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Naysayers, Procrastinators or Planters?


Tom Campbell
    An Octogenarian woman took her pre-teen grandson out to plant pine seedlings, explaining that one day they would grow into tall trees that provided shade and wood to build houses. The boy protested, saying that she wouldn't be alive to see them reach maturity. The wise elder agreed but quickly added that the boy and his children would enjoy their benefits.

    What would today's North Carolina be like if yesterday's citizens hadn't planted trees? If they had failed to invest for the future, had not built roads, schoolhouses, hospitals, universities and other public infrastructure? You can be sure there were folks at the time who said we couldn't afford them or didn't need them, timid or conservative souls who genuinely opposed Governor Cameron Morrison, Kerr Scott, Terry Sanford and legislative leaders who strongly advocated borrowing money to invest in both present and future needs. We can be thankful they did.

    That's the heart of the argument favoring passage of the $2 billion Connect NC bond referendum on the ballot in March. North Carolina has added some 2 million persons since the turn of this century and our state continues to grow. We face two choices: either we plan and build for the future or we stick our heads in the sand, refusing to acknowledge the needs and denying our responsibility to both current and future citizens.

    The last time we took such a big step was in 2000. Led by the state Chamber of Commerce, educators, leading citizens and our elected representatives we boldly passed a $3 billion higher education bond package for our universities and community colleges. Time has proved the wisdom of that positive decision by voters. Due to economic uncertainly and an unwillingness by leadership we have sat too long on the sidelines, deferring maintenance and neglecting needed new buildings, roads, water systems and other facilities best provided by the public.

    Passage of these bonds will not raise taxes, will not jeopardize the "debt cap" on state finances our leadership likes to maintain and, if traditional yardsticks prove reliable, should create more than 50,000 jobs in our state. The Connect NC package will build ahead for the next 50 years for our universities, community colleges, agriculture, state parks, local governments and National Guard. The only negative is that this referendum doesn't address transportation needs, but leaders have pledged to do so.

    As in times past, there are some vocal naysayers today who don't want government to undertake anything, but we can be glad that leaders in 1795 saw the need to build the nation's first public university, financing it with a lottery. We can point with pride to the 1839 public school referendum to build schools, the 1850 North Carolina Railroad, and 1921 and 1949 road bonds, among others. We can celebrate the Research Triangle Park, Community Colleges, University buildings, clean water systems and a plethora of other projects that would not have been completed without government assistance and public funding. Those past actions brought us to where we are today.

    Just as the wizened grandmother understood the necessity to plant for the future we must ask ourselves if we are naysayers, procrastinators or planters? We trust the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians will see the wisdom to pass the Connect NC bond referendum.

    Publisher's note: Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues airing Sundays at 11:00 am on WITN-TV. Contact Tom at NC Spin.





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