Connecting bonds and jobs in North Carolina

By Chris Fitzsimon - N.C. Policy Watch

The folks running the Connect NC bond campaign have to be getting a little nervous these days, now less than two weeks away from voters deciding if the state should borrow $2 billion for much-needed higher education and infrastructure projects.

There haven’t been a lot of polls released publicly about the bond. One done by the conservative Civitas Institute a few weeks ago found that a significant majority of Democrats supported the bond and a plurality of Republicans said they were for it, though by a relatively close margin with a high percentage of GOP voters undecided.

The Tea Party wing of the Republican world is mounting a spirited campaign against borrowing the money and in this bizarre and unpredictable Donald Trump election year, anything is possible given the high turnout expected March 15th in the Republican presidential primary.

Gov. Pat McCrory is certainly doing his part, crisscrossing the state making the case mostly for various projects at community colleges and UNC campuses, though the package also includes funds for state parks, the North Carolina Zoo and the N.C. National Guard, as well as support for local water and sewer infrastructure projects.

The materials developed by the political consultants running the bond campaign seem to talk as much about the fact that the bond would not result in a tax increase as they do the benefits of the projects it will build. The Civitas survey found that most Republicans don’t believe that claim.

Oddly, very few of the bond supporters are talking about the jobs it would create. The website and printed promotional materials never mention jobs either.

They should. A report this week from the N.C. Budget & Tax Center finds that the Connect NC bond could create as many as 5,000 jobs over five years and generate almost $1.5 billion for workers and business owners in the state.

That’s quite a shot in the arm to the economy and the state could use it. The BTC report points out that North Carolina currently has 60,000 fewer construction jobs than before the recession and 70,000 fewer people working in manufacturing.

The report also cites an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office that every dollar spent by the public sector on direct purchases can create up to $2.50 in economic activity.

The bond is not only good for higher education, parks, and local governments, it is good for the overall economic health of the state.

It’s not clear why McCrory and other Republican bond supporters can’t bring themselves to point that out. Maybe it’s because they are worried about alienating their far-right base who refuse to believe public investments can spur economic activity.

But the far-right base is already suspicious of the bond and not just because they don’t believe that it won’t result in higher taxes. Many of them think that government should not borrow any money at all, even when interest rates are low and it allows the projects to be built earlier with less cost to the taxpayers.

Many also wonder about the projects themselves and have long questioned the value of a public university system or parks owned and operated by the state.

It is hard to imagine that flyers and commercials touting a new building and repeating the no new tax mantra several times in 30 seconds will win the base over.

It might make more sense to fully explain the benefits of specific projects and at the same time remind people that the bond will put thousands of people to work and generate more economic activity, some of it in parts of the state that are still struggling to recover from the economic downturn.

That might make more people show up at the polls to vote for the Connect NC bond, a much different strategy than only pleading with people already engaged not to vote against it.

The bond could be one of Gov. McCrory’s signature accomplishments in his first term—but he needs to realize that to make it happen he is going to need a lot of people who normally don’t support him to vote for it.

Chris Fitzsimon is the Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch.

By Chris Fitzsimon

N.C. Policy Watch

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