North Carolina voters will not only cast ballots for their favorite presidential candidate in the March 15 primary election. They will also decide a $2 billion state bond referendum that has long-term implications for North Carolina’s life science community.
A majority vote in favor of the bond package would fund nearly $1 billion in new construction and building renovations on all 17 campuses within the University of North Carolina system. The state’s Community College System also would receive $350 million for construction and renovations at its 58 campuses.
- $2 billion state bond referendum on March 15 ballot
- Connect NC bond would invest in STEM infrastructure
- Funding for new construction and renovations on all 17 campuses
Most of those buildings house – or would house – science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs that conduct research and prepare students for careers in the biosciences.
(For an overview of projects involving universities, see link with this post.)
“We’re excited about the STEM portions,” said Sam Taylor, president of the N.C. Biosciences Organization (NCBIO), the trade association for the state’s life science community. “We think that they will contribute to life science education and the quality of our workforce.”
“We know that the community colleges have been a strong partner to the (life science) industry over the years in providing customized training to the industry,” Taylor said. “These funds appear to provide support for continuing capacity of that sort.”
The community college investments would range from $2 million to $12 million at each campus and would average just over $6 million per campus, based on a formula set by the Office of State Budget and Management. Each campus would largely determine its own capital projects, and local county funding would be required to supplement the state’s investments.
While two-thirds of the proceeds from the new bond, or $1.33 billion, would go to state universities and community colleges, the balance – $670 million – would fund capital projects for agriculture, water and sewer systems, state parks and public safety.
Backers of the bipartisan bond campaign, branded as Connect N.C., say these and other public infrastructure improvements in 76 of North Carolina’s 100 counties are important to the state’s economic competitiveness and quality of life.
It has been 16 years since the state last issued a similar bond, a $3.1 billion package for higher education, in November 2000. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s population has grown by 2 million people, placing greater demands on the state’s universities, community colleges and other infrastructure.
“Investments in STEM infrastructure, such as those proposed by the Connect N.C. bond, boost North Carolina’s ability to remain a global life science leader,” said Bill Bullock, senior vice president for economic development and statewide operations at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. “North Carolina’s universities and colleges are the centerpiece for innovation and education that drive the state’s ability to create and attract life science jobs. As one of the state’s major growth engines, life sciences contribute nearly $73 billion in annual economic activity each year.”
No tax increases would be needed to finance the bond, thanks to historically low bond interest rates and the state’s strong revenue growth and ample debt-service capacity.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has said the bond would allow the state to “pay for 50-year assets with 20-year financing.”
(C) N.C. Biotechnology Center