Updated 8:39 p.m. Wednesday
GREENSBORO — Gov. Pat McCrory can’t seem to get too many people in Raleigh interested in his bond proposal.
So the governor, hoping he’ll find more receptive audiences outside of the 919 area code, is taking his bond show on the road.
McCrory on Wednesday visited N.C. A&T, where for about an hour he made his pitch for the Connect NC bond package of nearly $2.9 billion to build and improve state roads, highways, university buildings, state parks, ports and military facilities throughout the state.
It’s too soon to tell if the governor’s bond proposal will get any traction. A&T, UNCG and the UNC system, meanwhile, have long lists of classroom facilities and other projects they would like to build.
“This proposal is fiscally sound and fiscally conservative,” McCrory said. “It’ll save taxpayers money in the long run. ... We either do it now or we wait, and waiting costs money.”
Among the Triad projects in the bond package: Winston-Salem would finally get its Beltway, High Point-Greensboro Road would be rerouted around Jamestown, the N.C. Zoo would get $45 million in animal exhibit improvements and A&T would be able to build a new engineering school building on East Market Street.
Eric Guckian, McCrory’s senior education adviser, said he hopes that North Carolina voters are willing to invest in the largest historically black college in the nation that also turns out more African American engineers with bachelor’s degrees than any other U.S. university.
Do you support a $2.9 billion bond package to build and improve state roads, parks, university buildings and other facilities in N.C.?
Read more about the Connect NC bond package here: http://bit.ly/1dP86qG
“This is not the university that’s typically at the top of the list on these kinds of projects,” Guckian said. “What we’re doing is investing in results — a track record — not who’s closely connected.”
During his Greensboro visit, McCrory explained why he put forth the bond proposal. Among his reasons:
• Interest rates are at historical lows, which means it’s cheap to borrow money.
• Borrowing nearly $3 billion won’t force a tax increase or dent the state’s pristine AAA bond rating.
• The finished projects will be around for decades.
• North Carolina is now the ninth-most populous state in the country, and projections show continued growth.
• The state’s last voter-approved bond issue was 15 years ago — when North Carolina had about 2 million fewer people. In 2000, N.C. voters approved $3.1 billion in bonds for university and community college construction.
“I’d rather deal with growing pains than dying pains ...,” McCrory said. “Either one is a pain. The way you overcome those pains is you anticipate and plan for that growth.”
Outside of Raleigh, the bonds seem to have gained a little traction. The governor’s office issued a news release late Wednesday that said Morganton and the towns of Kernersville and Elizabeth City have passed resolutions supporting the bond package. On Monday, the Renew North Carolina Foundation — a nonprofit group that supports McCrory’s agenda — released results of a poll that says more than 60 percent of North Carolinians probably would vote for both bond packages.
But the votes that count — from top Republican lawmakers in the state House and Senate — aren’t yet there.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said earlier this week that most state lawmakers don’t want to use bonds to pay for highway projects, though they might be willing to back some higher education and government buildings. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said some lawmakers would rather see projects that aren’t on McCrory’s list, while others don’t want the state to take on any new debt.
In any case, Moore told reporters that he would prefer to hold a bond vote early next year, possibly during the state’s presidential primary. McCrory wants to put the bond package before voters in the fall to head off expected increases in interest rates.
“For some reason, inside the Beltline there are some who want to stagnate and stall. That’s not the North Carolina way,” McCrory said.
“The North Carolina way is to show leadership and be visionary in preparing this state for generations to come.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact John Newsom at (336) 373-7312 and follow @JohnNewsomNR on Twitter.