When the framers of our state’s Constitution were assigning duties and responsibilities to the various branches of government they wisely delegated to the voters decision-making responsibility for should government incurring debt. Though not always observed to the letter of the law, this guiding principle has served us well and should be observed today.
Candidate Pat McCrory spoke to the state’s aging infrastructure and inadequate road system, pledging to do something rather than just talk about the problems. In his first year in office he restructured the funding formula for determining which road projects would have priority, essentially taking politics out of the process. Then he developed a 25-year transportation plan using those new priorities. Next came the stumbling block state leaders have tripped over for decades, namely how to accelerate and pay for road building. What we are doing, just tinkering around with the gas tax or even adjusting fees isn’t getting the job done.
McCrory’s ambitious program, called Connect NC, not only advocates borrowing $1.37 billion for transportation but also proposes to spend an additional $1.48 billion on aging and inadequate infrastructure of university, community college, National Guard and other public buildings. With interest rates at historic lows and reasonable construction costs he recommends now is the time to borrow and build. It is a concept often employed throughout our state’s history, as old as plank roads and as recent as the 2001 $3.1 billion higher education bonds for universities and community colleges.
But there are some, notably in our legislature, who don’t like it. Maybe their opposition is because it wasn’t their idea, they’ve become too timid or perhaps they just don’t have confidence in our future. Yes, legislators have much to consider right now but for whatever the reason leadership isn’t seriously considering this proposal. If my mentor, the late Treasurer Harlan Boyles, were still alive he would be leading the cheers for this progressive and responsible solution to our longtime needs.
For more than 20 years we’ve been moaning about the growing needs for roads; many blue ribbon panels have unanimously concurred that each year the needs are neglected they loom larger. What’s been missing is bold leadership, someone to take charge and put forward a plan. Pat McCrory has answered the call and is traveling all over the state taking his plan to the people. He reported to the television audience of NC SPIN this week that when you get outside Raleigh’s beltline the public understands and favors his plan.
Connect NC will allow us to vote on the two bond proposals, roads and infrastructure, separately. Since our state will hold a presidential primary in March of next year we suggest that would be an ideal time to hold this vote. This primar should see a large turnout and should not affect currently elected statewide officials.
What have lawmakers to lose? If the idea is a good one voters will respond and pass the bonds. If not, no harm would have been done. Now is the time for our legislators, the people’s representatives, to show confidence in us and abide by our Constitution. Let the voters decide.
Tom Campbell is the executive producer and moderator of N.C. Spin.