- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican legislative leaders said Tuesday that their colleagues aren’t sold fully on Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposal for North Carolina to borrow close to $3 billion for government construction projects, particularly for road building.

In recent weeks, McCrory has been heavily pitching to GOP lawmakers and the public at appearances outside Raleigh a pair of bond packages that he needs lawmakers to authorize, subject to passage in statewide referendums this fall.

The governor has said elected officials can’t wait to meet the backlog of needs as the state population continues to grow. The last voter-approved statewide bond package occurred in 2000.

Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said the level of indebtedness lawmakers can support differs from McCrory’s proposal.

“I think there’ll be some significant differences in what the bond proposal that I’ve seen with the executive branch and what our bond proposal would look like,” Moore, R-Cleveland, said while addressing small-business owners who visited the Legislative Building.

Berger, who also addressed the businesspeople, and Moore later told reporters separately that Republicans are more supportive of debt for government and university buildings and other state infrastructure compared with highway projects.

“I don’t think there’s substantial support for the transportation side of the bonds,” said Berger, R-Rockingham.

Berger said some legislators think more road-building can be completed using existing transportation taxes. Berger didn’t provide details, but chief budget writer Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, has said he’d like the Senate spending plan to eliminate a more than $200 million annual transfer from the highway fund to the general operating fund. Moore said any transportation debt may be linked to a bill modifying that transfer.

McCrory has asked lawmakers to set up two votes to authorize up to $1.5 billion in debt for road projects and up to $1.5 billion in debt for government buildings and infrastructure. The cumulative values of McCrory’s list of projects he’s proposed are $1.45 billion for government infrastructure and almost $1.4 billion for transportation.

Moore said he expects any preferred House package would be weighted heavily toward capital projects rather than roads. But he also noted there are some lawmakers who don’t support any new debt at all, and others who will support when attached to the “right projects.”

Moore has said he supports the bond idea but would prefer holding statewide referendums early next year, such as with the statewide presidential primary in February or March. Having a bond vote this fall when only municipal races are on the ballot would instead require all precincts be opened statewide, costing county governments more money. McCrory said waiting until 2016 would likely lead to higher interest rates.

Renew North Carolina Foundation, a nonprofit group backing McCrory’s agenda, released polls this week showing public support for the bond referendums.

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