School/capital construction budgets: How much depends on the politicians and borrowing decisions

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North Carolina school construction

North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper‘s two-year budget would seek to borrow $3.9 billion, twice as much as state House Republicans are proposing in their respective proposed construction bond referendums.

Cooper proposed the borrowing on March 5 at a Greensboro conference, and his full budget proposal through mid-2021 is due on March 6 (today).

“Public education is our most important job as a state, and we must do better,” Cooper said in a statement. “Better pay for educators, safe, modern school buildings and opportunities for students to learn and stay healthy are critical to our state’s future and we must invest in them.”

See: House Introduces bill for $1.9 billion school construction bond

Cooper’s proposed $3.9 billion debt package would include $2 billion for public schools, and $500 million each for the state’s community colleges and public universities. The bond financing, if approved by voters in 2020, would also allocate $800 million for water and sewer systems, and “$100 million in the NC History Museum and the NC Zoo.”

“A bond is a fiscally responsible option for making these investments, offering stability for school districts, colleges and universities, and local governments planning their budgets. It also allows the people of North Carolina the chance to voice their opinion on making these public investments,” Cooper said in his statement.

House Republicans support a $1.9 billion education bond referendum for March 2020 that cleared a committee on March 5. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have offered an alternative that wouldn’t include issuing debt, but rather would set aside additional tax collections that senators say would generate $2 billion each for K-12 schools, UNC and community colleges over nine years, The Associated Press reports.

While Cooper and House Speaker Tim Moore, who is championing the chamber’s GOP bond plan, both back debt as the appropriate solution to narrow a school construction funding gap, the higher amount sought by Cooper could fray their alliance, AP reports.

Moore spokesman Joseph Kyzer said Cooper’s plan is double the amount of borrowing recommended by state’s debt affordability committee, so it’s “not an appropriate path for North Carolina taxpayers.”

However, the Cooper administration asserts that there’s more fiscal capacity for debt than the study calculates, and his proposal won’t bring annual debt payments near the state’s self-imposed limit designed so state government can retain its top credit rating.

“Our schools and communities face roughly $30 billion in capital needs,” Cooper spokesman Ford Porter was quoted as saying in support for larger borrowing amount.

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