McCrory's Budget Director responds to lawmakers' criticism of bond proposal

McCrory's Budget Director responds to lawmakers' criticism of bond proposal
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bunswick) co-chairs the Transportation Committee. (Source: NCGA)
Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Bunswick) co-chairs the Transportation Committee. (Source: NCGA)

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - It did not take long for the McCrory administration to respond to criticism of the governor pushing a $1.37 million bond to pay for highway and paving projects.

State Budget Director Lee Roberts met with reporters Wednesday afternoon, after Senate transportation leaders told a news conference that going into debt is a bad idea, and questioned several projects on the governor's list.

"The bond would have us borrow $50 million to pave unpaved roads," Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick) said during a news conference Wednesday. "76 of those roads are dead ends and less than one mile long."

Rabon, who co-chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said the governor's proposal would lead to the delay of 34 projects and the removal of 46 projects on the Department of Transportation's 10-year plan.

Roberts disagreed with Rabon's assertion.

"The intent of what we're trying to do with the bond is accelerate projects and get as many dollars to work at historically low rates as quickly as possible, which not only saves taxpayers money but it also begins relieving congestion more quickly," said Roberts.

Senate leaders say the transportation bond wouldn't be necessary under their budget proposal. The Senate plan increases the amount of funding for transportation projects by stopping transfers from the Highway Trust Fund.

Roberts stressed that the administration agrees with the idea of stopping the transfer of money out of the Highway Trust Fund. He added, though, that adding in bond dollars borrowed during a period of low interest rates provides more dollars working more quickly to address the state's infrastructure needs.

"If you just use stopping the transfer as your sole source of transportation funding, you might ultimately get to the same level of spending but it will be over a much longer period of time," Roberts said. "Meanwhile congestion continues to grow."

A news release sent from Rabon's office raised concerns about inserting politics back into process of deciding which transportation projects are given priority under McCrory's bond proposal. According to lawmakers, the vast majority of projects in the proposal scored poorly in the data-based rankings set out under the state's Strategic Transportation Investments law.

"I think it's wrong to insert politics back into transportation," Rabon said. "The folks standing here with me worked very hard for the last five years to get the politics out of transportation."

Roberts also addressed those claims, saying the list of projects comes from the STI program, plus some projects deemed "ready to go" by the Department of Transportation.

Voters will have the ultimate say on the bond, if lawmakers put the proposal on the ballot. McCrory has said an improving economy and low-interest rates make for an ideal time to issue bonds.

The press conference comes a day after Gov. Pat McCrory announced the sudden resignation of Transportation Secretary Tony Tata. The secretary stepped down to "focus on personal and family matters in addition to pursuing his passion as an author," according to governor's statement.

Rabon said Tata's departure "came as a shock" and had nothing to do with the news conference.

Copyright 2015 WECT. All rights reserved.