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Say NO to the $2 billion crony bond

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NicoleRevels

The following op/ed originally ran in the Sanford Herald:

On your March 15 primary election ballot is a “Connect NC” proposal to borrow $2 billion. This proposal was adopted by state legislators and is now subject to final approval from voters.  Several representatives who voted against the bond have called the proposal a “Christmas tree” for pork barrel spending and goodies. After researching the specifics of this bond request, I will be voting AGAINST.

Adoption of the bond amounts to deferred taxation to future generations. It’s a way for legislators to spend a grandiose amount of money and reward their campaign contributors with contracts on the backs of the  taxpayers, all while not having to account for the spending increase because the payments are left for others to worry about down the road.

Large portions of the bond are not allocated to any specific project at all, leaving questions about what it is that voters are actually approving for funding. For example, there is a $309 million line item for “water/sewer” on Connect NC’s literature. However, there is not a single specific water/sewer project within the actual bond. Legislators are asking us to approve a $309 million borrowed fund, and they will determine the allocations for that money later!

Further, a provision of the bond titled “reallocation” directs that the funding allocations may be changed subject to legislative whim after the bond is passed. A review of North Carolina’s “just trust us” history with the gas tax and the education lottery being diverted to other purposes provides cause for skepticism any time there is such leeway attached to pots of money.

If the projects within the bond package are as important as the “Connect NC” advertising would have us believe, why is it that so many of them can not be specifically named up front nor solidified within the legislation? If the projects truly have merit, then they should be considered individually by legislators during the budget adoption process and funded based on each project’s own importance, rather than lumped into such a massive pork barrel omnibus debt bill.

It is important to understand that if this bond is passed, bond underwriter attorneys and banking institutions will receive millions from tax dollars before a dime of the actual bond money is ever spent on any project. That money doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from the household incomes of North Carolina families.

Over the next week, as you are bombarded with glossy marketing flyers and commercials asking you to vote for the “Connect NC” proposal, ask yourself, “who is paying for all of this?” The latest campaign finance disclosures show that those who have poured millions into the campaign are the very ones who are likely to be the recipients of the bond money!

The largest portion of the $2 billion bond, 66%, will be allocated to the NC university and community college systems for construction funding. The Connect NC campaign shows that they also happen to be the largest contributors to Connect NC campaign coffers.

The colleges have matched the money they will receive with a contribution for the bond’s promotion: $1,000 per every $1 million that they will receive if passed. According to disclosure reports, Appalachian State University gave “Connect NC” campaign $70,000.00, despite the ASU student government having rejected a measure of support for the bond. They are slated to receive $70 million in bond money. NC State gave $160,000.00 to the campaign, they are slated to receive $160 million from the bond.

The list of similar matching college contributions goes on and on, but perhaps even more interesting is the next most prominent bankroller of the “Connect NC” campaign: architectural/engineering corporations. These generous contributions lend to the appearance that the upcoming contractor bid process is already steeped in a pay-to-play environment.

LS3P Associates design/engineering firm gave “Connect NC” $10,000.00. O’Brien Adkins design/engineering firm: $10,000.00. Ratio Design architecture/engineering firm: $10,000.00. Clancey & Theys Construction Company: $10,000.00. Gilbane Building Company: $10,000.00. TA Loving Company: $10,000.00.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? The frequent occurrence of $10,000 donations from contractor firms causes me to question whether the price for bid proposal has already been set! That is why I have called this proposal the “Crony Bond” and I urge you all to vote AGAINST the $2 billion debt proposal in order to send a message to legislators that North Carolina’s tax dollars are not subject to grab for the highest bidder.

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