No such thing as free

Published 5:12 pm Monday, February 15, 2016

“No new taxes.”

The phrase made political history when President George H.W. Bush used it at the 1988 Republican National Convention. The claim may have assisted in his election as the 41st president of the United States, but two short years later it came back to haunt him, when he agreed to a budget compromise that included increasing several existing taxes.

In North Carolina right now, many people are turning over the idea of voting for a $2 billion bond in the March 15 primary. The bond is all about infrastructure, replacing inadequate facilities built decades ago that are very much used today. As the U.S. state with the ninth-largest population — one that continues to grow — those facilities are used by many, and will be used by many more.

Does North Carolina need to replace and/or restore facilities in the state’s higher education system, community colleges, in its state parks, safety and water/sewer systems? Yes. There is no doubt that investing now means keeping the state competitive for decades to come. Locally, a vote “yes” for the bond means a $6.56 million investment into Beaufort County Community College and $1.5 million to improve Goose Creek State Park. A little less locally, but still nearby, it would mean a new life sciences and biotech building at East Carolina University and near equal investment in Halifax, Roanoke-Chowan, Martin, Pitt and College of the Albemarle community colleges. As the General Assembly is tossing around the idea of rerouting less-qualified, college-bound freshmen from state universities to associate degree programs first, the investment in community colleges is absolutely necessary.

As is an investment in the state’s roads and highways, which was partially addressed back when it was a $2.85 million bond, instead of the $2 million it will be on the March ballot.

These are all good things, necessary for growth and competitiveness, and there is no question that they are needed. Thanks to North Carolina’s Triple A bond rating, they are available.

But they won’t be free — nothing is. Connect NC is touted as a bond that will lead to “no new taxes” or tax increases, but the money for those bond payments has to come from somewhere, or reallocated from elsewhere. It would be a shame if it comes at the expense of the very system this bond is meant to improve, because education can’t really afford it.