Senate Appropriations Committee Passes School Capital Needs Funding Bill
Elizabeth Yelverton | Legal Affairs & Policy Manager
Lawmakers in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved the school capital funding bill introduced by Senate leadership, after over an hour of intense debate comparing the Senate plan to a school bond proposal introduced in the House. The bill’s primary sponsors, Senators Harry Brown (R-Onslow), Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston), and Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth), addressed members of the Appropriations Committee to discuss their bill, Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), which proposes a pay-as-you-go model, generating $2 billion for K-12 facilities repair and renovation over 9 years. The bill was introduced as an alternative to a bond referendum proposal which would generate an estimated $1.5 billion for K-12 capital projects, if approved by voters statewide.
Despite the continuing narrative that SB 5 and the bond referendum are competing proposals, several senators in Wednesday’s committee meeting expressed interest in approving both the House and Senate plans in order to best address the $8.1 billion identified in school capital needs. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) asked about the possibility of utilizing both the Senate and House plans, but Sen. Brown reiterated that he saw the Senate plan as a better alternative to the House’s bond proposal, as it would save the state an estimated $1.3 billion in interest payments.
Other members of the Appropriations Committee noted that unlike a bond, which guarantees the state will make payments over the next decade, the Senate plan could be discontinued by future legislators, especially if the state experiences an economic downturn. Senator Brown noted future lawmakers will be bound by citizen pressure to continue to fund the proposal, and the state can rely on its Rainy Day Fund in the case of an economic downturn.
Lawmakers also sought clarification on the potential fund distribution criteria for SB 5, which notes the Department of Public Instruction will distribute the funds for school capital projects and repair and renovations based on need. Sen. Brown pointed out language in the bill which prioritizes applicants with the greatest needs, while also noting all counties will have access to the funds if they have similar needs. Sen. Brown stated distribution of funds would ultimately depend on the needs of the schools and the costs of their requested projects.
The meeting concluded with a unanimous vote by committee members in favor of SB 5. The bill sponsors noted SB 5 will be discussed further at the Senate Rules and Operations Committee next week.