School bond bill among unfinished business


State Rep. Bob Steinburg


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Legislation providing almost $2 billion for schools is among the bills that didn't clear lawmakers' short session this year.

(This story originally reported the Build NC Bond Act, or Senate Bill 758, providing about $3 billion for state transportation projects over the next 10 years, did not pass in the short session. That bill, in fact, did pass and was signed into law on June 20.)

The General Assembly adjourned its short session last month after retooling the state budget and enacting a flurry of laws in just under two months. They also sent half-a-dozen constitutional amendments to voters for consideration this fall. However, numerous bills didn't make it across the finish line — even some that had bipartisan support.

A bill that local lawmakers supported that didn't pass was House Bill 866, which would have asked voters to approve $1.9 billion in bonds for school construction. The legislation would have pumped another $50 million into school construction in Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties.

In an interview Friday, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, said he supported the bill. As for why House Bill 866 didn't pass, Steinburg said he wasn't sure. However, Steinburg said legislative leaders may have withheld support for the bill because State Treasurer Dale Folwell had reservations about it.

“The state treasurer was not behind it fully,” Steinburg said of the additional debt.

Though commenting that Folwell “didn't set policy” for lawmakers, Steinburg also said he respected Folwell's concerns about additional borrowing.

As treasurer, Folwell needs to be “risk-averse” and consider the state's long-term liabilities, Steinburg said. Specifically, he said North Carolina is facing major liabilities for health insurance and pension costs. Covering state retirees' pensions in particular will take “course corrections” in the years to come, Steinburg said.

Asked about other bills he wish had passed, Steinburg said his “biggest disappointment” was that House Bill 1035 failed to get a vote. The legislation would allow College of The Albemarle to use state bonds for improving facilities in Dare County. The facilities would be for COA's use, but remain owned by the county itself. State Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, objected to a similar proposal last year, but is notably the primary sponsor of H1035. The bill stalled in the Senate.

Steinburg also said he hopes to take the legislation back up next year, if he's elected in the newly drawn Senate District 1.

Steinburg's opponent for that seat is Washington County Commissioner Cole Phelps, a Democrat. In an email Friday, Phelps' campaign manager, Robert Grier, said Phelps was also disappointed the school construction bond referendum didn't pass, but didn't have an immediate comment on other bills Phelps wished had passed.

Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, and state Rep. Howard Hunter III, D-Hertford, didn't respond to a request for comment for this story. However, the General Assembly's website details the bills each lawmaker sponsored. For Cook, Steinburg and Hunter, only a fraction of the bills they sponsored became law.

In the 2017-18 session, Cook has sponsored 62 bills, 12 of which became law. For bills where Cook was the primary sponsor, five of 28 became law. Among the bills enacted are the NC Farm Act of 2018, occupancy tax changes, an act to support marine aquaculture, regulatory reforms, and fire district changes for Roanoke Island.

Steinburg has sponsored 112 bills during the 2017-18 short session, 23 of which became law. He was the primary sponsor of nine bills, two of which became law. One was a bill to allow COA to use bond money for facilities owned by Currituck — the legislation initially included Dare — and the other allowed Currituck to use developer funds for building roads in a subdivision. Municipalities have similar authority, but Currituck has no municipalities.

Hunter has sponsored 176 bills in the 2017-18 session, 22 of which became law. He was the primary sponsor for 14 bills, five of which became law. They include exempting taxiways and runways from stormwater fees, authorizing state park expansion, authorizing Bertie and Gates counties to use garnishment or liens to collect delinquent ambulance bills, making licensing and other changes to funeral service, and directing the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services study and support health care in rural areas.