Vote YES for ‘Connect NC’ bond
State legislators, advocacy groups, and the Courts are still arguing over Congressional boundaries, but there is little dispute over how to improve quality of life within those boundaries. On March 15, we have an opportunity to vote for the $2 billion dollar “Connect NC” bond, which, if passed, will make our college graduates better prepared to compete and succeed in the 21st century. It will also help to strengthen our State’s overall economy. The Triad in particular will benefit greatly from the bond, which is expected to funnel some $370 million dollars worth of projects into our area.
The architect of “Connect NC” is Governor Pat McCrory, and it is a testament to his leadership that the Bond package has received broad support among officials in both political parties. Earlier this month, a number of State and local leaders appeared on my Triad Today television show to talk about why the “Connect NC” bond is crucial to our future. Among those included in the discussion were Governor McCrory, former Lt. Governor Walter Dalton (now President of Isothermal Community College), UNCG Chancellor Franklin Gilliam, Cornelius Graves, Director of External Relations for Winston-Salem State University, Wendy Poteat, Director of Government Affairs for the Winston- Salem Chamber of Commerce, and former Associate State Supreme Court Justice Robert Orr.
Longworth: Why a $2 billion dollar bond, and why now?
McCrory: We haven’t had a bond referendum since the year 2000, and we’ve grown by two million people since that time. We have infrastructure at our universities and community colleges that is totally inadequate. We’re teaching in 20th century science labs which are supposed to train engineers and nurses in the 21st century.
Longworth: Why the name Connect NC?
Poteat: This bond will connect North Carolina to the 21st century. The investment is important because it keeps the State competitive when you talk about business growth and job creation, and it has a direct impact on quality of life for all citizens of North Carolina.
Longworth: Describe how the bond money will be used?
Orr: Almost half of the $2 billion dollars will go for capital construction on university campuses, primarily in the science, technology, and health-related fields. About $400 million will go to community college projects, over $75 million will go to help improve National Guard facilities, and there’s $75 million for State parks.
Longworth: How will Connect NC impact higher education in particular?
Gilliam: It’s a pretty simple theme. It’s about people and prosperity. It’s about investing in people who we’ll train in careers for tomorrow, especially in the STEM fields. And it’s about being able to build the capacity of that workforce through our universities and community colleges, which will build our economy. So it’s not just about buildings, it’s about people and prosperity.
Longworth: How will the bond impact UNCG specifically?
Gilliam: We’ll receive $105 million dollars for the construction of a new Nursing, Biology and Chemistry building. Right now we don’t have the capacity to handle all of the qualified nursing applicants, so we’re turning away 100 or so nursing students every year because we have no space for them. Secondly we have a bottleneck in the Biology and Chemistry labs because they’re antiquated. So this is retarding our development of fine young people who go into the workforce.
Longworth: A vote FOR the bond means $400 million dollars will go to help community colleges statewide. How will Connect NC help Isothermal Community College?
Dalton: It’s going to help us upgrade our facilities. We have beautiful buildings, but most of them are 50 years old and have roofing and HVAC needs. We also need flex space, incubation space where a business can come in, train our students for six months, get them on their feet, then launch them into the economy.
Longworth: How will Winston-Salem State University benefit from the bond?
Graves: We’re looking at about $50 million dollars which will fund a new Sciences building. It will have over 100,000 square feet of learning and research space that will cut across the academic spectrum, so we’re looking at Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Health Sciences. Currently our bio medical research facilities are housed off campus. Having them in this new facility will allow for greater engagement across the sciences, greater research, and all those things that allow us to be more competitive in North Carolina and the nation.
Longworth: Why is Bond money being used for our National Guard?
McCrory: When I became Governor I discovered that most of our armories were built in the 1940’s, ‘50’s, and ‘60’s, and they are in horrendous shape. They’re just not adequate for training members of our military, so this bond will let us spend over $78 million dollars on new facilities for the National Guard.
Longworth: Money is also being allocated for new water and sewer lines.
McCrory: Some of our small towns have no water and sewer lines. They’re using septic tanks, which is not good for the environment, plus it’s almost impossible to recruit new industry to those high unemployment areas that have no water and sewer lines. So this is to help those areas get the basic necessities.
Longworth: Will passage of Connect NC put us in debt and increase our taxes?
Poteat: It won’t put us in debt. The State of North Carolina has a AAA bond credit rating. In fact we’re one of only ten states that have that bond rating. We’ve also paid down our debt pretty fast, so adding this $2 billion dollar investment won’t increase our debt levels. Also the non partisan Debt and Affordability Committee says we will not see a tax increase as a result of the Connect NC bond.
Longworth: You are a Democrat and even ran against Governor McCrory in the last election, yet you are supporting him on this bond referendum.
Dalton: This is not a partisan issue at all, it’s about having a stronger State and building our future economy. I’m happy the Governor came forward with this initiative, and I’m glad the legislature passed it. Future success of our people should not be a partisan issue, and that’s what this is about.
Longworth: Connect NC is going to have a direct impact on 76 counties, but why should I vote for it if I’m living in one of those other 24 counties?
McCrory: I look at regions, and every region of the State is benefitting from the bond. Every region benefits when we’re able to train new scientists, new engineers, new mechanics, new nurses. We’re not building new stadiums, we’re not building swimming pools or student centers. We’re building facilities that address our skills gap, so it’s strategic based upon trying to fill the talent needs of the next generation. Every region of the State is going to benefit from the Connect NC bond.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).