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WOODARD SAYS BRIDGE IS TOO EXPENSIVE

By Reggie Ponder

Staff Writer

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Republican candidate for the 1st District seat in the N.C. House of Representatives opposes the Mid-Currituck Bridge, saying it’s too costly and some Currituck residents oppose it.
John Woodard, who is challenging N.C. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, for the seat Owens has held since being elected in 1994, told The Daily Advance the bridge project costs too much in these tight economic times.
“The state doesn’t have the money to afford a $1 billion bridge,” Woodard said.
Woodard said the legislature will face a $3 billion deficit when it convenes next year “and this project is a good example of why that situation exists.”
He said the state has relied on more than $1.5 billion in non-recurring federal stimulus funds and $1.3 billion in temporary tax revenues. With slow revenue growth likely for fiscal year 2011-12 and mounting pressures from the state retirement and health plans, “where will the money come from to pay for” the bridge?” Woodard asked.
Owens told The Daily Advance much of the revenue for the project will come from tolls.
“We do have a public-private partnership,” Owens said. “Tolls will pay for the overwhelming majority of the cost of the bridge.”
Woodard is skeptical about how much revenue can be generated by bridge tolls.
“Very clearly we have some tourists that visit the island and I’m sure that traveling down to Kitty Hawk and then looping back up is not favorable to them,” he said. “But how many of them are we going to be able to generate tolls from if that bridge is an alternative?”
Owens said he’s not sure the $3 billion shortfall that Woodard cited will come to pass.
“We don’t know what we will face,” Owens said. “We do know it’s very difficult economic times.”
But Owens said he’s proud of the job state legislators have done with the budget in recent years.
“Right now the state of North Carolina is spending 8.7 percent less in its general fund budget than four years ago,” Owens said.
He said spending increased more than 25 percent when he first went into the General Assembly — and the legislature had Republican leadership at that time.
“We have to balance our budget,” Owns said, adding that difficult budget decisions can keep legislators awake at night.
Woodard remains critical of state spending.
“We’re already mortgaging the future of the state,” he said. “There has been no serious effort undertaken to reduce spending.”
Woodard also pointed to the division among county citizens as to whether the bridge is a good idea.
“This is for all intents and purposes a tourism issue,” Woodard said. “Most of the permanent residents of the island are split between those that are in favor and those that are opposed, and I certainly think that we ought to give consideration to the opposition forces. But in either case, whether you think that it’s a project that ought to go forward or not, the state simply lacks the money.”
Owens said he takes his cues on local issues from the local elected officials.
“My position has been the same for 16 years — that I support whatever the county board of commissioners supports,” Owens said. “They have always supported (the bridge) and I always support what the local officials want.”
Owens said he got lots of calls this year from people complaining about traffic being backed up in Currituck County.
“I’m convinced more than ever that the bridge is needed for a number of reasons — for safety reasons, for economic reasons, and in my opinion the majority of people in Currituck do favor it,” Owens said.
Owens said he understands there is opposition from residents in Corolla and Aydlett. He has met with citizens to discuss their concerns, he said.
Responding to Woodard’s criticism of state spending, Owens said the state cut more than $600 million in spending this year and more than $2 billion last year, he said.
The spending cuts have been made even as university and community college enrollments have risen. The state has fully funded education while consolidating programs and eliminating some programs, he said.
“We’ve been very frugal,” Owens said.
He added he’s proud the state has maintained its Triple A bond rating.
Contact Reggie Ponder at rponder@dailyadvance.com

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