he added, saying now is the time to borrow when interest rates are extremely low. “The longer we wait, the more expensive it’s going to get.”
The state has added two million people since 2000 and is now the 9th largest state by population in the country. North Carolina’s population is expected to grow even more in the next few decades, and the population of the Cape Fear region is projected to double in the next 30 to 40 years. Last week, the City of Wilmington passed a resolution to officially support the bond measure, which received bipartisan support when it passed the state legislature last year.
“You won’t be dealing with growing pains, you’ll be dealing with dying pains if we don’t fill these jobs,” McCrory said. “I firmly believe you have to prepare for growth, not react to it.”
UNCW’s Chancellor agreed, saying the bond would provide benefits for years to come.
“We’re investing in the future to help the sons and daughters of North Carolina,” Sartarelli said.
The bond is on Tuesday’s primary ballot, which many citizens have already seen during the ongoing one-stop voting period. Voters are given the option “for” or “against” the Connect NC bond rather than a “yes” or “no” option.
When asked what would happen if voters rejected the measure, the governor said he is confident the plan is good enough to pass.
“We don’t have a Plan B,” McCrory said. “We don’t have one because this is my Plan A, and I’m pushing my Plan A because this is the most fiscally responsible plan.”
McCrory himself is also on the ballot, as he is up for re-election this year and facing challenges from two fellow Republicans, Charles Kenneth Moss and C. Robert Brawley. Between now and Tuesday, though, he’ll be paying close attention to his new friends on the UNCW men’s basketball team as they learn their draw in the NCAA basketball tournament on Selection Sunday.
“I hope they get to stay in North Carolina and play in Raleigh. It would be great for the fans,” McCrory said, before ending with a statement that got the loudest applause of the day. “Go Seahawks!”