State lawmakers tentatively approved a compromise plan Wednesday to borrow $1 billion for improving water and sewer systems in the state and extending natural gas lines to areas which don't have them.
The plan would have to be approved by state voters in a November referendum.The House voted 106-1 to approve the deal. The Senate later voted 48-1 in favor. Rep. Cherie Berry, R-Catawba, voted against the compromise in the House. Sen. R.L. Clark, R-Buncombe, cast the ``no' vote in the Senate.
While there was little debate on the package in the House, senators got into some partisan wrangling over some parts of the deal despite the near-unanimous vote.
The squabbling started when Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, questioned why Republicans wanted to borrow money and cut taxes at the same time.
Sen. Betsy Cochrane, R-Davie, responded that Senate Republicans were trying to act in a bipartisan manner despite some reservations about the plan.
``If you want us to vote no, then we can and show how we really feel about it,' she told Albertson.
Cochrane said Republicans were supporting the plan despite some who objected to using tax money to support the investments of natural gas companies and concerns about funneling some of the money through the N.C. Rural Center.
The agreement calls for $330 million in bonds to be earmarked as grants to local governments for water and sewer projects. Another $300 million would be used for loans for water and sewer projects.
In addition, $200 million would be set aside to extend natural gas lines into unserved counties.
The deal calls for using $35 million as matching money to get federal water loans and grants; $20 million to extend water and sewer lines to industries in poor counties; $55 million in grants to develop central sewer systems in small, poor communities; $48 million in extra grant money for poor counties and $12 million to help communities produce grants or capital improvement plans.
The money would be equally divided between wealthier communities and those that have small tax bases and have trouble paying for infrastructure.
``It's been a long time coming, but I think we're going to finally take a step to clean up our waters and rivers,' said Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, the sponsor of the plan in the Senate.
The water and sewer portion of the plan will be divided from the natural gas provision in two separate ballot issues.
The deal reached between House and Senate negotiators keeps in a Senate provision which would prevent any of the money from being used to extend water or sewer lines within a half mile of a watershed.