A Better, More Conservative Way to Fund School Construction

RALEIGH – Republican state lawmakers have two competing plans for funding more school construction: one involves billions in debt, and the other is a pay-as-you-go fund that doesn’t expire. Guess which one Gov. Roy Cooper Supports?

A few weeks ago we highlighted that leadership in the North Carolina House, specifically House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), were committed to prioritizing yet another bond proposal, this one aimed at funding school construction. We pointed out that saddling the State (taxpayers) with nearly $2 billion more in debt and interest payments was hardly the most fiscally conservative option out there. With hundreds of million of dollars in revenue surpluses for the last several fiscal cycles, why not annually dedicate some of those funds to school construction needs?

Well, it seems Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) is of the same mind, and has introduced a ‘pay-as-you-go’ bill to help ailing schools.

Senate Bill 5, titled Building North Carolina’s Future, would grant local schools access to the State Capital and Infrastructure Fund for use in school construction. It would also boost the percentage of tax revenues dedicated to this fund by 25 percent (4.0 to 4.5 percent of revenues).

The bill would dedicated a full third of this fund, annually, toward local schools’ and community colleges’ construction needs. That would amount to annual school construction funding in the hundreds of millions, paid for every year by revenues in the General Fund, with no interest payments. The revamped Capital/Infrastructure Fund would be split equally between local K-12 schools, the UNC System and community colleges, and state agencies.

In Fact, over the course of the next decade, Brown’s proposal would generate more than $2 billion for each of those three categories. Again, with no interest payments.

That stands in contrast to Speaker Moore’s priority of putting another $2 billion in debt on the State’s books to finance school construction. That money costs taxpayers even more money in the form of interest payments, about a billion dollars more, and will eventually run out.

Now which plan appears more fiscally responsible to you? Notably, Gov. Roy Cooper is helping Speaker Moore sing the praises of another (2)billion-dollar bond proposal, because what Big Government Democrat doesn’t like Big Ticket Debt Offerings to borrow now and pay later? Mind you, North Carolina already pays hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars every year to service existing debt.

Cooper likes the bond because it doesn’t “force harmful cuts in other areas,” like the Brown proposal he suggests would. Here again, Cooper (and Speaker Moore?) demonstrates his commitment to keeping state government as big and as expensive as possible. After all, we have perennial surpluses,  lawmakers last year spent more than $30 million on pork-barrel profligacy, and there are billions spent every year to prop up programs whose sole purpose is to redistribute wealth – we can certainly afford to redirect funds toward school construction.

An analogy: Your home is in disrepair. It is still a roof over your head, but definitely needs some attention. You can redirect some savings every month toward fixing the fence, and then patch the roof, and maybe a fresh coat of paint; OR, you can take out an equity loan against the house itself, fix it all, and deal with the debt and interest for the next several years. Which sounds more responsible? Which sounds more conservative?

The difference in treatment these competing proposals get by the Republican caucuses in the N.C. House and Senate over the next weeks and months should tell you where their priorities really are.

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