Another UNC Bond Proposal Is Approved

Another bond package has been approved for the University of North Carolina system, but this one was done without voter approval.

State legislators approved a nearly $340 million bond package to finance a what were deemed “necessary projects” for the UNC system, even though some did not appear on the UNC Board of Governors’ wish list. Supporters of the bond package said the projects would revitalize the UNC system and improve economic development in campus communities.

Unlike the $3.1 billion bond proposal that voters approved in November 2000, this bond package will not face a voter referendum.

“I’m always for more, rather than less, when it comes to the University of North Carolina,” Brad Wilson, chairman of the UNC board, told The News and Observer.

The bonds would fund projects at UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte, Elizabeth City State, East Carolina, and UNC-Asheville. Projects proposed for UNCC, UNCA and Elizabeth City State did not have the Board of Governors’ approval.

Approved projects include:

• $180 million for a cancer rehabilitation and treatment center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

• $60 million for the North Carolina Cardiovascular Diseases Institute at East Carolina.

• $35 million for a bioinformatics center at UNC-Charlotte.

• $35 million for a center for health promotion and partnership at UNC-Asheville.

• $28 million for a new facility to house the pharmacy school at Elizabeth City State.

“It will be a tragedy if the cancer center becomes a casualty of the lack of agreement on other issues,” UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser told The News and Observer. “It’s such an extraordinary need for the state.”

Originally the bill, which initiated in the Senate, included money only for the UNC-CH and ECU projects. House members tacked on more projects, some of which were later eliminated, including a proposed $15 million motorsports testing facility under UNC-Charlotte.

House members proposed to pay off the debt using funding from the state’s tobacco settlement as well as money from a health and wellness trust fund. Money from the health and wellness trust fund is supposed to finance programs and initiatives to improve health care in the state, according to the bill’s legislation.

That was after Democratic Co-Speaker Jim Black failed in his attempt to have the projects funded through a balloon-mortgage-esque payment program. If approved, the state would have made interest-only payments until the end of the loan term, at which time the entire principal would have been due. The state would have saved money in the short term, but the total cost of the bond package would have been higher.

Black’s proposal died for lack of support in the House and Senate. Black, when faced with opposition from Sen. President Marc Basnight regarding some of the projects, told The Associated Press that all five projects had to be included in the package or none at all.

“I told (Black) if he did this, there was a probability we’d lose it all,” Basnight told The Charlotte Observer.

The debate over the bonds pitted some, mostly Republicans, who argued that the state could not afford more debt, against those who argued there was a great need for those projects.

“It’s expansion and more opportunity for students in North Carolina,” Board of Governors member Willie Gilchrist said. “I feel that’s a plus.”