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UNC, community colleges to get most from $2B bond proposal

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Senate Republicans offered Monday a scaled-down version of a bond package lobbied on for several months by Gov. Pat McCrory but would borrow less than the governor wanted and leave out proceeds he wanted for road projects.

The new proposal unveiled in the Senate Finance Committee would borrow $2 billion, in keeping with a new agreement with House Republicans. The governor wanted a package of about $2.85 billion.

McCrory wanted some proceeds for highway construction, but legislative leaders from both chambers say road debt isn’t necessary now that the final state budget approved late last week locates $700 million for roads and bridges through mid-2017. Those revenues come in part from increasing Division of Motor Vehicles fees and retaining $216 million that previously had been transferred from the state Highway Fund to pay for general operating expenses.

The Senate bond package also differs from previous proposals by the governor and a previous House bond offer by putting it on the statewide ballot in November 2016. The governor originally wanted a referendum this fall — citing very low interest rates — but appears agreeable with one next March, which is likely when all primaries will be held. The House proposal also set a March referendum date.

But Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, the finance committee co-chairman, said waiting more than a year before the referendum will give bond boosters more time to persuade a majority of voters to approve the bonds.

The Senate wants more than $1.3 billion of the debt proceeds going to University of North Carolina ($921.7 million) and community college ($400 million). All 58 community college campuses would receive a portion based on a formula.

The UNC proceeds would target 11 new projects, topped by a $124.5 million life sciences and biotechnology building at East Carolina University. There would be $115 million for a nursing school building at UNC-Greensboro and $102.9 million for a science, technology and math building at Western Carolina University.

The bond package “prioritizes our pressing infrastructure needs across our state,” Sen. Kathy Harrington, R-Gaston, told the committee, which took comments on the proposal. The panel isn’t expected to vote on the package until Tuesday.

Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, urged GOP colleagues to consider locating proceeds to additional historically black colleges in the UNC system. The Senate proposal pays for construction at Winston-Salem University and North Carolina A&T State University.

More of the debt in the Senate package would go to local water and sewer infrastructure needs than the House earmarked in a bill approved last month. The Senate wants to give $100 million in grants and nearly $351 million in low-interest loans, split between drinking water and wastewater reserves.

The House proposal also spent about $2.85 billon — like McCrory — with more projects for additional historically black campuses, some road projects and $500 million for public school construction. The Senate has no money for public schools. The House plan provided $75 million in water-sewer loans only.

Additional Senate bond proceeds in Monday’s proposal would be spent as follows:

— $100 million for a new laboratory for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

— $45 million for the Australasia exhibit complex and to replace the African pavilion at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.

— $82.7 million for National Guard armory and readiness center projects.

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