Senate Democrats like the Republican House leader’s idea for a school construction bond, and criticized the funding proposal coming from Republicans in their own chamber for its potential to hurt broader education spending.
But two Democrats who spoke against the Republican senators’ school construction plan in Wednesday morning news conference ended up voting for it in the afternoon, when the Senate approved in a 33-14 vote using money from the state budget to help pay for school construction.
The Senate plan will use a special fund established in the 2017 budget and will receive 4 percent of state tax revenue and other money, The News & Observer has reported. Senate Republicans propose increasing the contribution to the fund to 4.5 percent of tax revenue, and letting K-12 schools use some of the money for school construction. They said their plan will result in a little more than $2 billion each for K-12 schools, UNC and state community colleges, and state agencies over nine years, without the state having to take on $1.2 billion in debt.
Senate Republicans proposed the pay-as-you-go method as an alternative to Republican House Speaker Tim Moore’s proposal to put a school construction bond on the 2020 ballot.
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In the Senate floor debate, Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican and one of the bill’s sponsors, said avoiding bond debt was the best reason for using the state budget for school construction. The money will start flowing this year, not two years from now, Brown said.
Moore started talking about a $1.9 billion school construction bond late last year, The N&O reported, but has not filed legislation.
Senate Democrats promoted Moore’s approach at their news conference, saying they would file a bill based on his ideas. “I want to thank Speaker Moore for his courageous leadership in spearheading this discussion across the state, because his is a responsible, sustainable approach to investing in North Carolina’s future,” said Democratic Sen. Michael Garrett of Guilford County.
Garrett and Democratic Sen. Kirk deViere of Cumberland, who also spoke at the morning news conference, provided two of the four Democratic votes for Senate Bill 5.
Counties desperately need school construction money, Democrats said at their news conference, but the Senate Republican proposal to pay for it out of the annual budget would take money away from spending on textbooks, classroom materials and raises for teachers and state employees.
“We need to stop saying we support public education and actually do it,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Mecklenburg Democrat. “It’s time for a statewide school construction bond.”
The Senate Democrats’ arguments mirrored those of Gov. Roy Cooper, who in a statement issued Tuesday said a school construction bond should be on the ballot.
“Skimming money that should go to teacher pay raises and other school funding is like using your gas money to buy a car,” Cooper said in the statement. “A successful school bond is a smarter way to do business because it locks down financing now and still leaves funding to get good teachers and principals in the classrooms.”