Beware the ides of March

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

Well, congratulations. You’ve stumbled up to the eve of the primary election. You’ve waded through the murky campaign cesspools and the last-minute redistricting mess and now are ready to march to the polls tomorrow.

I would love to tell you that the ordeal will all be over after tomorrow. Alas, it will not. This is only the PRIMARY election.

After tomorrow the general-election murkiness starts. We’ll do this all over again Nov. 8 in the general election.

Shakespeare once famously warned to “beware the ides of March,” which is the 15th, tomorrow. After particularly long and nerve-wracking campaigns, I find it fitting that our state leaders chose the day made famous by the Bard to march us to the polls.

There’s been an overabundance of print and talk about the election and politics. Normally I try to offer some relief and avoid all of that in these Hometown columns.

But today may I draw your attention for just a moment to the nearly forgotten, largely ignored end of the ballot.

There you voters will find a state bond referendum.

Upon hearing or reading the word “bond,” most folks’ eyes glaze over.

After going down the ballot and, say, picking between the Donald and the three amigos, or between Hilary or feeling the Bern, “bond” loses its charge. By the time folks make it down the ballot to the bond referendum at the end, they just want to mark something quick and get out.

I find that most folks pay little or no attention to bond referenda or even know what they are. Yet, such referenda are the purest form of democracy that we have.

They give us a rare opportunity to decide on the right thing for ourselves and not just leave it up to our elected representatives. We get to take, figuratively, a seat in the state legislature or on county or city boards and cast our own yea or nay.

Bonds are the way governments borrow money. You and I would go to a bank or other financial institution and take out a loan for a house, car or some such. Governments, on the whole, sell bonds instead to raise the quick cash they need or say they need.

And this year we’ve got a whopper of a bond proposal. State leaders want us to let them borrow $2 billion — originally they wanted $3 billion – which is a lot of money in North Carolina and in most other places.

Our state leaders, principally the governor, has quite a Christmas list in hand and is ready to go shopping.

I counted 127 spending projects, primarily at state colleges and parks. In case you’re interested, there’s a list on the internet at

The bonds, which have been touted by the government in TV and radio ads and elsewhere with the snappy title Connect NC, would pay for big things like $70 million for a new nursing school building at Appalachian State University in Boone and comparatively smaller things like $1.3 million for a new visitor’s center at Stone Mountain State Park near Traphill.

And like your home-mortgage or new-car loans, state bonds must be repaid. After the shine of a new house or car wears off, we start looking at our monthly mortgage and/or car payment differently than we did when we were dazzled in the car dealer’s showroom.

It gets harder and harder to write those checks as we’re stuck paying off our old loan.

State bonds, on the other hand, get added to something called debt service. Debt service is a line item that gets buried and ignored in state budgets year after year.

Back when I reported on budgets from the state capital, I almost never heard questions or talk there about debt service. It’s just comfortably tucked into the budget time after time.

Bond payments just quietly seep out of the treasury, much as the money that we pay in taxes seeps out of our paychecks and we never give it a second thought.

But just as surely as we send have to send in our monthly mortgage or car payments, we also send in bond payments. You just don’t see the bond payments or hear anything about them, unless you attend a state legislative appropriations committee meeting in Raleigh. And that’s something I wouldn’t wish on anybody who’s not getting paid. Unless you’re seeking a cure for insomnia.

The state already is paying on $5.2 billion in bond debt. In five years the debt would be paid down to close to $3 billion, according to Civitas Institute, a conservative think tank in Raleigh. Add $2 billion to both of those figures if the referendum passes tomorrow.

So when you go to the polls, think of this. Do you really want to cut a check for bond payments for each of the next 25 years, the time it would take to pay off the new bonds?

Happy voting.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

comments powered by Disqus