Thursday, 14 March 2019 10:43

School bond passes initial House vote with bipartisan support

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RALEIGH — A nearly $2 billion school construction bond proposal sailed through its initial House vote with bipartisan support.

On Wednesday, March 13, the House approved the school construction bond bill in a 109-6 vote on second reading. The bill is on Thursday’s calendar for final approval. Then it’s off to the Senate, where House Bill 241 faces an uncertain fate.

Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, introduced H.B. 241 after weeks of traveling the state and visiting several schools in need of repairs. Moore met with county officials, school district members, school leaders, and others before formally introducing the bond bill last month.

H.B. 241 could be the first statewide school construction bond in more than two decades. The last time voters approved a statewide school bond was 1996. If the bill passes, voters will get a chance to approve the debt package in the March 2020 primary.

Of the $1.9 billion, $1.5 billion would go to PreK-12 public schools. Community colleges would get $200 million, and the state’s universities would receive the rest. The amount each county would receive is based on average daily membership, growth of ADM. Additionally a 40 percent weight for “low wealth” schools is added to the formula, plus an adjustment factor to ensure every county receives at least $10 million. Counties with multiple school districts would divide their $10 million share.

Although most Democratic lawmakers supported the bond proposal, they wanted to borrow more money. House Minority Leader Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, sought to mirror the governor’s proposal of a $3.9 billion general obligation bond, with $2 billion promised to K-12 public schools.

Jackson said the House proposal is at least a good start to addressing the estimated $8 billion in school construction needs.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, proposed an amendment to H.B. 241 which would prevent bond proceeds from going to UNC-Chapel Hill until the university returns Silent Sam to its original site and secures it from further vandalism. The amendment was rejected as out of order. Pittman appealed the ruling, but a 7-107 vote reaffirmed the decision not to consider the amendment.

The House must get the Senate on board before the bill can go to Gov. Roy Cooper. Senate leaders prefer a pay-as-you go approach, redirecting some current tax collections to pay for school construction. Senate Bill 5, a pay-as-you-go measure, passed the Senate Feb. 20 but has been stuck in the House Education Committee.

Moore said it’s a good time for a statewide bond.

“Interest rates are low, and they’re only going up,” Moore said. “Construction costs are only going up. We have a unanimous AAA credit rating. Now is the time to do this, and at the end of the day it will be up to the voters to decide.”

The speaker said he anticipates a compromise with the Senate, but isn’t sure what that compromise will look like.